My Favorite Light Novel Anime

Light novel anime adaptations get something of a bad rap, but there are plenty of gems in that sea. If I were to list all of the light novel anime I thought were good, I’d have a pretty hefty list—big enough that even I’m surprised by looking at it. Instead, I’ve narrowed it down to a few, with reasons why I enjoy them so much.

1. My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, As I Expected (aka My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU)

I’ve written at length on more than one occasion about why I think so highly about Youth Romantic Comedy, but every time I think about it I come back with even more reasons. This time around, an aspect that sticks out to me is how the series positions its central love triangle with a kind of thoughtfulness one might not expect.

Even though they all have significantly different perspectives on life, the characters’ contrasting viewpoints allow them to accomplish tasks that each of them alone could not. This extends to their love triangle. Where usually girls in these series are interested in the same guy for the same reason, Yui and Yukino are drawn to different qualities in Hachiman. Yui sees him as a good person deep down inside (whether he realizes it or not), and Yukino sees Hachiman as someone on a similar, socialization-shunning wavelength.

It’s good stuff.

2. The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi

In general, I’m pretty fond of the Suzumiya Haruhi anime, even if it’s not viewed with as much reverence as it once was. The story of a girl who might very well be god of the universe without realizing it hits a lot of interesting notes. However, I put the film The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi on a whole other level. The powerful emotions swirling around the characters—especially Nagato—as well as the tough decisions they have to make, just sticks with me in a way that not even the series’ other high points can. The only significant flaw of the movie, in my opinion, is that it requires viewers to have all the background context of the series prior to watching, but I think it can still probably do fine stand-alone.

For more of my thoughts, check out my review.

3. Humanity Has Declined

I sometimes forget that this series is based on a light novel because of how witty its satire can be. Taking place in a world where humankind is no longer the dominant race on Earth—instead supplanted by a race of fairies—it often showcases the folly of humanity by having their mistakes repeated in fast-forward by the fairies, who are somehow brilliant and imbecilic at the same time. The fairies can easily fashion new and highly advanced forms of science and technology, but are extremely prone to group-think, bandwagoning, and lack of foresight. It’s all too fitting that we as a species would get outdone by more extreme versions of us.

This is another series I’ve written a review for, which you can find here.

4. Kino’s Journey

If there’s one thing more recent light novel anime tend to lack, it’s a strong sense of atmosphere. Sure, they’ll have complex environments and elaborate magic systems, but they don’t capture the sense of a world in flux the way that Kino’s Journey does. Kino is a “traveler,” an unusual profession where she travels from one land to the next, learning about what each distinct culture is like. It’s a quiet and contemplative series, but at times can swell with tension and action. I’ve written a little about Kino’s Journey before, but only one of the short films.

I’m really looking forward to the upcoming new anime.

5. Slayers

While light novel anime are sometimes thought of as a more recent phenomenon due to the increased influx over the past 10-15 years, in my opinion the true grandmaster of the light novel adaptation is Slayers. Black magician Lina Inverse fancies herself a hero, but she’s more an agent of destruction, feared for her lack of concern for collateral damage. As she continues to make allies, she finds herself having to fight for the fate of her world, but not without keeping her characteristic wit, fury, and hungers both literal and metaphorical.

It was one of my gateway anime, and one of the first series that I was proud to own. Its mixture of humor, adventure, and dramatic development at the right moments makes it forever a classic in my mind. It’s one of the defining series of the 90s, and while its age often shows, I think it still has potential for wide appeal to a current audience.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

 

 

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Hikigaya Hachiman Changes, Whether He Likes It or Not

snafutoo-hachiman

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU was a pleasant surprise I had originally written off. In spite of its excessively light novel title and its school romance setting, the series exhibited a great deal of maturity. I recently finished the second series, and while I won’t go too into detail about it (my first review still applies in a lot of ways), I did want to talk about what I find to be the most notable aspect of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO!, which is the willingness to let its main character, Hikigaya Hachiman, grow.

You might be thinking, “What’s so special about character development? That’s what stories typically do.” In a way, there is indeed nothing impressive about how Hachiman changes. However, given his personality, that of the cynic and outcast who observes human interaction in order to point out all of the unnecessary niceties that people throw out in their daily lives, I would have assumed that he would forever remain in that capacity. However, the second series really shows Hachiman being affected by the different people he helps out and interacts with, to the point that he begins to question how he approaches solutions and how he categorizes people, allowing bits of optimism and consideration for others to seep into his way of thinking.

The most fascinating to me about this change in Hachiman is how he processes these small changes in his values through his hyper-logical, hyper-pessimistic outlook, and has to struggle with where it seems to contradict his preconceived notions. What really hits home is the way he realizes that his actions potentially hurt not only others but himself as he increasingly values his friendship with Yuigahama Yui and Yukinoshita Yukino, the other central characters of the series.

The fact that there’s no clear favorite in the love triangle is also really notable. How often does that happen?

Hikigaya Hachiman: A Work in Progress

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My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU was an anime that really impressed me in spite of its seemingly cliche-ridden premise, and whenever I talk to others who were skeptical of the show, I recount to them my surprise that I had found something worth watching.

On one occasion, I was chatting with some friends online and explaining how I really liked the fact that the series can get a little serious at times when it comes to criticizing elements of social interaction people take for granted and that the main character has a “loser” perspective that feels different from other similar light novel protagonists. One friend responded that this was exactly the sort of thing he hated about the show, and because it had been a while since I had seen SNAFU I wondered if my own experience was colored by my biases or some other factor.

Since then, a sequel series has started coming out for the Spring 2015 season. While I haven’t had the time to watch as much as I would like, re-visiting this anime through this second season (which by the way is for some reason animated by a completely different studio) has helped me to clarify why, in fact, I enjoy the surly adventures of Hikigaya Hachiman.

Hachiman has a very cynical personality, and his self-described strength is that his particular world view allows him to see problems and find solutions that the popular kids can’t. On the surface it appears as if Hachiman is the rebel who’s too cool for school written by someone who resented the popular students growing up (whether justified or not), but I believe that SNAFU portrays his character with far more consideration. For example, in the first two episodes, Hachiman clashes with a number of other characters, who basically criticize him for his methods, and I think it’s very important that he appears to be affected by their words. Hachiman isn’t the invincible outcast, and he at times unwillingly questions his own mindset. His cynicism is as much a weakness as it is a strength, and it leaves open the opportunity for him to grow and change, or at least acknowledge when he needs the help of others who simply see things differently.

The fact that the series premise is that Hachiman, Yui, and Yukino solve other students’ problems lends itself to also reflecting and showcasing the issues of the main characters themselves. As the series goes along, I think that this quality in SNAFU will become even more important.

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The Fujoshi Files 129: Ebina Hina

Name: Ebina, Hina (海老名姫菜)
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

Information:
Ebina Hina is student at Sobu High School, and is often seen with her classmates, the soccer ace Hayama Hayato and fashionable gal Miura Yumiko. She is extremely open about being a fujoshi, and constantly wonders aloud both what pairings here classmates can be in and what they might do to each other.

Hina also has a creative talent, working as a director and script writer for her class’s play for a school festival, though she unsurprisingly loads it with BL innuendo.

Fujoshi Level:
Though very much a fujoshi, she intentionally uses her image to keep guys from asking her out.

The Aggressively Passive Protagonist

There’s a general trend I’ve been seeing with male anime protagonists from light novels, or more specifically anime adaptations of light novels. In many of these titles, the main characters tend towards having passivity as a defining trait, sometimes to the point of “aggressive passivity.” Not to be confused with someone who’s passive-aggressive, or even someone who’s mostly passive and occasionally active (like Shinji in the Evangelion TV series), the aggressively passive protagonist is someone whose passivity is almost a badge of honor, either in the form of a passive special ability, a self-image in which passivity practically defines them, or a reputation for passivity.

Let’s look at a brief list.

  • My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU: Hikigaya Hachiman persistently mentiones how the real world is harsh and unforgiving and how it’s best to kind of just coast through it with little ambition.
  • Mayo Chiki: Sakamichi Kintarou has the nickname of “Chicken Tarou,” indicating what a pushover he is, which he tries to fight.
  • A Certain Magical Index: Kamijou Touma, though not truly passive, operates on an extremely loose philosophy of “do the right thing, I guess.” In addition, his ability is a defensive one which neutralizes other superpowers.
  • Monogatari Series: Araragi Koyomi helps others out, but his abilities as a vampire mainly manifest in his ability to endure pain and injury, and even his method of active help comes across as essentially philosophically passive.
  • Ookami-san: Morino Ryoushi, Ookami’s partner, is someone who can only help fight from the shadows, as he fears direct confrontation.
  • Suzumiya Haruhi: Kyon, though he eventually enjoys it, starts off talking about how much he’d rather not be having strange and crazy adventures.

If you look, you’ll also find such characters in non-light novel anime. This is somewhat different from the classic milquetoast harem lead, whose averageness is taken as a way to make him the everyman and the avatar of the reader, because often-times with these aggressively passive characters a lot of time is spent talking about just how average they are and how being average/passive is the way to be.

I’m not sure why this is the case, but I suspect it may have something to do with the “herbivore men” concept that has taken hold in Japan. Herbivore men are defined as guys who shun the life of wealth, success, sex, and family, the classic symbols of masculinity, and embrace a more passive lifestyle which shirks society’s expectations. This trend gets tied to a number of things by those curious as to why it’s occurring, such as the poor Japanese economy driving down ambition towards employment, and it’s possible that the protagonists described above are a product of this environment, that the people reading (and perhaps even writing) these light novels and watching their anime adaptations also see the traditional path of Japanese men to be fraught with lies and deception.

Of course, in many of these cases, it’s not like the characters sit back and do nothing, but that passivity on some level becomes a part of their characters, either as something to be celebrated or something to be worked on. If anything, even the sampling of titles above speak towards a broad range of viewpoints as to what passivity is and whether or not it’s something to be embraced or to be worked on.

This trend is actually why I think Kirito in Sword Art Online has become such a popular hero for anime fans both male and female. It’s not that the aggressively passive hero is inherently bad, but that in this environment an aggressive protagonist stands out that much more. In SAO, Kirito is an extremely skilled fighter who helps the downtrodden, attracts women left and right, and has a powerful reputation among those inhabiting the world, while also being gentle, considerate, and devoted to those he loves. He becomes the exemplary light novel hero for those who’d rather not have a passive protagonist.

The Title is a Lie (Or Is it?): My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

One of the most visibly obvious trends in anime in recent years is the extremely long and descriptive title. My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute. Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts. More accurately, it’s the product of a tendency in the current light novel industry from which many anime are adapted, and with that verboseness comes a blessing of sorts. For those who want what a particular title has to offer, they need only look at the name, and for those who want to avoid specific shows at all costs it becomes equally useful. You can indeed judge these books by their covers to a certain extent, which is why I initially set aside My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, considering it a low priority.

I have nothing against teen romantic comedies or SNAFUs, but the original Japanese title, Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come ga Machigatteiru (translated also as, “My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected”) seems to imply a lot of things which don’t exactly excite me. First, it seemed to hint at this strange cooler-than-school cynicism which you find in a lot of light novel protagonists that I find unappealing, a sort of counter-elitism of the same variety as “the geeks will inherit the Earth.” Second, even though it says the romantic comedy is “wrong,” it still implied some combination of harem/love triangle. When I finally got around to watching SNAFU, I realized I’d been wrong all along. While it contains some degree of the two elements I’ve described, it’s also a clever series which has at its core not so much a good ol’ harem comedy but a closer look at the combination of social and sef-perceptive tensions which can make life as a teenager mentally and emotionally taxing, especially for those who don’t quite fit in, and the help that can come from those who simply understand.

SNAFU centers around Hikigaya Hachiman, a cynical guy who quickly acknowledges how low on the social totem pole he is and how much he prefers to be there. Hikigaya is forced to join a club whose purpose is vaguely to help people out, acting as a last-ditch student-run guidance counseling of sorts. In the club, Hikigaya is joined by two girls with equally Stan Lee-esque names, Yukinoshita Yukino and Yuigahama Yui. Yukinoshita is extremely observant but a little too sharp-tongued for her own good, and Yuigahama is energetic and a little ditzy with a greater desire to try and fit in with her peers compared to the other two.

Just from my basic plot summary I think it’s easy to see why I was a bit wary (and potentially weary) of the show, but there are a number of things which give this anime some solid legs.

First, although Hikigaya is indeed quite the pessimist, and he does have the “screw the popular kids” attitude to an extent, he also shows that he’s aware of what he lacks. He knows that if you have the right attitude you can accomplish many things and reach out to a lot of people, but he doesn’t have that attitude and probaby never will. What his perspective does for him, however, is that it allows him to find people who are similar to him, and to figure out solutions that wouldn’t work for the “average” teenager, but are perfect for those who are below the bar. Similarly, Yukinoshita’s astute assessments make her able to understand a given social situation quickly, while Yuigahama’s propensity for tact and cheer becomes the grease to move the wheel where Hikigaya and Yukinoshita’s personalities would otherwise stifle it. SNAFU really does focus on the theme of helping people who feel ground down by the pressures of their social groups, and at places goes to some fairly dark (though not morbidly or horrifyingly dark) places.

Second, even though there is a love triangle element to the main cast, with Yuigahama clearly having feelings for Hikigaya due to a small event in the past, and Yukinoshita can be seen as gradually developing feelings for him as well, the friendship between the two girls is just as if not more important than the romance. Yukinoshita has no friends, while Yuigahama would traditionally try to ingratiate herself with other girls just to not be caught outside the circle, and so their growing bond becomes an important factor in developing them. It’s to the extent that, even if the series ends with one “winning” over the other by dating Hikigaya, it is highly doubtful that it would destroy the friendship they’ve built up.

Third, when it come to determining who might indeed end up with Hikigaya, the show gives a fair case for both of them. It doesn’t come across as woefully lopsided like in, say, Love Hina. And actually, when you look at the hormonal responses Hikigaya has to those he finds attractive, the strongest reactions seeem to come not from any girl, but from the incredibly effeminate male tennis club member Totsuka Saika. I’m pretty sure this is just another case of a Hideyoshi from Baka Test, a character so feminine in appearance that we’re supposed to take it as a gag, though in this case I suspect he also functions as a way to show how much deeper the connection Hikigaya makes with either girl will be.

I honestly think that this series ended up with a name as excessively long as Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru because someone told the author that everybody’s doing it. As a title, it’s actually quite deceptive, and somewhat ironically doesn’t help a person looking at it to understand what’s beneath the cover. I don’t think it’ll start any trends of intentionally obtuse light novel names, but at the very least it gives hope that if you’re willing to squeeze that lump of coal hard enough that it might turn into a diamond after all.

No guarantees with any other shows though.