Once upon a time, Sam Pinansky, having accumulated related experience in localizing anime, launched a project to bring light novels to Western audience. This project is called J-Novel Club. Basically what he did was realize there was a light-novel-shaped hole in the Western market and, backed by an army of excellent translators and editors, he asked the Japanese publishers for some licences.
J-Novel Club is basically a subscription service. At the cost of as little/much as $4.50 per month, you get to see chapters as they come out. Eventually they get replaced by new chapters and at the end of the volume an ebook gets published. You can read more about Sam and the project on their About page (linked above).
When I first discovered the site 1.5 years ago, there was a total of six titles, I think. I read a bit here and there, bought the subscription for a couple of months to try it out, and ultimately got tired of the buggy site. It’s that bad. Plus there were like two titles I was at least mildly interested in.
I came back a year later. Right now there are 40 titles, including Mari Okada’s From Truant to Anime Screenwriter, which I am very much interested in. But the site is still buggy and I don’t care for 38 out of the forty light novel series. Bottom line…
Yes, 38 out of forty, meaning there was another light novel that seemed interesting—My Little Sister Can Read Kanji.
As it is with some light novels, half the premise is in the title. It’s the year 2202 in Japan and kanji is no longer used. Still there are people, like the main character’s little sisters, who learn to read and write kanji. (Two sisters, not just one; although the younger is still learning.)
One day, our moronic hero meets up with his favourite author, an old man who writes perverted siscon fantasies, and they get sent back in time to our era, where they must survive in modern-day Japan despite being kanji-illiterate stooges.
—Frog-kun’s (aka Kim Morrissy’s) summary(1)
It seemed interesting, promising future kids living in our time and two cute girls, who are learning kanji. The world of the future always piques my interest, especially when it’s a little dystopian. (Examples of such series include Ergo Proxy, Wolf’s Rain, Coppelion and From the New World, which I will hopefully finish one day.) And as a good otaku, I’m also learning kanji. So I read the previews on J-Novel Club and it was still mildly interesting after the first chapter.
There were some great ideas in there. Like the excerpt from Odaira’s new novel in the Orthodox style. It reminded me of newspeak from 1986, although the mechanism is totally different. In 1986, the ruling party would like literature to be very straight-forward. For every thing, feeling and truth to have one single name. It wants to eliminate ambiguity. In this light novel the words are so sparse that you imagine almost everything about the text. Let me demonstrate.
First, I present the transcribed sentence…
He saw her panties as she fell down.
…which would be originally written as:
WAWAWA FALLROLL PANTYS KIRARI ☆
This imagined way in which literature will change in the next 200 years fascinated me.
Another great idea is the answer to the Paper books versus Ebooks dilemma. Nowadays people are forecasting the future of books with the rise of ebooks and audiobooks. I like that this issue was addressed in the light novel. It is a huge change in the way humanity consumes literature.
According to the news on TV, the number of ebooks was beginning to grow rapidly, and it was only a matter of time until printed books became relics of history.
This was totally off. In the 23rd century, printed books were still what everyone used. According to what Odaira-sensei told me, there had been a time when ebooks had taken over, but that in turn had caused paper prices to plummet, and printed books had made a comeback afterward.
The last good idea I would like to mention is the difference in education standards.
I had assumed that as a student from the 23rd century, my academic abilities would have far exceeded those of 21st century students. I had imagined that all the other students would be shocked by my amazing knowledge, and would beg me to help them study.
I was from 200 years into the future. Wouldn’t the education from my time far exceed that of the past? It was not out of the question. But the reality of it was the complete opposite.
Despite these great ideas, I dropped the light novel halfway through the first volume. Mainly because of the main character—he’s an idiot. He is an idiot to the point that I don’t want to read about him at all. Now, if his idiocy is supposed to be funny, then I find the book appalling. Because that would be like laughing at retarded people.
I had a similar problem with Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui! (or Watamote for short) and its socially awkward heroine, Tomoko. Is Tomoko the biggest joke in the series? Fortunately, there were other things that kept me watching and I finished the series. (And rated it 4/10 or bad.) Another, more “normal”, example is The Big Bang Theory, where the fake audience is laughing at an obviously autistic character most of the time.(2)
Am I overlooking something? I understand it’s supposed to be a satire, painting a future of Japanese literature dying by the hands of light novel writers. Actually, not only that! The whole culture has evolved into an epitome of moe. For example the two main political parties are “reduced to “blood-related little sister fetish” or “non-blood-related little sister fetish.”” as Rebecca Silverman writes in her review.(3)
It’s not funny. It’s not like satires are supposed to be funny. But it’s not even trying to rally humanity into realizing the importance of higher literature, higher than light novels. Or if it is, it’s failing hard.
Links worth reading and/or referenced in the post: