Light Novels are Killing Anime

A seemingly ever increasing number of annual anime productions are adaptations of Japanese light novels. Anime productions have frequently been adaptations of other media from the outset of the modern anime era in 1963, so the adaptation of light novels that began in the mid 1980s should be no surprise to anyone. However, Japan’s contemporary voracious demand for light novels has created fostered an unavoidable emphasis on production speed and quantity supplanting quality. Writers including NisiOisiN literally churn out complete prose novels as quickly as one per month. Best selling light novels such as Aneko Yusagi’s “Shield Hero” series are plagued by plot holes, retcons, contradictions, and narrative errors because the books are rushed first draft compositions hurried to market with minimal editorial input. And these sloppily written flawed manuscripts sell millions of copies to non-discriminating Japanese readers and end up getting anime television series adaptations.

From the 1960s through the 1990s, as much as anime was a commercial art, it was also frequently characterized by a thoughtful, personal touch. Vampire Hunter D and Yoju Toshi exuded the gothic sensuality of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s prose. Crusher Joe and Dirty Pair felt very much like characters Haruka Takachiho loved. The Legend of the Galactic Heroes series demonstrated author’s Yoshiki Tanaka’s deliberation to envisioning a massive galactic epic. Tenchi Muyo felt like Masaki Kajishima’s personal epic fantasy. However, especially nowadays anime based on light novels too frequently feel either tremendously redundant and derivative or frustratingly slapdash and careless. Kaya Kizaki’s Dragon Crisis is a role & gender reversed remake of Noboru Yamaguchi’s Zero no Tsukaima. Sagu Aoyama basically rewrote his own Ro-Kyu-Bu! light novel series as Tenshi no 3P by just swapping out one hobby for another. Mamare Touno’s Log Horizon feels like an effort to rewrite Reki Kawahara Sword Art Online with a different emphasis. At least in initial scenario Izuru Yumizuru’s IS & Yuu Miyazaki’s Gakusen Toshi Asterisk seem seem remarkably similar, just as Yu Moroboshi’s Kusen Madoshi Kohosei no Kyokan & Taro Hitsuji’s Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records seem almost interchangeable. Hiro Ainana’s Death March kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyousoukyoku light novel series premiered before Patora Fuyuhara’s Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomo ni but got an anime adaptation afterwards. Regardless, both series feel virtually identical.

The bigger problem than redundancy and derivation is the negligence of the writing prominently characteristic of contemporary Japanese light novels, which is bleeding into anime. “Anything goes” was the unspoken motto of the creative golden age of anime because anime like Battle Royal High School, Ai City, Genma Taisen, Urusei Yatsura, Samy Missing 99, and Elf-17 were batsh*t crazy. However, in today’s light novel adaptation anime, events occur not because animators were uninhibited and wildly, playfully creative but rather just because contemporary authors are careless and lazy. In the first episode of this season’s Grancrest Senki, based on light novels by Ryo Mizuno, the demon lord abruptly appears then disappears for no other reason than because the author decided so. And a regional lord tries to stop the travels of the protagonist for no other reason than because the story needed an action scene. In the first episode of the Death March kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyousoukyoku anime adaptation, the protagonist wakes up in a video game world. How he got there is completely ignored. Even the 2000 Kyo Kara Maoh! light novel series at least came up with the absurd explanation of the protagonist falling through a magical toilet and ending up in a fantasy world. Even a goofy explanation is better than no explanation whatsoever. Then a mob of monsters locate and attack the protagonist strictly so he can arbitrarily defeat them and instantaneously level up. These plot developments don’t make any sense. They have no logical or narrative explanation, context, or justification. In the first episode of Märchen Mädchen, based on Tomohiro Matsu’s light novels, protagonist Hazuki finds a magical tome in her backpack. It appears there without any explanation whatsoever because it’s strictly an arbitrary authorial manipulation. Rather than bother to compose a logical, believable scenario, sh*t just happens because the author says it does. As a result, these stories aren’t believable. They’re not immersive because they have no intrinsic rules or logic. But spending time writing explanations and creating believable scenarios requires time and effort that contemporary light novel authors seemingly can’t afford. The perspective of writers, editors, publishers, and studios may be that the details don’t matter as long as the redundantly familiar action kicks into gear quickly. But at least for me, much of the appeal of anime has always been in the details, in the personal considered artistic sensibilities of authors & creators. When authors take cheap shortcuts because they just don’t care about the nuances and details, I find myself having trouble caring about their characters and stories.

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