My Light Novel Anime Adaptions Are Too Complex

I could’ve also titled this post “My Light Novel Anime Adaptions Can’t Be This Complex”.

Of the anime currently airing this season, the most mindlessly entertaining one is Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi wa Shurabasugiru (My Girlfriend and Childhood Friend Fight Too Much). Considering how close its absurdly long name is to the infamous Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai (My Sister Can’t Be This Cute), one can easily deduce that the currently airing OreShura has the same origins as OreImo: light novels. While it seems–to put it bluntly–pretty stupid to have names this long, it seems like this sort of has benefits. I mean, if I was going to go around touting my self-professed knowledge of an esoteric writing form such as the light novel, I’d probably want to remember all of the really long names just so I can be a proud consumer of subcultural works. Is this the only reason for stupidly long light novel names though?

Probably not, considering that there’s plenty of current and new light novel publications that have far more conventionally shorter names for every obscenely long one. More importantly, however, the titles also seem to give away the very nature of the contents underneath the cover of a book by using adjective and noun combinations like you would see on the cover of a non-fiction title. OreShura is, as far as I know, clearly about a girlfriend and childhood friend verbally abusing each other (intruded frequently upon by other harem candidates) and OreImo is about an older brother dealing with his problematic sister (and the friends she drags along). Yet despite the seemingly relationship between title and content, the world of light novel to anime adaptions is somewhat complex.

One hugely important thing to remember is that, as a novel, some of the clever puns of the Japanese language are found in not only the lines the characters say but often the unspoken areas of the dialogue. Characters with unfortunate names often find themselves being used as food for puns, or the spelling of their names draw a contradiction with their personalities (i.e. a girl named Nagomi, which means tranquil, possessing a combative attitude). So it’s important to note that an anime doesn’t necessarily account for this double layer of meaning that lies between text and speech, or otherwise has to accommodate for jokes by inserting extra lines into a script through the adaption.

Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai: Why would an imouto steal her onii-chan’s pants?

OreImo and OreShura both adopt contemporary otaku culture as the basis for their memetic qualities. For example, OreImo has a younger sister that plays eroge featuring younger sister characters with the word ‘younger sister’ in its title. Later on, references to magical girl series and fan-generated content play a significant role in the activities of the characters, often to the extent where it’s sort of hard to imagine how the average consumer who isn’t unfamiliar with anime can come to even grasp the comedy that lines the show. To take things further, the anime adaption even took further liberties with the visuals of the series, using elements of famous games in order to create the fake derivative work found in the narrative. A particular instance of this is with the Onii-chan no Pantsu Nanka, Zettai Nusundenaindakara ne! game that simultaneously rips off Onii-chan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki Janaindakara ne!, the visual novel Yu-No, and Metal Gear at the same time. Apparently not only were these references made in the fourth volume of the novel in describing the made-up game, but also subsequently found a tiny bit of screen time in episode 12 of the TV series (not including the later online only episodes).

Similarly, OreShura is chock full of references to other anime and openly uses Jojo as fodder for some of its jokes, also drawing significantly from the collective otaku conscience. The recent sixth episode even featured a mash-up of famous female characters from various well-known anime and their equally Frankensteinian voice actress names within the framework of the narrative. How obvious can you get an imaginary character called “Ayanami Asuka” who has a voice actress called “Hayashibara Yuuko”? (TL Note: Look at the Neon Genesis Evangelion Wikipedia page.)

Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shurabasugiru: Ayanami Asuka.

There are, however, more subtle approaches to this whole multiple layer of meaning that is found in standard literature: OreShura not only seems to borrow from legendary otaku content, but also draws some of its inspiration from a particularly interesting term in its title. Instead of using something mundane, like the verb kenka suru, the author instead chooses the slang phrase shurabaru to describe the conflict between Masuzu and Chiwa. Shurabaru is the verb form of the noun Shuraba through suffixation of the -ru stem to form a Group II (vowel-stem) verb. Shuraba itself is actually a deviation of the reading Shurajou, and while the meaning is the same, the former has entered common speech thanks to Edo-period cultural entertainment while the later has much more distinct terminology within Buddhism and classic Japanese literature. In turn, shurajou consists of two meanings, the first being Shura or Ashura, and the second meaning ‘place.’ Ashuras are known as the angry, proud beings that fight Devas in the Buddhist cosmos.  Thus, shurajou originally described the scene of battle between the Ashuras and Devas in Buddhist (and Hindu) mythology, which was supposedly quite the gore-filled mess of a battleground.

More importantly that the Ashura, though, are their slightly more benevolent counterparts the Devas, which in East Asian Buddhism are often dominated by the Four Heavenly Kings, known as the Shitennou. I’ll keep things short by not going into too much detail, but the number four features prominently in OreShura to the point where I don’t really think it’s a coincidence. There are Eita is surrounded by four girls, each of which fight for his affection. These four girls also have the kanji for the four seasons in their name; each season also corresponds with one of the Four Heavenly Kings. Eita’s last name, Kidou, also has the character for season in it.

Bakemonogatari: You can see how the artist purposely used numbers that signify bad luck to illustrate meaning visually as well.

The point I’m getting at here is that OreShura the light novel adopts both a subtle symbolic approach to how it’s structuring the relationship between its characters via language in addition to using the audience pandering otaku approach that OreImo the light novel uses. However, in both anime the series tend to visualize the comedic aspects by improving or realizing the original text-based descriptions within the novels. Hence, when an anime adaption is being planned out by a studio, they’re not only trying to bring a book to life on screen, but are also deciding which areas of the language play going on in the original text to be viewed by thousands of individuals.  Not often are the more subtle linguistic choices made more obvious on screen (perhaps the hope is that viewers will also subtly pick up on word play), but this doesn’t always work in the case of some series. The original Bakemonogatari was infamous for its large amounts of onscreen text in order to convey the depth of the wordplay found in Nisio Issin‘s original writing; not to mention an entire slew of super powers and magic items that can be written in kanji but read in a different way. Nevertheless, we all know just how much symbolism is in Bakemonogatari because of SHAFT‘s monumental work in demonstrating how the words play such an integral part in interpreting the meaning of the story.

My point in describing all of these various ways of visual play with language and culture in anime adaptions of light novels is that there’s an important lesson to be learned in how succinctly text can convey information by itself when compared to a visual scene. Often, studios are making important choices as to how a series might portray itself in animated form, but that there’s also a linguistic complexity in terms of meaning that can sometimes be found by digging deeper not only at the original novel form but by looking at how an anime chooses to emphasize or completely leave out interesting connections between characters, their lines, and the narrative. So while the title of this article might suggest that some light novel names are just too damn long, I also want to argue that there’s a complexity that is hidden underneath these seemingly obvious titles. In which case most of the more subtle complexities are lost unless a studio purposely makes these choices, like in the case of Bakemonogatari, but for the most part I think these more interesting connections are completely lost even to your average Japanese consumer.

Asura statue from Koufuku-ji in Nara. It also represents the three possible states of my facial expression when watching this season’s OreShura.

Guess I’ll just stick to my mind-numbing romcom novel adaptions into subpar anime like the silly otaku I am, since that certainly seems to be the market for 90% of these novels/anime. The only unfortunate thing about it all as these cleverly long names actual belie far more interesting things in terms of content, but it’s not what’s frequently lauded about light novels and anime.

4 Responses to “My Light Novel Anime Adaptions Are Too Complex”

  1. That’s great and all, but anyone can open Wikipedia and craft whatever one so desires. I wouldn’t call this complexity, not in this day and age. Research is so easy to do these days that casually inserting references like these doesn’t deserve any degree of laudation. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the practice is completely pretentious, not unless the works have a tightly knit underlying structure based on those same core ideas. But layering in this fashion is nothing to wet panties over. This approach is used to please a generation that derives joy from googling obscure references on the internet. This is valid entertainment, but just because it warrants research to understand, it doesn’t make the work any more notable. Research is what the first generation of otaku were all about. In comparison, patting ourselves on the back because we took 5 minutes of our time to look up an obscure reference seems like the otaku race has taken a few steps back.

  2. @Cyth

    I read your comment earlier and was thinking about that the way I wrote this article doesn’t really make clear my point as much as I wanted it to. Somewhere along the line I think I missed the whole sarcastic tone and ended up sounding far more serious than I actually was.

    I don’t really think any of this is deep. Or complex. In fact, it’s dumb mindless entertainment that I happen to kind of enjoy, though it doesn’t keep me engaged enough to not Tweet or chat on my computer while watching the episode. Except maybe Bakemonogatari, which is arguably at a different level that the rest of its light novel companions, though far from the status that I would personally give to my favorite novels or non-fiction texts.

    What I mean to point out is that the degree to which certain elements are adapted from novel to anime are choices specifically made by studios in how they interpret a show. Imagine a Bakemonogatari anime made by Studio DEEN or JC Staff instead; it could’ve been vastly different in its presentation of the themes from the original novel. At the same time, dumb light novels make, well, dumb anime because the studios know who they’re targeting when they make and market the show: the same otaku fodder that feast upon light novel moe fare.

    So I completely agree with you; by no means was I implying that these shows stand the test of time or would rank highly on my list of much watch anime. What I did write in my article, though, is that I think there are subtler authorial choices that studios could also pick up on and play around with like in the case of Bakemonogatari.

    Imagine an OreShura containing an equal number of visual symbols related to history or other manga or Buddhism in a way that wasn’t openly approached in the book. This is what I think of when I think of wasted potential that a studio could cover and make the anime adaption even better than the original. However, as the trend is now, there’s simply very little that the studios are going off of except for exaggerating the already obvious surface elements of [tsundere] or [osananajimi].

    Finally, as much as I’d like to give myself a pat on the back for using Wikipedia, I didn’t even have to Google the content of this article since it’s pretty standard knowledge.

  3. Kylaran,

    I am apologizing in advance for seemingly thread-crapping on this, but I couldn’t find the right place to ask my quuestion.

    First off, your post was not only entertaining, but timely. Light Novels are something of a fascination for me (bit of an understatement there, to be honest).

    This is a long-shot, but I am wondering if the authors of this publication would be interested in reviewing what can only be described as the North American version of the Light Novel?

    More information can be found at http://www.landindarkness.com along with a sample of the material.

    If there is interest, I would gladly provide a free copy for your review.

    Thank you and once again, my apologies if posting here is somehow inappropriate. If there is a better avenue for this, please let me know and I’ll remove my post here and move it to there instead.

    Warm regards,
    Mike

  4. […] And speaking of articles I missed the first time around, Kylaran last week discussed the connection between Buddhist/Hindu conventions and both the title and show structure of Oreshura. [Behind the Nihon Review] […]

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