Hey, Answerman! - Novel Gazing

by Brian Hanson, Jun 14th 2013

TERADELOO, it's Brian! I'm your solemn Answerman, and coming up are some questions about the neglected source of so many of our anime and manga: novels! What a novel idea, talking about novels! I won't waste anymore words here, so let's get to the nittest of the gritty!


Hi Answerman,

Visual novels seem to be a pretty big thing in Japan. After all, I've read that they make up nearly 70% of PC games in that region. Unfortunately, though; VNs haven't seen nearly as much popularity outside of Japan. There's been some moderate successes, like Phoenix Wright and the Zero Escape series of handheld games; but there's little doubt to me that the market for VNs is extremely lacking in the West. As you probably know, anime companies seem to make quite a few adaptations of these properties for full-on series. My question is, why are these series distributed outside of Japan if the original visual novels never were? Why are some anime like Chaos;HEAd, Cannan, and Higurashi: When They Cry even considered for localization if they're based on games that no one outside of Japan has ever heard of? The one example that I can think of that's become extremely popular is Steins;Gate, though that's probably due to Funimation's extensive marketing of their titles. Is there really a market for visual novel adaptions in the West, if the concept of a visual novel is largely unknown here?

Oh, it's never mattered one whit as to where an anime series came from when it comes time to license it for a DVD release or whatever. Did it matter in the late 90's when CPM licensed Slayers, which was based on a Light Novel? Before manga became a dedicated market in the West, did it matter to anyone who was licensing shows for DVD and television that nearly 80% of the product they were acquiring were based off of manga that "no one had ever heard of"? Nope. So long as you can sell the show on its own terms - i.e., it doesn't functionally require familiarity with the source material in order to make sense, but sometimes not even that was a requirement - it doesn't matter, and never has, where it came from.

On Visual Novels themselves, I'll say this: I think the rather incredible reception for Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward in the US has really shown that there is indeed a market for visual novels in the West. Now, the Zero Escape games are a bit of an odd duck compared to most other Visual Novels out there, since the game is part Visual Novel, and part "Escape The Room"-style puzzle games. But the interesting concepts and wacky characters and impressively detailed writing for those games is what made them a success here; just look at how many "Best of 2012" awards Virtue's Last Reward racked up from the Western gaming press.

Unfortunately, that may not exactly trickle down to other types of Visual Novels. So I'll say this: the future of Visual Novels will largely depend on the platform they're released on, and the quality of the game itself. I don't necessarily think that Visual Novels need to rely on their ties with any anime or manga tie-ins. Coincidentally, there's been some chatter coming from Nitroplus about a Western release of the original Steins;Gate game, which would personally thrill me, as that's a game I've been wanting to play for quite a while. But I wouldn't hold my breath to see that game get released on anything other than on iOS devices, or possibly the Playstation Vita. The Western game console market is too wracked and glutted with expensive content and it's difficult for niche genres to break out, considering the costs involved. No way they'd bother trying to find a publisher willing to put out the original Xbox 360 version, for example.

And when I say "quality," I mean that implicitly. The Zero Escape games made a dent in Western gaming fans' eyes because they were basically billed as interesting puzzle games, and to their credit, the puzzle elements of the games actually correspond to, and actually enhance, the narrative. By comparison, Steins;Gate has very little actual "game" elements. I'm a pretty damn huge fan of the Phoenix Wright games also, but even those have a much bigger "video game" function than almost any other Visual Novel you can name.

But I'm optimistic, in general. Up until now, the only Visual Novels we've been seeing are the ones that play less like a Visual Novel and more like a traditional video game. Phoenix Wright and Zero Escape may not be million sellers, but they're series that people with passion for gaming for the most part know about. They were a great Trojan Horse to get Westerners a little taste of what Visual Novels are, so now maybe something like Steins;Gate - a purely Visual Novel with only the barest of game-like interaction - can find its audience.

The timing is right, and there's no shortage of digital platforms that allow self-publishing. (Except the Xbox!) All that matters now is that whoever wants to do it can afford the right time, hire the right translators, and trust that the audience will show up and pay for it.


Hi Answerman,

I've been thinking about the US light novel market, or rather the lack thereof. I already know why we haven't gotten much of them here - Vertical laid it out pretty clearly when they responded to requests to translate and distribute Baccano!. However, the recent (and overwhelmingly) successful Eve no Jikan Blu-ray kickstarter got me thinking: Could that work for light novels too?

I'd like to know your own opinion on the matter, since you and the others at ANN are more privy to the workings of the American manga and anime industry than I am. Are there any hidden barriers behind crowdfunding a light novel release that I'm missing, or is it just that nobody's really considered the idea?

Oh no, they've considered it. Trust me. But here's the thing with Time of Eve that works in its favor: Time of Eve is, for all intents and purposes, an independent film. That Kickstarter was created by the studio in Japan, themselves. This wasn't a US-based licensor putting this together, it was the original crew who put the thing together in the first place, who decided to self-publish a Blu Ray in the West instead of licensing it away to the Sentai's or Funimation's of the world. In other words, Time of Eve wasn't bound up by some large publisher or rights holder in Japan; it was a project that has, from its inception, been wholly owned by its creators. And that's a great thing to have, because it allows you to do things like - well, launch a Kickstarter. There's no powerful men in suits at Kadokawa or Shogakukan wagging their fingers and scoffing at such an idea.

Unfortunately for most Light Novels, they do have those powerful men in suits calling the shots. Very few of what we consider to be "Light Novels" are self-published. Most of them come from magazines owned by Japanese publishers of varying size and strength. And really, the entire concept of Light Novels came from publishers. Light-reading, character-based stories based on fantastical elements or otaku-friendly concepts. The world of the Light Novel is still one that is very much controlled by the Japanese publishing industry.

And without putting too fine a point on it, good luck to anyone who might be foolish enough to try to start a Kickstarter to publish any of these things. Most Japanese publishers don't seem to hold any interest in the Western world of book sales, seeing as how most of them don't have a wholly-owned Western subsidiary; and the ones that do, like Shueisha and Kodansha, have been pretty touch-and-go about Light Novels. And when it comes to US licensors attempting anything with a Japanese property via Kickstarter, hoo boy. There's not a lot of good history there. For one thing, most Japanese companies hate it when any information about specifically how much it costs to license a property gets leaked. Now, how the hell can you start a successful Kickstarter or Indiegogo or whatever if you can't divulge specifically how much money you need, so that the Japanese license holders don't get mad? 'Tis a quandary!

The only way it'll work is if the Japanese publishers either give up caring about that stuff, or do like what Anime Sols is trying to do, which is form an LLP with several interested parties in order to take their own shot at this crowdfunding thing. I think an LLP would be a great choice to get a lot of Light Novel publishers on board, and unlike Anime Sols, I could really see such a thing taking off and getting funded. If they managed to get the right titles available, I can't imagine why the rabid fanbase that these Light Novels represent wouldn't show up and pledge money in droves.

But that's just wishful thinking, if anything. That would require Japanese publishers to take incentive in the Western market, which, if previous instances are any indication, they're not terribly interested in.


Answerman,

Getting excited about AX! Can't wait to see the producers of Attack on Titan. I just want to thank them for leaving the fanservice to the fans. (See: Attack on Titan fan art.)

The frustration about the episode 14 recap got me thinking though. To be honest, I don't care much for them either despite understanding the main reason why they exist is because they don't often rerun episodes on Japanese television. That makes it hard for people who learn about the series through word of mouth to hop on board. In that respect, I think it's smart of them to provide a recap episode before the first volume is released on home video. I did, however, like the recap episodes of NANA, hosted by some of the minor characters. If they did something like that with Sasha Blaus (aka Potato Girl) I'd be happy to watch.

So, why don't they rerun episodes on Japanese television? I also wonder if this sort of ties into your earlier response about less commercials. At this point, you might as well explain all the differences between how Japanese and American television function.

Wait, all the differences between American and Japanese television? You're a madman! I'd still be writing this column into the next month!

So, I'm going to narrow things down a bit. The deal with "recap" episodes is a simple one, and it has jack-all to do with whatever reason Japanese TV doesn't bother with reruns: there's chaos at the animation studio, deadlines are piling up, and the animation staff needs another week. That's it! That's all it is, plain and simple. And it's not as though Attack on Titan hasn't had some production delays before. I talked about those a few weeks ago, in fact! And it used to happen an awful lot in American TV shows as well; before The Simpsons went into syndication, Fox simply wanted to order as many episodes of the show as possible to take advantage of its massive popularity. The staff was overworked and couldn't conceivably deliver more than 22 episodes a season, so the network's solution was: make a clip show! The staff took it begrudgingly for a few seasons, because, y'know, there's money to be made, so why not.

Same deal with recap episodes. As my source put it bluntly, "If you see one recap episode you can probably bet that there's chaos behind the scenes; if there's two you can bet it's probably bedlam." Animation production is a stressful thing, and I've made the point before how strenuous and stressful television deadlines can be. Recap episodes are, sadly, just a way for studios to quite literally buy themselves some more time. Even just one extra week of animation work is a precious commodity.

As far as why reruns themselves are rare in Japanese television; I don't know. My guess is that "Summer reruns" and things like that are a purely American invention. There's also the strong Japanese home video market to consider, I suppose. But this is all just conjecture. Maybe Japanese TV networks are secretly being operated and controlled by a race of interdimensional ogres, and if they happen to even accidentally see a show they've already watched, their immune system boils into an extremely caustic fluid that explodes and burns everything in sight? That sounds plausible.



Well, I'm all out of words that come from my own brain. Hey, that's an apt segue! It's Answerfans time! Last week, I wanted to gauge your reaction to a common threat on the ol' internet: the evil spectre that is the dreaded SPOILER!


Our first spoiler post comes from shadowneko003:

Hi Brian,

Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. Oh how evil spoilers can be. You love them and you hate them. It's a love/hate relationship. For me, I'm not the kind of person what would go crazy over being spoiled. For instance, the new Pokémon game coming out this Fall. I like looking at the scans that are posted, detailing the new features and Pokémon.

For Japanese shows, I follow Super Sentai and Kamen Rider mostly. Production pictures and future episode summaries/pictures pop up all the time in magazines. It's not a full blown spoiler, but still a spoiler none the less.

As for the Spoiler Code, I would say minimum, the episode has to have aired. Spoiler tags should be used for a minimum for 24 hours since airing. After that, it's fair game. And if you don't like spoilers, stay away from a certain blogging site. I forgot one day and was spoiled for two show series finale. I was just "Damn it!" but oh well,. XD

For me, I always respect that rules that forums implant for spoilers. If in doubt, put in spoiler tags. I don't mind spoilers in general, and if I know I don't want to be spoiled, I stay away from sites that I know will have spoilers. People can live without the internet (it's just that they forgot how to!) so if you don't want to be spoiled, stay away from the sites and catch up!!!

Next up is Nick, who makes it sound so dramatic with all these "ENLIGHTENED ONES":

Hey Answerman,

I think there are several types of situations that the enlightened ones need to worry about as far as spoilers go:

1. General discussion of something new that is still airing/not on DVD/etc.

This is especially relevant in anime because there are die-hard fans that watch fansubs and get it the same time as Japan and ahead of most viewers, people that watch on legal streaming sites like Funimation or Crunchyroll, which can be a week or two behind, and the people who wait for the entire series to be out before watching it all in one go. It's probably a good idea to wait until the whole thing is finished before talking about it in any detail, or at least know that everyone in the conversation/reading the blog/etc. has seen as much as you have. If it is a large-scale audience, you should give a warning.

2. Something that's a few years old

I don't think you can fault someone for talking openly about something like this, in a general sense. I often watch shows in groups with my friends. Sometimes some of us will have seen it already while others haven't. I have now watched Code Geass, Gurren Lagann, and Death Note three or four times each with different combinations of people, but I still have to watch what I say around a couple of them because they haven't seen them yet or are in the middle of watching them, even though those shows are going on six years old.

3. Adaptations

Take the Game of Thrones case as an example. The people who read the books years ago did a pretty good job of keeping the recent THAT ONE EPISODE a secret for years, secretly giggling when everyone else freaks out at an unexpected yet relatively minor plot twist while we think to ourselves, "SOON..." We're still doing that, by the way. This is also the case for anime, as most series seem to be based on a manga or light novel. The people who read the original (or later volumes which are untranslated even in scanlated form) have a secret that they have the responsibility of keeping until it has been converted to the screen and everyone has seen it.

I guess the TL;DR version is that it depends on the situation and scale. If you are writing something online that hundreds or thousands of people will read, you should be more wary of spoilers than if you are with a group of five friends who all know what the others have seen, and can avoid directly making a reference to something by simply being vague.

AND NOW, LASTLY! Marc is a strong enforcer of the Blog Spoiler Policy:

Hey Answerman!

I don't think a time-based approach is a good idea in general; there's too much variety in how people watch things. I know people who watch shows as they come out, people who marathon shows right when they finish, and people who will plan to watch shows and not get around to them for years. Then there are also the people who weren't into anime when the show aired, and so the entire concept of a time delay is meaningless because they're not measuring from the airdate. I think the best policy is to have explicitly marked spoilers, either behind a link or inline text you have to highlight or click on to read. That way people can decide for themselves whether they care about those particular spoilers.

On the one hand, spoilers don't matter too much. There's a lot of entertainment out there; if someone spoils a show there's a bunch of unspoiled shows you could watch instead. On the other hand, it can easily make a show less enjoyable, and if you were planning on watching the spoiled show with other people you can't just decide to watch something else. It's also not a lot of work to put spoiler warnings on spoilers, so while some people can come across as overly sensitive I'm sympathetic to their viewpoint.

I try to avoid spoilers by heavily curating my exposure to anime discussion. I only read blogs which have a good spoiler policy, I usually participate in discussions about shows I've already seen instead of general discussions, etc. Since I'm one of the people with a multi-year backlog, I can usually forget the rare spoiler I do encounter by the time I watch the show.

Thanks people! Good chat. Nice talk. But there's more for next week! I'm constantly impressed by people's insistence on gaining support for Light and Visual Novels, so I thought I'd strike up a conversation about it! RESPOND!


Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.

For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.


Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.

That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I have so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.

Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!

Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers
. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.

We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.

Things To Do:

* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.

Things Not To Do:

* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.
* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.

That's it for me this week! Don't forget, people, to keep sending me your questions and answers! It's at my email! Which is answerman(AT!)animenewsnetwork.com! So long!


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