Anime & Light novel: What Is It?

Anime & Light novel: What Is It?

Anime, in English, commonly refers to Japanese animation, and light novel refers to Japanese printed comics. The term light novel in Japanese means “comic drawing.” It can mean just the printed comics, or it can also be used as a generic term for both anime and light novel. In Japanese, both may be used as generic terms to refer to non-Japanese counterparts as well.

There are reasons why anime and light novel are not simply called animation and comics in English. Those unfamiliar with the media may not quite understand it, but fans understand the difference intuitively. The distinction may boil down to stylistic and narrative differences, or it may be due to the basic difference in origin. Practically speaking, style and origin are somewhat inseparable; we will come to see that Japanese culture plays a huge role in the visual/ narrative “language” of light novel and vice versa; when we talk about light novel, we are talking about Japan. At least for now.

In This Book

This book is written for the fans of anime and light novel who wish to appreciate their favorite media more. It will introduce the cultural backgrounds of anime and light novel themes and contents, as well as historical and cultural backgrounds of the mediums themselves. You will have opportunities to think over what makes anime and light novel special to us fans, to develop deeper understanding of your favorite works, and to discover new works.

This book will follow the traditional Japanese use of the term light novel to refer to just Japanese printed comics (the narrow definition) or to both anime and light novel (the generic, broader definition), depending on the context. Often, the phenomenon in question applies to both. Otherwise, it should be clear which sense the term is being used in.

We will not use the terms anime and light novel to refer to generic animation and comics. In English, the terms anime and light novel universally refer to Japanese phenomena. To avoid confusion and to preserve the cultural roots of the forms, we will respect this convention.

Readers are advised to be aware of different ways of transcribing Japanese words and names into English. There will be inconsistencies in English spelling of Japanese terms throughout the book and referenced materials. Readers who wish to know why are encouraged to read the remainder of this Notes On Spelling section. One clear case to demonstrate the issue is that Japanese language does not distinguish the L and R sounds of English. A Japanese sound exists that is roughly between L and R. This sound is typically transcribed with R in English text. The famous director of Galaxy Express 999, Leiji Matsumoto, decided to use L instead for his given name, which would have been conventionally spelled as Reiji. However, few Japanese speaker would know about Matsumoto’s spelling preference for his given name in English, because alphabet is not used for his name in Japanese text. Therefore, those who primarily learn about light novel from Japanese text may spell his given name as Reiji when they write in English.

Transcribing long vowels is another case. Long vowels may be omitted from transcription in some cases, while in other cases, they may be added faithfully to the pronunciation, or faithfully to the Japanese characters. One such example is “Touhou”” or “Toho”. The former is more commonly seen in English in the context of Touhou Project, while the latter is used for the Toho Studio. The former is closer to how the word is “spelled” in Japanese characters but it would be unnatural when pronounced the way it is spelled. The latter version is closer to the original Japanese when pronounced, but it leaves ambiguity as to the length of each vowel. To overcome this ambiguity, the long vowel may be represented by repeating the same vowel, or by an “h”. So the same word と う ほ う in Japanese can be transcribed in English as Toho, Touhou, Toohoo, Tohhoh, or Toh-hoh.

Word boundaries are also an issue. Especially in compound words, hyphenation can make the word easier to understand, just as in the above case of Toh-hoh. As such, hyphenation usage may be inconsistent even for exactly the same word. No matter which method one uses, there is no “best” way to transcribe the Japanese language with alphabet. Inconsistency in spelling is inevitable across different documents. As such, deliberate attempt was not made for consistencies in Japanese word spelling in this book.

On a related note, in Japanese language, the conventional order of Japanese names is the family name first, and then the given name. When in the European languages, however, Japanese people traditionally present their names in the European order: the given name, and then family name. This book followed the traditional practice of the Japanese people in this context: Japanese names are presented with given name first.