One day, a socially-introverted thirteen year old who got tired of the fact that no one else around him was playing Yu-Gi-Oh! decided to find a new hobby in hopes of diverting his attention away from the depressing reality that he had no friends. After all, you need two people to play a card game, but you only need one person to watch anime. That was the motivation of why I started watching Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu on that fateful day in April 2006. Back then, I had no idea that it would become the first step into a completely new World that would change the rest of my life. Long story short, this interest completely reshaped my social attitude, and I’m even willing to go as far as saying that by 2008, ARIA the ORIGINATION had pretty much single-handedly redefined my purpose in life.
I have never had too much confidence in my skills as a writer, and that’s why I haven’t ever written about anime in my personal life. With the immensely influential role that anime has played in it so far, I feel that my limited techniques wouldn’t be able to do it justice. However, I think it goes without saying by now that anime and its surrounding subculture in general is a major part of my life, and that’s not going to go away. That’s pretty much the point I wanted to get across so far. However, the reason why I’m writing this post is that as of recent years, I’ve become increasingly apparent that I’m reaching a ceiling of where I can go with this hobby as a Western fan.
Watched the anime? What about the light novel?
As most of us know, the anime medium itself is only a small subset of a far bigger culture. As Western fans, we are already extremely fortunate that to have an extremely refined fansubbing procedure that allows us to watch and enjoy translated anime almost as fast as they air in Japan. However, even dating back as far as when I started anime back in 2006, I had realized that Suzumiya Haruhi was in fact a light novel, and the anime was simply an adaptation of the first few books. Desperate to know what happens after the anime ended, I looked online in hopes of finding translated versions of the books. Naturally, they were nowhere to be found.
Naturally, I’m only using Suzumiya Haruhi as an example here. Being the huge franchise that it is, the books were actually translated pretty quickly after the anime finished airing, courtesy to Baka-Tsuki and later Ultimatemegax’s team. Most franchises however do not enjoy the same fate. With more and more anime being partial adaptations, the ending is always an original one created by the studio, or inconclusive leaving room for a possible sequel. In addition, light novels get adapted into anime even more commonly than manga as of late, and that implies the amount of quality writing behind them in comparison to manga.
Light novels have a lot of text, and they usually do not get fan translations into English unless they get adapted into an anime that turns out to be popular in the Western audience. Even then, the translation usually goes along at a snail’s pace. Lately, not only have the amount of untranslated light novels of anime I enjoyed been stacking up, but I’ve also developed an interest for light novels that don’t even have anime adaptations yet. This is a whole new subset of the culture that is almost exclusive to the Japanese audience.
Seriously, is it that much to ask for if I just want to know what happens to Jirou and Subaru’s relationship in Mayo Chiki? For a Japanese fan, all they need to do is spend a couple of dollars on Amazon, and a few days later all the light novels will be in front of their doorstep, ready to be read. For us? Not so lucky. We have to either wait for someone to translate the light novels on the Internet, or wait for the anime to get a second season. Given the niche appeal of this series, I doubt either of those two options will be happening any time this century.
Visual Novels? What are those?
Visual novel translation projects make light novel translations seem trivial. Baldr Sky alone has 91,443 lines of text, so does anyone even want to make a guess when we’ll see the English patch? As a point of reference, it took Muv-Luv six years to get translated, and it only has 35,375 lines. The reality is, most good visual novels never get to see the light of day across Japanese borders.
Why is this a problem, you ask? After all, there are already so many anime and manga available to us – more than what we can go through in our lifetimes. Well, as much as I love anime, I can’t help but notice that the anime and manga mediums have a lower ceiling than the likes of visual novels when it comes to storytelling and plot in general. Is there any mecha anime whose story was as well written and even have action scenes executed as great as Muv-Luv Alternative? Is there any philosophical anime that comes anywhere near the depth of the themes explored in Umineko no Naku Koro Ni Chiru? Is there a romantic drama anime that is as tear-jerking as the final scene in G-Senjou no Maou? Is there an anime that broke your mind as much as Ever17 -the out of infinity-?
I’m not saying that the best anime out there do not have good storytelling or plot. After all, if Gankutsuou doesn’t count as a good story, then what does? In addition, most of the best anime out there wouldn’t really work as a visual novel, such as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann for its breathtaking cinematography, or Mawaru Penguindrum for its complex imagery. However, what I’m saying is that visual novels definitely have a potential when it comes to storytelling that anime or manga cannot match. After all, even short visual novels take around 20 hours to play, which equates to 60 anime episodes. There is hardly ever enough budget to make anime of that length without compromising quality – and that’s why visual novel adaptations into anime are usually awful.
Westerners have been fortunate to receive translations for some visual novels, but in reality, there is an abundance of masterpieces are still not available in the English language.
Time to learn Japanese
As I went into the Winter 2013 anime season, I suddenly asked myself this question: out of the twenty six anime series I’m following this cour, how many of them would I drop if I could use that time to play a visual novel or read a light novel from the wishlist that have stacked up over the past few years? The answer is that I would have dropped most of them. There is no other way to deny it – if I want to go further in this hobby, I have be be fluent in Japanese.
Even putting aside the fact that being fluent in Japanese opens up the new areas of light novels and visual novels, it opens up a whole new World in the community. Almost all the active personnel in the industry from seiyuus to directors have twitters and blogs. News are always announced in Japan first. Higher quality articles and resources abound. A community that actually pays for their anime, as well as the doujin sector which is mostly unexplored over here in the west. The list just goes on.
The desire to learn Japanese is definitely not something that just spontaneously appears for no reason. People often get the urge to start learning it in our community, but what happens is that it becomes a heat of the moment thing, and they never act upon it or give up within a very short period. I have realized that I have reached a period in my career where I can’t deny the necessity of Japanese any longer, and putting this post here will serve as a motivation and reminder for me to keep going. I’ve got some background of Japanese due to learning it for a while before in high school, but certainly not working knowledge.
As a result, I will probably be cutting back on my Internet presence for the next year or two due to investing a substantial amount of my spare time into studying the Japanese language. I believe that this is necessary for me to also contribute something useful for the English community too. With that, I will get right down to it!
Of course if anyone has any tips or suggestions, you’re welcome to tell me. If you want to join me in my efforts after having read this, I welcome you even more!