Thursday, January 27, 2022

When Does Research Become a Fixation?

I pull back the curtain a bit today, revealing a deep, dark secret about myself—a secret so dank, surely I’ll lose the last three readers I have.

Pandoras Box from an unknown artist at Pixiv

I’ve been reading far too many Japanese light novels lately.

It started as a form of research, but now I actually like the darn things. I can’t get enough of them. They’re my personal Pandora’s Box. I opened the beautiful, ornately engraved box, saw the plentiful wonders inside, and now I can’t shut the lid. Is this an ADHD obsession, or a newfound joy? I can’t tell, which is why I’m troubled. Have you seen my Goodreads timeline? I read almost all escapist manga and light novels these days. I know I’ve been struggling with depression lately, but it’s embarrassing! I’m sitting here wearing a Fair Isle style, wool sweater, a designer, long-sleeved, henley shirt, and Izod tech pants, not a 1-ply t-shirt featuring Sailor Moon with chip crumbs all over my belly. How will my polished author image survive this lapse in pretentiousness?

In 2019, I had noticed that many of my favorite anime that season had origins as light novels in Japan. The more I looked into them, the more I realized that most anime was based on successful light novels. I’m not sure when they crowded out manga as the number one source. Even many successful manga are light novel spin-offs these days.

The best way to describe a light novel is as if pulp fiction and anime had a baby. Most stories are told in the first person. Most are written in a rush, with rapid output outweighing literary craft as the number one priority. The emphasis is on story and entertainment, not languid, literary explorations of contemporary themes. That’s where light novels are similar to pulp fiction, but where they differ is that the stories share more in common with comics with overpowered characters, romance being secondary to adventure, and so many portals open to fantasy worlds, it’s surprising Japan has any population left. In fact, many read like visual scripts to anime—as if the authors already have the licensing goals in mind. At worst, they can be fannish, derivative tales where they don’t milk tropes as much as they stick a spicket in and drain them by the bucketful.

Light Novels are not all bad. Otherwise, I wouldn’t spend so much time enjoying them. I’ve found my favorites. The intricate settings of Ascendance of a Bookworm are inspiring, as is the characterization and complicated plot. So much detail and research went into that series that I’m a little bit in awe of it. Unnamed Memory is gorgeously written. Earlier volumes are more sumptuous than later volumes, but over all I find the strong world and character building very engaging. The story reads like a fairytale whodunnit. The marathon-named Banished from the Hero’s Party, I Decided to Live a Quiet Life in the Countryside is a LitRPG, traditional high fantasy story that slowly reveals deep explorations on the meaning of free will while it subverts the proverbial hero role. Like Unnamed Memory, the story bucks the Light Novel trend and features romance in a warm and healthy way. Also, the Rascal Does Not Dream of… series is notable for its rapid-fire and funny dialog. Imagine a Young Adult X-files crossed with Moonlighting situated in Japan. The story is funny, but the author makes me care about the characters. The last volume was a bit cruel with my heartstrings.

Reading for research is one thing, but light novels have replaced vegging out in front of the boob tube. That’s an improvement, right⸮ They’ve replaced gaming, too. The downside is now that I read for fun, I’m no longer studying the craft, the pacing, the compromises, or the output of the authors involved.

I blame (JNC). I paid for a subscription to read everything I could get my hands on. I wanted to understand the phenomenon better. JNC serializes the stories as they are serialized in Japan—weekly—so one can find themselves quite busy keeping on top of several series all week long. I just paid for one month, but here I am two years later. I’m just glad that JNC doesn’t serialize daily as some of the stories are released in Japan.

I’m not complaining. Light novels and Kindle Vella gave me the kick in the butt I needed to write more. Serializing daily? Do you realize how much work that is? Even if the output is a tropey lark with no originality, I am still impressed with the dedication and output. On top of my Tourette’s and other issues, the pandemic, along with family drama, snuffed out my writing flame. I felt like a podling from Dark Crystal, drained and lifeless as I moved from day to day. Now I’m anxiously engaged in a good cause in my own way instead of letting depression win.

If only I could cut back on reading and do more writing. (Serialized daily! I’m exhausted just thinking about it.)