Thursday, June 28, 2018

Japan's 'light novels' catch fire in America

Can Japanese ‘light novels’ remain publishing heavyweights?

Sam Pinansky (photo: Roland Kelts)

The palm-sized, lavishly illustrated paperbacks known in Japan as “light novels” can have some heavy titles. “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime” is one. Another, “Is it Wrong to Try to Pick up Girls in a Dungeon?” is a bestseller, but so is “I Want to Eat Your Pancreas.” And that’s a love story. Of course.

They can also have some heavy political repercussions. Earlier this month, a light novel called “(New Life +) Young Again in Another World” had its big-budget anime adaptation and future publications in all languages abruptly canceled after its author, pen name Mine, was found to have posted racist tweets denigrating Chinese and Koreans. The offensive posts, first issued four years ago, were deleted, and Mine publicly apologized. But the tweets and the novel’s storyline, in which a Japanese swordsman who murdered 3,000 in China is reborn in a land of monsters, were not taken lightly.

Quite what qualifies as a light novel is a subject of debate and ongoing revision. According to translator and journalist Kim Morrissy’s 2016 Anime News Network article, Keita Kamikita, manager of an online fantasy and science fiction forum, coined the term in 1990 when he noticed that new types of fantasy prose narratives were drawing the attention of manga and anime fans. This burgeoning readership was not entirely young, so the “young adult” label didn’t apply. Nor were they reading works that adhered to pre-existing genres such as romance, mystery, horror and so on.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Manga for intermediates -- guest post by Danica Davidson (with Rena Saiya)

With the global popularity of manga, there are also people in all corners of the globe who want to learn how to draw in the manga style. I have a background in manga – after starting out as a fan, I made it part of my career – covering it as a journalist, adapting it into English and working in the editing process. Two years after the release of my first book on manga, Manga Art for Beginners, I’m back with its sequel, Manga Art for Intermediates. 

For this book I worked with Rena Saiya, a professional Japanese mangaka who is making her American debut. This book mirrors the design of the first book, which aimed to show more steps for character-drawing than your average how-to-draw book, and to also make sure that the art is in the manga style. (I find most how-to-draw manga books in America look like a combination of manga and American comics.) But the book also discusses how professional Japanese mangaka work, including what pens they use, what happens if they make a mistake, and some of what Japanese publishers look for.

I also talked with Rena for what she wanted to share with JAPANAMERICA. 

“Thanks to the spreading popularity of manga worldwide, the development of IT technologies, and my English ability, I was able to make a decision to expand abroad while living in Japan,” she said. “This is after several years of a career in the Japanese manga industry. I thought it would be interesting if I could publish my manga books through foreign publishers directly, since usually manga sold in foreign countries are the ones first published in Japan and translated later.

“As for the content of the book, I heard that there are few manga drawing books which are based on genuine Japanese style in the States. So, I tried to put basic techniques or information which would be most common among Japanese mangaka. As for drawing tools' information, I chose ones which are available on the internet. With regards to the characters in the book, popular ones has been chosen and I tried to design a kind of typical type of each character. Therefore by learning the characters, you can create a kind of database in your head and it would be helpful when you design your original characters.”

Manga continues to grow around the world, but I’m not aware of any other books like this one, which combine the knowledge of a Japanese mangaka who knows the Japanese manga market with an American author who knows the American manga market. I think it’s a unique offering for fans of manga and can help them grow as artists. -- Danica Davidson

Manga Art for Intermediates
By Danica Davidson and Rena Saiya
Skyhorse Publishing paperback, also available as an ebook
On sale: June 2018
ISBN: 978-1510729520
Price: $19.99

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Why Japan's lit and culture are so vibrant today

The Times Literary Supplement: Japanese questions of the soul

At public readings, either in Japanese or English, the novelist Hideo Furukawa performs like a banshee. He voices his characters’ personae, tenor shifting from stentorian to hushed, growling, trilling, book held aloft in his quivering left hand. His compact frame rocks to and fro, slowly enlarging before your eyes as he rises on his toes and raises his arm into a broad arc, snug hipster beanie barely holding his cranium in place.

I have watched Furukawa read several times, in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Tokyo, and each time I have been unable to look away. At first I worried that his histrionics might be overkill. But then I re-read his prose. He writes like a banshee, too, forcing words into action, squeezing them for meaning, studding his lines with coinages such as “scootscootscoot” and “creekeek” when the words just can’t take it anymore.

At fifty-one, Furukawa is among the generation of Japanese writers I’ll call “A. M.”, for “After Murakami”. Haruki Murakami is Japan’s most internationally renowned living author. His work has been translated into over fifty languages, his books sell in the millions, and there is annual speculation about his winning the Nobel Prize. Over four decades, he has become one of the most famous living Japanese people on the planet. It’s impossible to overestimate the depth of his influence on contemporary Japanese literature and culture, but it is possible to characterize it.