Anyone Can Write A Light Novel!
During the time I lived with Mana, we would sit on the couch together. We let the TV play whatever the network was airing as background noise while we did anything other than watch it. She would be doing crochets or browsing her smartphone while I would be reading a book or writing on my laptop. At times, our weary bodies would fall on one another and our arms would automatically wrap around the other, it was a very intimate experience. And I thought those days would never end…
Right now, Tsukishima and I are sitting four meters apart. While she completes her animation frames, I’m shuffling through the Light Novels I purchased, alongside the ones she brought over. Four hours pass by, and we exchange neither a word nor a glance. The experience I’m having with her is like night and day with the experience I had with Mana. There is no warmth, no intimacy, and no comfort. Only the crickets of summer accompany us in this silent deadlock.
In that time, I spot a trend among all the books I’ve read. All of them seem to have a schizophrenic attention on different women. Instead of setting a single woman as the love interest, these books keep introducing more and more women that, throughout the course of the arc, develop feelings for the main character. I don’t get why you’d write something like this.
Increasing the amount of women interested in the main character means increasing the amount of romantic subplots in a story. The result is each heroine gets a sort of ‘mini-arc’ to develop their characters, but then fold into the background once their time in the limelight is over. For example, Tsukishima brought all five volumes of a series called, The Time I Got Turned Into Harem Protagonist.
It centers… Uhm… I already forgot the main character’s name. He was pretty bland and forgettable. Let’s just call him Smith. Smith inexplicably gets confessed to by the most popular girl in school, a sharp witted, fork-tongued girl named… Pantyhose? No, no, that’s not her name but it was specified one too many times. They spend one volume building up their relationship and solving Pantyhose’s problems in her social hierarchy. She gives him a peck on the cheek, and that’s the end of that.
Except that the next volume, they introduce some other girl who Smith helps. Then the third volume introduces three more girls. And they all fall for him, their shared problem ripping away the individual focus they get. The fourth volume introduces a Russian girl and a strange espionage plot about a secret cyberwar between the world’s superpowers. Then the fifth volume throws away that very plot so that Smith gets together with Pantyhose!
If he was gonna get together with the first girl, why did the author spend so much time philandering with five other girls?! He could have spent that time building more of Smith’s and Pantyhose’s relationship if you cut all these other girls out. All of them only interact with Smith, and he’s the same guy by the end of the story! All these girls get character arcs, but it ends on the same conclusion: She falls for Smith.
Five volumes, seven characters, and none of them get fleshed out. It’s crazy! I have no idea why anyone would want to publish this story. And I don’t want to believe anyone would enjoy a bland story like this.
… I ought to ask.
“Is this book popular?” I ask, twisting my wrist to show her the cover.
Her pencil tumbles on the table when she lets go. She narrows her eyes as she hunches forward, and answers, “The Time I Got Turned Into A Harem Protagonist? I’m drawing the frames for it right now, so I guess so.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She picks catches the pencil in her palm and tosses it to her drawing hand. “If a Light Novel gets adapted, it usually means it has built a sizable following. That’s how the sponsors know it’s worth investing. Then the anime comes out and hopefully that’ll draw in more readers. If the anime increases the book sales, it’s done its job.”
“Then you’re just a glorified advertisement?”
“Pretty much all anime nowadays are. That’s why anime originals are getting increasingly rare. We adapt to push another material forward.” She sneers at me as she flips the pencil between her fingers. “Or what, do you think Fundam anime have been made for 40 years to educate people on the horrors of war? Nooooo, they make those shows to sell model kits! Anime just isn’t made to sell anime.”
“Your job sounds more thankless the more you talk about it.”
“You just wouldn’t get what makes it worthwhile.”
I lean against the wall and pile the Harem Protagonist novels together. I take a deep breath and mouth my musings over.
“So… I can’t say I’ve defeated Sawamura Aki till I turn my Light Novel into an anime.”
Her eye twitches. “You want to go up against Blade Reincarnation Phantasia? That series has four seasons and two movies that aired in theaters globally. Good luck with that.”
“There isn’t a problem here. This industry has zero standards.” I raise the pile of books up above my head. “If something like this can get past the editors, I’ll definitely get in easy.”
“Okay. Pitch me.”
I pause to catch my words. “I’m still in the researching phase. I just got the idea to do Light Novels yesterday—”
“Crash. If you don’t have any ideas, you’re out.”
“Hey, I just need another day or two!” I grab Harem Protagonist and flick it about my hand. “Alright, I’ll play your game by pitching this book as something better.”
“First of all, I’ll write out all the other heroines—”
“Crash. You can’t have a harem series without a harem.”
“What? But it’s because of the harem that the girl he gets with is so underdeveloped! She goes out of focus for three whole volumes just for them to act like they were destined for each other from the very start when he’s been philandering with other women!”
“Yes. And?” She raises an eyebrow at me. “You’re a guy, right? Wouldn’t you fantasize about having five girls fall for you all at once?”
I push my palms against the floor and raise myself by an inch. “I wouldn’t want to upset the one girl I know I want to be with.”
“But it’s nice to have options. That’s why harem shows keep being made every year. It’s an otaku’s dream.” She taps her pencil on her chin with her eyes to the ceiling. “Although, if a guy I like started spending time with four other girls, I’d go look for another guy.”
“Right?! Who would want a guy who tells you he loves you but blows you off so he can hang out with some other girl? It’s completely unrealistic.”
“It’s because it’s unrealistic that it sells. Who consumes media just to experience real life? If they wanted that, they’d just live. ” She puts down her pencil again, crosses her arms and tilts her head one side. “I think you’re one hundred percent certain to crash. You don’t understand your target demographic at all. How do you expect to convince an editor like that? Let alone sell books.”
“Tsukishima, Tsukishima…” I beam at her smugly as I put a hand forward. “If the editor has any standards, he’d definitely want to publish my work over this.”
“It’s not whether he has standards, it’s whether the market has standards. And I’ve worked in this industry long enough to say…” She forms a cross with her forearms. “They don’t. The editor isn’t there to see whether your book is good or not, he’s there to see if it’s marketable. And if you keep pushing your standards on everyone, you don’t have any business being in this market.”
I roll my eyes. Tossing the book aside, I slam my fist upon it. “So what? You just want the industry to keep churning out stories like these without the slightest bit of variation?”
“It’s not something I want. If possible, I’d want all sorts of different shows.” She raises her shoulders to meet her ears. “But what can I do? The consumers want shows like these. Because they want to experience that fantasy. All I can do is continue drawing it for them. And as for you, your job is to provide them that fantasy.”
“I refuse.” My answer comes faster than a boxer’s jab. I get on my feet, allowing the afternoon sunlight to shine upon my back. “As a writer, I only have one rule. I will never sell out. I will write a masterpiece I can be proud of.” My fist smashes upon my chest. “And I will never dumb myself down just to cater to some tasteless otakus!”
Her cheek falls upon her index finger, an exhausted sigh escaping her lips. “Ugh, you’re hopeless. Go ahead and follow your rule, see how far it gets you.” Her fingers latch onto her pencil, her attention being drawn back to the frames. “Sure worked out for you all these years.”
What is wrong with this woman? She forces herself into my residence and thinks she can treat me however she wants? Knowing she’s not looking at me, I raise the light novels over my head, ready to throw it in her face like I was pitcher aiming for three strikes. My elbow reels back, my wrath guiding my blood into my biceps. However, as soon as I got the nerve to send the books flying, Mana’s face flashes into my mind.
With a clenched fist, I put the books down and take a deep breath. I already ruined my relationship with her. I wasn’t about to ruin any second chances I could get. As much as I hate to admit it, Tsukishima’s got me on a leash. She’s one phone call away from trampling upon what little shards are left of my previous relationship. I know it’s over between Mana and I, but I still want to put those shards back together, someway, somehow.
That’s why I have to keep moving forward. It’s only when I finally put a book into this country’s circulation that I can take back everything I’ve lost.
After holding my anger back regarding Tsukishima and forcing myself through the banal excuses for a story those books had given me, I ended up succumbing to my drowsiness in the afternoon heat. By the time I awake, it’s starting to get dark. The room was lighted, Tsukishima found the switch without needing to ask, and when I sit up, I am greeted with her pale face, eyes baggy. I want to ask if she had been drawing the whole time I was asleep, but I feel too infuriated with her to hold a conversation.
My shift begins after nine, so I had some time to boil some water and fix myself some cup noodles. Even as the scent of bonito wafts in the air, she doesn’t budge for a second. But by the emptied plastic bowl in the trash, I could tell she ate. The graphite of her pencil continues to scrape at the paper. When it came time to head for work, I left without saying goodbye or telling her where I was going. She already looked like a ghost by those hours. The inhumane work conditions she’s putting herself through is showing its results. In a vacuum, I’d feel pity for her.
No one enjoys the midnight shift. For some, their superstitions lead them to seeing things that they cannot see. For others, it cuts into their sleeping schedules. For a man who secludes himself in his home to dedicate himself to building literary works, the ideas of day and night do not apply to me. So, getting sacked with the midnight shift is a non-issue to me, even if it had been handed to me as punishment.
Barely anyone comes by, so the hours after the clock strikes twelve are spent restocking the shelves and checking prices. Once that’s done, unless a supplier comes by in the dead of night, I watch the cash register and stand around till the sun rises. In a way, this punishment benefits me more since it gives me ample time to read into this ‘Light Novel industry’. If it were a book with heavier prose, I’d struggle to multitask.
I was performing a read-through of Going From The Weakest To Strongest Through Another World. Another wordy title. I was only a quarter of the way through, I can tell you I didn’t like it, when the doorbells go off with my colleague entering the store. Time flies when you keep yourself busy, I didn’t realize I was reaching the end of my shift.
Suddenly my colleague stops. His eyes are glued to my chest, or rather what’s in front of it. With short breaths, he points at the cover and shouts, “That book! That book is…!”
I read the title aloud with a quizzical tone.
His shoulders quiver as he tightens his fists. “I thought you were a normie. I didn’t know you were a man of such impeccable taste. For my misconception, I apologize.”
“Uhhh, okay? Apology accepted?”
“You were a closet otaku this whole time! I never thought I’d find my brethren in a place like this! I met all of them from internet forums!” He shoves his hand toward me, gesturing for a handshake. “My name is Takahara Keisuke! Let’s form an alliance in this normie-infested hellhole and stand together as fellow otaku!”
I do slight pushing motions toward him. “Calm down, calm down…”
Man. Are all otaku this weird? I seriously hope this guy is just a bad outlier. He doesn’t feel like a person more than he does a caricature of a person. Is he only acting like this because there’s no one around us to give him a look?
If my aim is to write a Light Novel, then this is the guy who would compose of my target demographic. I’m looking to make millions of Takaharas read my book. So if I were to write a story, I have to make sure it’s something so good, a Takahara would denounce their weird fantasies and appreciate true art. But for me to do that, I need to find his openings, and take aim through there.
Since he’s the one approaching me, that’s one difficult step out of the way. I’ll bear the title of otaku for the meantime if it means I get to see what makes them tick. Taking his hand firmly, I answer,
“Name’s Ito Ryuji.”