When Tim asked me to do a piece for GeekOut, I wondered what to do. This is a guest post, so I should do my best to out-geek them as much as possible, to make the contribution memorable.
Then it hit me: Light Novels. I’m a big reader and I’ve had the fortune to read several light novels that have inspired many outstanding anime. Some of them even have ties to role playing games, both of which are Joel and Tim’s domains.
It’s the perfect topic.
Light novels are different from traditional novels in that they are much shorter, the length of what we call a novella, sometimes even shorter than that. They consist of small story arcs, what you would see in one to five episodes of an anime adaptation, and feature drawings every few pages to help with a crucial scene’s depiction, even if it’s just showing a character sitting and having something to drink.
Slayers: Hajime Kanzaka’s fantasy series is most commonly known for its anime adaptations, which have been running since the 1990s. As a light novel series it spans over 50 volumes, the main story, which was adapted into the anime, consists of 15 and the rest are prequel stories of Lina Inverse’s previous adventures.
What I like about Slayers is that it makes sense, even with zaniness and the chaotic characters. Magic has guidelines, a classification system and the spells draw powers from specific entities in addition to draining the caster’s energy. There are hierarchies for the different powers of the world, from demons to dragons and even mortal kingdoms. It’s all structured. But there’s enough freedom for things to deviate from the guidelines, for exceptions to come into play and change things up.
While characters fall into classic anime and fantasy tropes, they grow, mature and learn, and while humour always finds its way into their lives, you can see how some of their innocence is lost over the course of the stories.
There’s action, some of it fantastically over the top, there’s tear jerking drama and roll on the floor hilarity. The series has it all and more and it’s why it’s my favourite series.
Log Horizon is special among the “We’re trapped in a game” genre in that it changes the rules. It’s not about permanent death, or people logged on permanently while their real selves are in a coma, but about building a home and adapting to a new and strange reality.
During the latest expansion of Elder Tales’ launch day, millions of players in the Japanese servers find themselves transported into the game world inhabiting their avatars (the game is a third person Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, like World of Warcraft and not a full immersive experience like .Hack or SAO). They find that some of the game’s rules and truths still apply but others have changed drastically.
They can still access their own in-game windows and menus but even if they select spells or abilities, they don’t work. Instead, they have to perform the action and vocalize it for their powers to take effect. Crafting now requires them to actually perform things, something they discover fairly quickly when every single piece of food they make using the skill has no taste. At least until a secondary character figures it out and starts making good food. Death still returns players to spawn points without much issue, until they discover that (at least theoretically) every death takes away some of their memories.
But the greatest change and challenge they encounter comes in the form of the NPCs aka The People of the Land. Before, they were quest givers and merchants of limited vocabulary and intelligence, almost mindless, but now are a genuine people, with their hopes, dreams, nations and agendas.
Over the course of the series and through the eyes of the Enchanter, Shiroe, you see how the Adventurers, the players of Elder Tale, slowly come to grips with their new world and how they strive to build a new home and find stability. Shiroeis outstandingly cunning and borderline evil and most of the world’s progress and alliances come from his own devious machinations. He’s often referred to as The Villain in Glasses, something most of the bespectacled characters in the series share.
Author Mamare Touno’s greatest accomplishment is making things matter and giving characters the chance to grow in this world that is in many ways still a game.
Sword Art Online plays the genre to the letter, with the entire player base of the eponymous game suddenly trapped inside because of its insane creator. Death in that world is permanent and the only way out is if someone clears all 100 levels of Aincrad, where the game takes place.
What makes SAO unique are the characters and their relationships and how organic their development feels. Feelings and relationships come out naturally, equal parts attraction and the search for comfort in an unforgiving world. It makes their friendships, loves and enmities that much more powerful to the reader.
Sure, it stumbles a bit and Tim and I often argue about the anime adaptation, because it makes things seem too abrupt when the novel gives you a sense of time passing by including dates, so when the protagonists take a break to spend time together and even for a second live in the illusion that this could be their new world, it’s not something they decided that morning after breakfast, but something that builds up.
The plot following the SAO arc is a bit messy and the subsequent one is very strong, but what keeps the series afloat and the reader glued is the relationship between main characters Kirito and Asuna. They feel real, a couple you could meet on the street, which is outstanding. But that is Reki Kawahara’s greatest strength as a storyteller, making relationships and love feel natural and real.
That’s it for this first issue, be sure to come back in two weeks for three more Light Novels, including another from Reki Kawahara.
Be sure to check out Kevin’s other great works, as he’s joined us many times for the Top 10’s and he’s also the creator of the fantastic blog, The Mental Attic. Do go and check it out as well as tuning in here for more of Kevin’s guest posts in the future!