The Lightness of Light Novels and the Magnified Hate of Light Novel Anime

Today’s anime industry is filled with light novel adaptations, many of which revolve around tropes that are loved by some and hated by others. Common ones include ridiculously long and descriptive titles, an average passive guy who discovers a special power, and the throngs of girls (some of whom may or may not be his little sister) who fall for him as he saves the world. For those who aren’t fans, the term “light novel anime” has come to be filled with a certain level of apprehension. “Oh, it’s a light novel anime, but don’t hold that against it.” However, while the contents of these stories contribute a large part in why they draw ire from some anime fans, what I think is an equally important factor is the implication that a good deal of money is required to adapt a light novel into an anime.

Generally speaking, the “light” in light novel refers to the fact that they’re supposed to be light reads. Sure, they might be full of esoteric jargon (hello Index) and long and complicated word play (Monogatari), but for the most part light novels are meant to be easy to pick up, finish, and put down. It doesn’t cost much to write a light novel, relatively speaking: it’s usually one person writing, and one person doing a handful of illustrations. Overall, while the industry itself isn’t necessarily cheap, the act of writing requires only a pen and paper (or keyboard and computer).

Imagine you’re presented with a book that’s full of the same tired elements, and even reeks of some author’s self-insert revenge fantasy. Its prose seems stiff and workman-like, without any creative flair. You read it, make a face, and then put it away. No harm, no foul, and even though you might later find out it’s popular and don’t personally understand why, this simple “light” book is no skin off your back.

However, then you find out that the book is being made into a Hollywood movie. They’re pouring millions of dollars into it. It feels weird, almost as if it weren’t meant to stand on this grand of a stage.

This, I think, is akin to what happens sometimes when a light novel gets adapted into an anime. Of course, there is much, much less money in the anime industry compare to big budget films, but there’s still a transition from a light novel, a piece of fiction similar in function to old American pulp magazines, to something that requires funds, hiring of talent in great numbers, and just a great deal of combined energy. As Shirobako has shown, anime production is a grueling process, and the idea that the anime industry is putting all of that energy into making some bad light novel look good can seem to detractors like a waste of finite resources.

The industry standard for the “look” of anime involves a certain higher level of polish and presentation. Most shows on a very basic level pass the test of “does this look like it was drawn and created by professionals?” What this means, then, is that whether an anime is based on some award-winning novel or something else entirely, they have similar levels of professionalism. The amateurish qualities of a light novel, which might have been forgivable for more people if they remained in that realm, vanish, and this causes fans to look at these stories from a different perspective.

In other words, if all light novel anime looked like gdgd Fairies or Ai Mai Mii, I don’t think they would get quite as much hate. Actually, that’s something I would love to see.

2 thoughts on “The Lightness of Light Novels and the Magnified Hate of Light Novel Anime

  1. I think you’re on to something here. Though a comparable situation might also be the disdain shown for comic book creators like Mark Millar who are accused of using the medium as an elaborate scheme to push Hollywood script pitches. I’ve seen a few light novel reviews to the effect that it read like a TV script, and consciously using anime television motifs in the writing, when it comes to a later adaptation, may seem to make a recursive product with increasingly diminishing returns.


  2. I’m trying to understand this perceived gap where a light novel becomes a Hollywood movie (hello, Edge of Tomorrow) that you are describing as light novel turning into anime. I think it’s complete baloney in that, well, a lot of manga are also pretty cheap to create (1 person…doing everything. Sometimes no assistant required!), but we don’t have that reaction with something like 80% of TV anime being adopted from pulp fiction-type material.

    FWIW, this is not the same as the reaction people have with the Emoji movie, let’s just say.

    I think it’s more important to try to figure out why do people look down on light novels. Maybe when words are stripped of images, they are mere words–and often times for non-Japanese readers, words written by some guy who probably isn’t qualified to translate them (versus those of us who are reading a good, professional localization at least).

    What’s cheap about light novel isn’t that all it takes is 1 illustrator, 1 editor and an artist to make, it’s that this team of 3 people can crunch up to 10+ books a year. I don’t know any author who can write 10 books a year, unless it’s like a serial publication in a magazine or something.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.