Light novel: the first impact

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The First Impact

I first came into contact with light novel the same way many people did, through the burning desire of seeing my favourite story actually being concluded and not being left frustrated and traumatised by the cliffhanger at the end of the partially adapted material (anime/manga), in other words, I desire to know more.

As explained in the first part of my autoethnography on translation and light novel, the animated industry of Japan revolves around the close connections between three separate mediums, anime – manga – light novel, with light novel typically being the source material, whilst anime served as the promotional material for it and manga as the follow up to the potential success of the anime. Therefore, anime adaptations for the most part, acted as an interactive advertisement as well as the gateway for interested viewers to go and look for the source material. This sounds like the perfect plan and indeed, it kind of is, as anime fans get to know the further developments of the story, light novel fans get to see their favourite characters animated, manga fans get to er, know stuffs and most importantly, authors, producers and publishers get to count the banknotes (according to the Association of Japanese Animations’s 2016 report, the anime industry alone had a market value of 18.1 billion USD and that’s not only from the domestic distribution of the medium (http://aja.gr.jp/date/2016/09)). It’s a perfectly balanced and healthy ecosystem for both the consumers and the producers, yes indeed, if they are Japanese. Western fans (like myself) get bits and pieces of a series.

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Accurate depiction of a Western fan

Thanks to the growing popularity of streaming services such as Funimation and Netflix, Western fans have been getting more and more exposure to 1/3rd of the industry, that is anime, and since the anime, aforementioned, the advertisement for the source material, can only cover a very small part of the source due to budget constraint and its primary target audience being Japanese (who can easily approach the source material anyway), when it ends, Western fans have but 2 options:

  1. Learn moon runes and read the light novel/ manga (a meme for Japanese)

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and then move on.

That is where the saviour known as fan translators come in. They are not professional translator (like I was), they very often don’t get paid for their works, they have never written a story before, heck, they don’t even write in good grammars most of of the time. But what do they have? They know moon runes and they have alot of passion, heaps of it, so much so that they would go at great lengths to find every single bits and pieces of additional materials about their favourite stories, translate and then share to countless of internet strangers, completely free of charge (imagine going to Turkey to collect that one toy from the Turkish McDonald’s kid meal just to post on your social media for other people who are into this weird hypothetical hobby to see, yes, fan translation are like that, except more tedious).

I first got to experience this full package of the “Western fans’ perpetual struggle” when I finished watching an anime series called “The devil is a part timer”. I was in awe, the story was something so fresh, so intriguing and possessed such an incredible amount of unique comedic values that I have yet to witnessed in any Western mediums. The story revolves around a literal demon king and his aide, after losing a decisive battle against an angelic hero with the holy sword, who has halted their attempted invasion, chose to fled to our world through an dimensional gate while being unknowingly followed by the hero. Upon landing in Japan (of course), both the demons and hero realised for some reason their mythical powers have diminished greatly, to the point where they were no stronger than an ordinary human being. In such a dire situation, the demon lord malignantly decided to (in chronological order): create an ID, move in a cheap room in a sketchy neighbourhood, being hospitalised because of undernourishment, collect CV forms at an agency, get fired repeatedly and finally land a part-time position at McRonald (McDonald) while the hero uses the last remnant of her magic to create a ghost hoax in order to get discounted rent and then proceed to become  a call centre agent lady. Needless to say, the encounters of these part timer demon and office lady hero are anything but normal. Hilarity ensues.

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The 2 devils talking about their concerns of an unhealthy diet

With the burning desire of witnessing the continuation of this fantastic story, I searched for its source material, the light novel. The animated adaptation covered only 2 of the 17 published volumes and while the novel series has been licensed by Yen Press, a publication focuses on translating Japanese materials, only the first two volumes have been translated and the quality of translations was rated 2 out of 5. As I kept on searching, I finally stumbled upon the fan translation. 13 out of 17 volumes translated, and the quality is acceptable (I’m being picky because of my profession). I was overjoyed and at the same time, I was filled with admiration towards these translators as I got to know more about the rules and policies that they have to abide to in order to keep on delivering these translations to the fans. Those rules are the :

Scope of Licenses

When a publisher announces that they have licensed a series, translators will schedule the removal of the following content:

  • ALL volumes of the main series of a light novel project.
  • ALL volumes that may be inserted in chronological order with the main publication run of the series (i.e.: Volume 7.5 or 10.5, etc.).

Unless the publisher has explicitly announced it, translators will assume the publisher has not licensed the following:

  • Bonus chapters and extras (i.e.: bonus material included with Blu-ray DVDs, web content).
  • Independent side stories that do not fit in the main publication run.
  • Spin-off, doujin, sequel, collaborations, or related series.

Abandonment Protocol

Publisher Announces License Acquisition

  1. Project will be flagged as licensed as soon as possible.
  2. All downloadable content (PDFs, EPUBs, MOBI, etc.) will be removed from the Wiki and affiliated spaces.
  3. Project will be frozen and follow Cessation Policy rules. All project contributors and staff are required to adhere to the Cessation Policy Guidelines.

Publisher Announces Publication Date of the First Volume

  1. Gradual deletion of ALL volumes of the main publication run will immediately commence. The exact deletion schedule will not be released to the public.
  2. ALL volumes will be removed, at the latest, by 2 months prior to the official publication date.

(from: https://www.baka-tsuki.org/project/index.php?title=Baka-Tsuki:Project_Abandonment_Policy)

Indeed, the fan translation scene lives under the mercy of the official publisher, all their works and efforts that earn them enough ads revenue to keep the site running and other meagre amounts of donation from the readers will be completely erased the moment an official release is announced, even if the quality is severely worsened.

Still, there are those who refused to live by such rules, and the team that translated “The devil is a part-timer” is one of such, keeping themselves hidden by employing several methods, most of which revolves around the creation of a community that requires its members to go through several steps of verification before they can acquire the translation.

Personally, I feel baffled by the fact that these “underground” translators managed to provide a superior translation compares to the official ones (in regards to sentence structures, grammars and word flow). Thus, as someone who has only been translating official document, I want to for once, experience what it is like being at the receiving end while discovering the reasons behind whole notion of the official publishers are generally regarded as the incompetent bad guys despite them being a good way for fans to support the authors of their favourite stories.

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