Narrative in the Digital Age: From *Light Novels* to Web Serials

Narrative in the Digital Age:
From “Light Novels” to Web Serials
Satomi Saito
Assistant Professor, GREAL
Bowling Green State University
November 12, 2014
• Why light novels?
– From old media to new media
• History of young adult fiction in Japan
– From Children's literature to young adult fiction
• Media mix in 1980s
– Light novels
• Participatory Culture in 21C
– Web serials
Why Japanese Popular Literature?
• Literature: Literary conventions specific to
– The I-novel as Japanese mode of writing (Otsuka)
• Philosophy: A reflection of changing society
– Postmodernism (Azuma)
• Cultural Studies: Cultural conventions seen in
popular literature
– The Majority of Western media
Culturist Interpretation Everywhere
“Japanese myths often use shape-shifting, in
which bodies reveal themselves as facades
concealing a deeper reality. It's as if animation
was invented for shape-shifting, and Miyazaki
does wondrous things with the characters here.”
Roger Ebert on Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away
How media traverse the globe?
• Media influence vs. Cultural appropriation
– Cultural (Western media) influence
– Borrowing to maintain (Japanese) cultural heritages
• Culture as our limits of imagination
– Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities.
– Dissemination of cultures in the global market
– Creation and maintenance of incommensurable
– Learn from similarities rather than differences
Theoretical Notes
• Remediation
– Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation:
Understanding New Media (MIT Press, 2000)
• Imaginary World Building
– Mark J. P. Wolf, Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and
History of Subcreation (Rutledge, 2012)
• Japanese discussion of media-mix
Azuma Hiroki, Otaku (U of Minnesota P, 2009)
Otsuka Eiji, “World and Variation,” Mechademia 5 (2010)
Ian Condry, The Soul of Anime (Duke, 2013)
Mark Steinberg, Anime’s Media Mix (U Minnesota P, 2012)
• Remediation
– The representation of one medium in another
– “Like their precursors, digital media can never reach this state of
transcendence, but will instead function in a constant dialectic with
earlier media, precisely as each earlier medium functioned when it
was introduced” (Bolter & Grusin, p.50).
• Immediacy
– “In formal terms, the desire for immediacy is the desire to get beyond
the medium to the objects of representation themselves” (p.83).
• Hypermediation
– A “style of visual representation whose goal is to remind the viewer of
the medium” (p.272). collage, CNN, first person shooting games
– A visual style that “privileges fragmentation, indeterminacy, and
heterogeneity and . . . Emphasizes process or performance rather than
the finished art object” (W. Mitchell, The Recofigured Eye, p.8).
Two moves of remediation
• “Transparent digital applications seek to get to
the real by bravely denying the fact of mediation”
(Bolter & Grusin, p.53) virtual reality
• “Digital hypermedia seek the real by multiplying
mediation so as to create a feeling of fullness, a
satiety of experience, which can be taken as
reality” (Bolter & Grusin, p.53) WWW
How to define Light Novels?
• The term came out from user participation
– Coined around 1990 by Kamikita Keita, who was the
system operator of the Science Fiction and Fantasy forum
in the Nifty Serve BBS; actual circulation around 2004
• Marginalized from more clearly defined genre fiction
by serious fans and early adaptors (interact with
technology/new media)
• not young adult fiction, not a genre in a conventional
sense (Genre function)
• One of the most competitive Japanese “literature” in
Japanese as well as in the global market
A Genealogy of Affiliations (not a
linear history) of Light Novels
• Children’s Literature (児童文学 Jido bungaku)
• Young Adult Fiction
– Juvenile (ジュブナイル jubunairu)
– Junior Fiction (ジュニア小説 junia shosetsu)
• “Light Novel” (ライトノベル raito noberu)
Boys Magazine:
Shonen Sekai (1895-1933)
Girls Magazine
Shojo Sekai (1906-31)
Children’s Literature
• A strict gender division
• To improve children’s literacy
• To lift the morale of the nation; patriotism
– Military and adventure themes for boys
– Romance themes for girls; Good wife, Wise
• A top-down imposition of state ideologies
Print Capitalism and
Westernized Liberal Arts
• Bunko or Bunko-bon: small-format paperback
books (A6), affordable, portable, modeled
after Reclam universal library in Germany
• Iwanami bunko (1927- ): classic works of domestic
and foreign authors
• Shicho bunko (1928- ): focus on world literature
• Kadokawa bunko (1949- ): focus on Japanese
literature in the early stage, shifted to popular
literature in the 1970s
Kadokawa Media Mix:
the “synthetic” use of media
The Third bunko boom
• Kodansha bunko (1971- )
• Shueisha bunko (1977- )
Sonorama bunko (ソノラマ文庫, 1975-)
Kobaruto bunko (コバルト文庫, 1976- )
(Multi-media) New Currents
• Girls: Shojo manga
– Hagio moto Oshima Yumiko
• Boys: Anime and games
– Anime novelization
– RPG replays!
Hana no nijūyonen-gumi
• Year 24 Flower Group (花の二十四年組):
• Women manga artist groups considered to have
revolutionized shōjo manga. Many of them were born in
Shōwa 24 (1949) and started their career in the 1970s.
• Shōjo manga
• Hagio Moto, Poe no ichizoku (The Poe Family, 1972-76)
• Ikeda Riyoko, Berusaiyu no Bara (The Rose of Versailles,
• Takemiya Keiko, Kaze to kino uta (The Poem of Wind and
Trees, 1976-84)
• Cf. Shōnen manga
Chiba Tetsuya, Ashita no Jō (Tomorrow’s Joe, 1968-73)
Shōjo manga
• Men’s logic and linearity in time/space and
panels: uniformly regimented rectangles and
rows, immediacy, cinema
• Women’s emotion, interiority: time and reality
were no longer locked up inside boxes and
narratives could shift in and out of memories
and dreams, hypermediation, novel
How to represent interiority of shojo?
Himuro Saeko and manga realism
Novels that resemble manga
• Dialogue and frequent line breaks dominate
• An upbeat tempo of the dialogue drives the
story forward
• Settings are unrealistic and the content is selfconsciously empty (cartoonish reality)
• when description is required, illustrations are
inserted to supplement the reader’s
imagination (practical ways of writing a few
books per month)
Boys: from media adaptation to
Game replay?
• Mizuno Ryo, Record of Lodoss War (1988- )
– Originally created in 1986 as a Dungeons &
Dragons “replay” and serialized in the computer
magazine Comptiq.
– Published as a novel in 1988 by Mizuno Ryo
– Third person narration
– Subcreation comparable to The Lord of the Rings
The birth of “Light novel”
• Kanzaki Hajime, Slayers (1989-2000)
– a merger of Mizuno’s fantasy world making and
Himuro’s writing style
– First person narrative
– Less dependent on the world making
(inconsistency, parallel worlds)
– References to the primary world (hypermediacy)
• Manga/anime realism vs. conventional realism
• Story oriented to character oriented
David Bordwell’s Classical Hollywood
Style: 1917-1960
I: A system of narrative logic
1. consists of at least two lines of action, one of
which involves heterosexual romantic love
2. two lines coincide at the climax
3. the heterosexual relationships that give a sense
of closure to otherwise unmotivated or even
inadequate plot resolutions
II: A system of cinematic time
III: A system of cinematic space
• Novels as part of character merchandizing
• Adaptation vs. character fiction
– Mizuno: creation of the “unique” world
– Kanzaki: creative appropriation of clichés
• Character Fiction=light novels?
• The primacy of characters in media mix
– Mark Steinberg, Anime’s Media Mix.
• The primacy of world in media mix
– Ian Condry, The Soul of Anime.
Narrative Consumption
• Instead of narrative/story, what do we
• Otsuka Eiji, Narrative Consumption (1989)
• The fragmentary attempt to approach a
certain totality which is hidden from view
(grand narrative, world view)
Stickers (1985)
character + “small” narrative
What do children consume?
chocolate? the stickers?
• 1. Every sticker contained the drawing of one character. On the
reverse side of the sticker there was a short bit of information
called “Rumors of the Devil World,” describing the character
drawn on the front of the sticker.
• 2. With one sticker alone this information amounted to little
more than noise. But once the child had collected a number of
them and put them together, the child began to vaguely see a
“small narrative” emerging—the rivalry between characters A
and B, the betrayal of D by C, and son on.
• 3. This unexpected appearance of narrative functioned as a
trigger to accelerate children’s collection.
• 4. Moreover, with the accumulation of these small narratives, a
“grand narrative” reminiscent of a mythological epic appeared.
• 5. Child consumers were attracted by this grand narrative, and
tried to gain further access to it through the continued purchase
of chocolates. (Otsuka, “World and Varieties” p.106)
Grand Narrative and Small Narratives
• This will perhaps be easiest to understand if it
is compared to a computer game. The totality
of the data programmed into one video game
would correspond to the worldview. [. . .]. By
contrast to this, each individual drama
corresponds to one game play. Each individual
“play” using the same video game will offer up
a different development depending on the
player and the game. (Otsuka, p.108)
World making vs. Story telling
• Consistency and completeness of the secondary world
(creator centered)
• “While completeness can never be achieved, a sense of
completeness can” (Wolf, p.61) trans-media storytelling
• Story oriented to character oriented
• The secondary world as a shared database
• Gaps in the secondary world encourage participation (user
Bishojo Games remediate “light novel”
“The Japanese word bishoujo (or bishojo) translates to ‘pretty
girl’ and bishoujo games have been defined as ‘a type of
Japanese video game centered around interactions with
attractive anime-style girls’” (Matthew T. Jones, “The
Impact of Telepresence on Cultural Transmission through
Bishoujo Games,” p.294).
The embodiment of database in style/narrative/ consumption.
The sensibility of a “depth” of another kind
“Dismantling the preceding works into some elements or
fragments and reassembling them repeatedly rather than
expressing their own authorship or originality” (Azuma).
A belief in a single story which is in definition generated
through a combination of multiple “choices.”
Split subjectivity between surface (story) and depth
(database): Hypermediation
Yu-No (Elf, 1996)
How to remediate Bishojo Games?
• Yumizuru Izuru, IS<Infinite Stratos> (2009- )
• A male-oriented Harlem series: multiple characters as small
• Hypermediality: the story is subordinate to the characters
• First person narration who plays the role of a simpleton
who believes “they do not love me” = the player character
• The reader as the subject who knows “they love him” = the
Reverse Harlem
Otuka Eiji
Narrative Consumption
Creator-oriented world
Azuma Hiroki
Database Consumption
User-oriented world
• The user-generated content sites
Arcadia; Derivative work, fan fiction
Shosetsuka ni naro; creative original work
Nocturne novels; adult novels (male)
Moonlight novels; adult novels (female)
• From the parasitic world (to media producers) to
the autonomous world by grassroots users
• Keywords, ranking, reviews, recommendations
Characteristics of web serials
• Parallel worlds
– New Game +
– Reincarnation
• Cheating: secretly subverting the rules of the game to gain
advantage over an opponent
• First person limited perspective
• Recycle of common settings
– Parallel access to first and secondary world
– Creative appropriations of clichés
• Genre function: interpretive community
BBS Maoyu
• The original story was posted in a play format
on the textboard 2ch in 2009.
• Rely not on illustrations for description but on
the shared database of RPG games
• User participation in its narrative continuity
Tono Mamare, Maoyu (2010)
Japonism revisited
• Immediacy = the West
– representation
• Hypermediacy = Japan?
– Presentation
• Discipline as interpretive communities

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