I grew up with and came to love various subcultures including anime. I'm always trying to deepen my knowledge as a freelance writer and hope to convey the appeal of anime to many people.
Light novels are an original genre of novels in Japan. Their small size and easy-to-read stories encourage people who would otherwise be reluctant to read literary novels to pick up a book and read. Their connection to anime is evident from the first look: They use anime-style illustrations on the cover as well as inside the novel itself.
There have been many anime which were adapted from light novels. However, light novels (and their anime adaptations) have gone through a lot of changes through the years.
Let’s go on a time trip and see some of the more popular light novels that were adapted into anime.
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— Anime ‘Sword Art On Line’ Official (@sao_anime) 2016December 6
Even though the genre is experiencing constant change, most light novels can be more or less be listed into one of the three genres below:
· Fantasy, Sword and Magic
· An ordinary story with an extraordinary spice
· The Narou genre (more about that below)
Japan has a tendency to mix and match various elements from different countries, cultures, and traditions. This allows creators to do whatever they want with these cultures and create something completely unexpected. Compared to standard novels, it’s easy for casual writers and aspiring novelists to start writing their own light novels. Many publishers sponsor competitions for light novelists and nurture new writers and their work.
Once published, light novels often draw the attention of anime production companies and have the chance to be adapted into anime.
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— My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected (@anime_oregairu) 2015 July 22
Light novel-based anime until the 90s mostly focused on the fantasy genre. Around the same time, TRPG (Table Top Role Playing Games) were introduced from overseas and spread like wildfire among science fiction fans. Perhaps thanks to that, the anime Aura Battler Dunbine (directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino of Mobile Suit Gundam) gained popularity. A light novel was later published with a story set the same fictional world as the anime.
Anime that represent this period are Record of Lodoss War, Slayers, Fortune Quest, and Sorcerous Stabber Orphan. They became huge hits by utilising a mixed-media strategy which combines manga, anime, novels, music, and radio. The mixed media strategy has been extremely popular since the advent of the internet and our constant interconnection.
Most of these media companies belonged to Kadokawa Corporation: Kadokawa Shoten, Fujimi Shobou, and Media Works. Not many people know that the Record of Lodoss War was actually created in order to promote the TRPG Dungeons & Dragons. In the meantime, the general public began to to embrace fantasy through popular video games such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.
The number of fantasy anime declined during the 2000s. Instead of pure fantasy, there was a shift in mood as the popular anime of the decade were:
Boogiepop and Others a.k.a. Boogiepop phantom
Full Metal Panic!
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
A Certain Magical Index
These stories are not pure fantasy but are instead based on ordinary lives which were somehow transformed. The lives of the main characters evolved. The 2000s were a decade where the internet and mobile phones were part of our everyday life, and it could be said that they anticipated AR (Augmented Reality) ahead of the times.
The best example of AR these days is Pokemon Go. In AR, additional information is added onto the ordinary world to create something completely new. For example, Pokemon GO uses your real-life location to use in the game. In a sense, these light novels could be regarded as the forerunners of AR.
You might be aware that many light novel anime in the 2010s have unnecessarily long titles:
Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabu-Kome wa Machigatteiru (My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected)
Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai (Oreimo / My Little Sister Can’t be This Cute!)
Oniichan dakedo Ai saeareba Kankei naiyone (OniAni / As Long As There Is Love, It Doesn’t Matter That He is My Brother, Right?)
Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru (OreShura / My Girlfriend and Childhood Friend Fight Too Much)
Ore no Nounai Sentakushi ga, Gakuen Rabu-Kome wo Zenryoku de Jama Shiteiru (NouCome / My Mental Choices Are Completely Interfering with my School Romantic Comedy)
Yuusha ni Narenakatta Ore wa Shibushibu Shuushoku wo Ketsui Shimashita (Yu-Shiba /I Couldn’t Become a Hero, So I Reluctantly Decided to Get a Job)
Netoge no Yome wa Onna no Ko Janai to Omotta? (And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online?)
The popular light novel anime of this decade belong to the Narou genre and are based on the ‘another-world’ setting. While characters in the titles of the 90s lived in another world from the start, characters in the titles published in the 2000s happen to visit these worlds and play an active role there.
Apart from winning competitions sponsored by publishers, many light novels came from the user-generated novel publishing website Shousetuka ni Narou (Let’s become a novelist), therefore they are often known as the Narou genre. Anime that represent this genre are: Sword Art Online, The Irregular at Magic High School, Overlord, Gate, KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!, and Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-.
Some characters reincarnate into another world, while others live in the real world and somehow become active in the gaming world, such as in Sword Art Online and Overlord.
If light novel anime were the forerunners of AR in the 2000s, then it can be said that they moved on to VR (Virtual Reality) in the 2010s. The characters are not only involved in these mysterious worlds, like they were in the 2000s, but they are also trying to have as much fun as possible!
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— TV Anime ‘Konosuba’ Official Twitter (@konosubaanime) 2016 December 5
This was only a brief history of how the light novels connected to anime in the current and in past decades. The trend of light novels has changed as follows:
· Enjoying fantasy worlds from afar.
· Fantasy comes to our ordinary world
· We go to the fantasy world and experience it there
I believe that light novels are usually ahead of the times, especially in the entertainment region. Now light novels are going to a direction where technology slowly comes to our world and becomes part of our reality. Like proper science fiction, they try to imagine what the world will become, and sometimes their predictions become our reality.
— ‘Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World’ Official (@Rezero_official) 2016 December 5