Why Do Light Novel Authors Like Isekai?

Isekai, as a genre, has grown considerably in the weaboo realm in the past few years. Translating literally to “another world,” Isekai features characters moving from one world to another, whether that be from Earth to elsewhere or elsewhere to Earth. In the past 1 year, we got How Not to Summon a Demon Lord, The Master of Ragnarok, Hinamatsuri, Death March to a Parallel World Rhapsody, gdMen, Restaurant to Another World, Isekai Smartphone, and more I’m surely missing. However, the ‘trapped in another world’ concept isn’t even just limited to anime. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa features Meghan Chase who is revealed to be the daughter of a faery king and gets caught up in an ancient war from another world. The Song of Albion is a trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead that focuses on two university students Lewis and Simon who stumble into another world, dealing with Christian ideologies and Celtic mythology. Even Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, written in 1865, is technically an Isekai. Alice literally walks into a portal during a dinner party and is transported to another world wherein the entire conflict of the story is Alice trying to return home.

I think it would be ignorant to talk about Isekai before first explaining light novels and the trends within them. Isekai and light novels go hand in hand, as a majority of Isekai anime are actually light novel adaptations. The term ‘light novel,’ as opposed to its namesake, is defined by the strategy of its marketing.

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Collection of works by Minoru Kawakami

I see many people claim that the ‘light’ in its name refers to the fact that many light novels are short; less than 300 pages. This is simply untrue, however, as there are myriad examples of light novels that exceeded this predefined length. Minoru Kawakami, for example, is notably infamous for writing light novels in obscene length. Well, some argue that light novels are defined by the ‘manga illustrations’ that so many light novels are akin to share. Well, that’s disproven as well as some regular Japanese novels also bear manga-like illustrations. Just take a look at Another by Yukito Ayatsuji, which was also adapted to anime. It’s classified and marketed as a regular novel but has every other facet that a light novel would have according to these definitions. According to Kim Morrissy of the Anime News Network, Keita Kamikita, a system operator of an online sci-fi and fantasy forum, initially coined the term light novel noticing how anime and manga fans were attracted to certain novels due to the appearance of manga artworks within. Many publications picked up on this trend and were quick to take advantage of it. One notable example is the Kadokawa Corporation, a familiar name if you’re into anime.

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Key Visual from Kimi no Wa, published by Kadokawa Shoten

They’re famous now for publishing such critically acclaimed original work such as Kimi no Wa, Kill la Kill, and Neon Genesis Evangelion, and manga adaptations such as Mirai Nikki, Deadman Wonderland, and Nichijou. However, you may notice that they have published another group of popular work; light novel adaptations. Their popular series in this category includes works such as Re: Zero, the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Konosuba. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll notice that every single one of these works was published as light novels by the Kadokawa Corporation. This brand of intertwining media is known as mixed media, defined in business as a combination of communication channels businesses use to meet its marketing objectives. Typically, these include newspapers, radio, television, billboards, and website, however, in this case, the communication channels are anime, manga, and light novels, and the marketing objective is to appeal to the anime crowd using light novels as bait.

Now that we know more about the influence of light novels on modern anime, we can tackle the one question in the back of my mind; why are so many authors trying their own take at the classic isekai genre? Why do authors like isekai? The simple answer would be attributed to light novels as their point is to explore a particular idea and concept to the fullest. Different authors write about their own unique take on the subject matter.

Transported to another world, except you’re the demon lord! [Isekai Maou to Shoukan]

Transported to another world, except you have a smartphone! [Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomo ni.]

Transported to another world, except you’re a gyaru! [Gal Tensei]

But what about the concept of isekai itself is particularly interesting to authors? What about it appeals to light novel authors in a meaningful way? Imagine that you’re an author. You want to write an entirely new, fantasy world, completely separate to our own (much like a Song of Ice and Fire.) On top of that, you want to create a long-running series that spans over the course of multiple books, in some cases upwards of 13 books, for it to be serialized by a publisher. Isekai, as a genre, solves both of these wants in a single fell swoop.

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Cover art for Gun-ota ga Mahou Sekai ni Tensei Shitara, Gendai Heiki de Guntai Harem o Tsukucchaimashita!? by Meikyou Shusui

When you’re creating an entirely new fantasy world, some issues arise. You cannot reference real-life events, people, or popular media. When your main character is from Earth, however, they can make references to or take direct inspiration from anything they learned on their home planet. In Gunota ga Mahou, the Youta discovers Magical Liquid as a child. To most people in that universe, it is a simple child’s toy that can be influenced by magic to form sculptures and shapes. However, the main character being from Earth immediately thinks to use it to create ranged weaponry, or ‘guns.’ In Isekai ga Saibai, Ryouji realizes that without magic spells and weapon training, he cannot live on this new planet. He does, however, have extensive knowledge in agriculture. In the new fantasy world, vegetables and fruit grow into ferocious plant-based monsters. No one in the world is able to grow them by hand except for the main character who uses his knowledge to grow them. In Tate no Yusha, NEET weaboo Naofumi and several of his classmates are suddenly summoned to another world. His classmates become almighty heroes, bearing weapons such as magical swords, lances, bows, and arrows, etc. while the main character is stuck with a magical shield. The “Shield Hero,” as it turns out is admonished in society due to his meager attack power, yet high defense, and is labeled as a coward. As a weaboo, the main character utilizes his knowledge of video games to grind harder than any other classmate, and as it turns out, the Shield bears the ability to copy the attacks of the monsters he defeats. He soon surpasses his fellow heroes in strength, and although the kingdom and its heroes despise him for reasons out of his control, they soon must learn to coexist as he exceeds their power levels. All of these stories have one thing in common; the main character references their Earthly knowledge to overcome some barrier of difficult straits, most of the time by amalgamating their prior life experiences with something that the fantasy world deems ‘worthless.’

If you look at popular, long-running Shonen action shows, you’ll notice one thing they all have in common; a long, overarching goal that span’s over the course of the entire show. The concept is usually something incredibly simple, and for as long as the show is running, the goal is never achieved. The story overall is told in small arcs that take place over the course of the hero’s adventure. The point of the purpose is not to be actually achieved – at least, not until the end of the anime, and sometimes the goal is never reached. In One Piece, Luffy’s goal is to become the pirate king. Despite being one of the longest-running Shonen Jump ports in the world, and achieving success worldwide, Eiichiro Oda still hasn’t let Luffy achieve his goal. In Boku no Hero Academia, Deku’s dream is to be the number one hero in the world. Throughout the journey, you witness him slowly increase his strength whether through the wise musings of elderly heroes or through rigorous training in the academy. In Hunter x Hunter, Gon plans to meet his father and become a hunter just like him. Technically, Gon did end up completing this objective but only at the end of the anime. And yes, I consider Hunter x Hunter to be over since it’s on indefinite hiatus. In Isekai, the author no longer needs to think of their own original over-arching goal, because inherently the goal is to get back home.

In short, the essential facets of the Isekai genre allows authors a preset hero’s journey, and much like adlibs, you just fill in the blanks. There are myriad presets that as an author you can take away from, and still make your own. How many times have you seen these scenarios in an Isekai? The main character:

  1. Dies in some unforeseen way on Earth
  2. Is transported to another world
  3. Gets to take something with them from Earth
  4. Meets God in their transference to another world
  5. Uses their Earthly wisdom to overcome certain obstacles
  6. Is granted special abilities no one in the Fantasy realm has
  7. Meets someone else who is also from Earth
  8. Has to kill the demon lord to return home

These are all common within Isekai stories because it’s just too easy not to do. The template is already there for you, so why not fill in the blanks? These options artificially create intense moments in the story without the author actually having to come up with any of it. In the end, they just simply plug in their original characters and make up their own twists as they go along. Let’s all call Isekai what it is; advanced ad-libs.

 

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Mindless Self Indulgance

The most significant difference between the millennial generation and the age prior is our seemingly needless penchant for mindless self-indulgence. What is the goal in life? To the latchkey generation, preceding the baby-boomers, the point of being was to merely get a job, get married, buy a house, have children, and die. To an entire generation of people; this was it. The apex of life was to secure a future for yourself and your family. However, what is the point of living to millennial? If I had to answer that myself, I wouldn’t agree with the latchkeys at all. Yes, having a roof over your head would be nice, and I’m sure having children is as rewarding as parents make it out to be. But I can’t help but feel like there’s something more; something seemingly attainable, but barely out of reach. As if, the meaning was behind a glass pane, and I were on the other side.

I cannot speak for multiple decades of other people, but what I can say is that it’s an almost lonely feeling that we all feel together. With the incredible rise in technology over the past twenty years, it’s as if we collectively grew up with technology, and as a side effect, we’ve grown up with each other. If you’re reading this post, you’ve been there. You’ve spent countless hours on image boards, on gaming forums, on Reddit. You’ve interacted with thousands of people in weeks, through the fleeting sentimentality that is the Internet. Some of you may have made lasting friendships through the Internet. Some of you have added a friend to an instant messenger only to never contact them ever again. Sometimes, it feels like this is what life is for; to connect with other people, through a medium experimented with only the people alive at this very moment. One hundred and one billion people have roamed this Earth, and only seven billion do now. And out of those people, just three billion use the Internet. And of those, only a handful use the same sites you do. And of those, only a few grains of sand on an endless beach has ever spoken your name. But these people aren’t real. You’re looking through a window, communicating through it, and making connections with the people behind it, but they could leave at any time, and you would be none the wiser. It’s… a lonely feeling. Our generation, the generation growing up with technology, replaces social interaction with mindless self-indulgence.

Music and the Culture of Memetics

The past decade and a half have altered the course for an entire generation of people due to the memetic nature of a worldwide sensation known as the Internet. The Internet has brought upon the best and worst changes in humanities due to the nature of its anonymity. Music, in particular, has forgone an incredible change of influences due to the fulcrum shift of this culture. This change is due in part to the pervasive nature of memes, the widespread influence of mass communications, and an inherent desire for online fame.

Memetics, Memes, and Music

It is important to define what exactly a “meme” is. It is a little-known fact that the colloquial term meme is shorthand for the Darwinian analogy of memetics. A memetic is the theoretical science that studies how ideas and information can be spread throughout various societies (Blute 1). That said, what many people cite today as a meme is a node of knowledge that can be easily transferred from person to person due to a characteristic inherent within the knowledge itself (Heylighen 1). In online culture, this “knowledge” tends to be an easily transformable joke. Interestingly enough, Internet memes have been almost integral towards the transformation of one the world’s most influential genres of media; music. One of the very first instances of the memetic influence on music online is the genre known as nightcore. Nightcore, a genre named after the band who invented it, is not actually an original genre of music; according to Joseph of Nest HQ, it is actually a genre of pre-existing songs remixed to be sped up twenty-five percent towards a BPM of around one-hundred and sixty. Nightcore as a genre was created by the DJ duo known as DJ SOS & DJ TNT, otherwise known as Thomas Nilsen and Steffen Søderholm.

“Our name, ‘Nightcore’, means that we are the core of the night, so you’ll dance all night long.” (Nilsen and Søderholm 1).

Nightcore went on to be inspired by a sort of bastardization of Japanese culture through the proliferation of anime – also known as Japanese animation – throughout various image boards such as 4Chan and 2Chan. As for one of the most recent examples of memetic influences, look no further than vaporwave; another brilliant example of the bastardization of Japanese culture intertwined with the retro-feel of an erstwhile 80’s American-Pop era. Vaporwave surrounds itself with the fascination of the 1980s and 1990s muzak-style of relaxing lounge music, remixed to be much slower and chilled down then it’s sample (Ward 1). An interesting thing to note is that it appears that the influences of vaporwave are derived more from the aesthetic sensibilities of artwork over the actual music, which in itself is an example of the perpetration of memetic influences over modern music (Han 1). Vaporwave was first introduced to the online culture by Ramona Xavier with his release of the album Floral Shoppe in 2011.

Work Cited

Blute, Marion. “Memetics and evolutionary social science.” Journal of Memetics – Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, Department of Sociology University of Toronto at Mississauga, June 2005, cfpm.org/jom-emit/2005/vol9/blute_m.html.

Han, Sean Francis. “Vaporwave: subversive dream music for the post-Internet age.” Vaporwave: subversive dream music for the post-Internet age | Editorial | Bandwagon – Live music, bands and concert guide for Singapore, Manila and Jakarta, Bandwagon, 7 Sept. 2016, http://www.bandwagon.asia/articles/vaporwave-subversive-dream-music-for-the-post-internet-age.

Heylighen, Francis. “Memetics.” Memetics, Principia Cybernetica Web, Aug. 1993, pespmc1.vub.ac.be/MEMES.html.

Joseph. “Nest HQ’s Guide to Nightcore.” NEST HQ’S GUIDE TO NIGHTCORE, Nest HQ, 22 Sept. 2015, nesthq.com/nightcore.

Nilsen, Thomas S, and Steffan O Søderholm. “Nightcore.” Nightcore Biography, Hemsida, 23 Aug. 2003, web.archive.org/web/20030827070658/http://www2.hemsida.net/steffie/nightcore/biography.html.

“Vaporwave.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Nov. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaporwave.

Ward, Christian. “Vaporwave: Soundtrack to Austerity.” Stylus | Innovation Research & Advisory, 29 Jan. 2014, http://www.stylus.com/hzwtls.

 

How Limitations Birthed a New Genre of Music

The limitation of bit depth in the early video game industry, and the fleeting sentimentality of it’s resulting music, inadvertently led to a new genre of electronic music in the mid-2000’s. What was originally a limitation of an imperfect medium slowly became mainstream and popularized due to the induced nostalgic emotions of an erstwhile era.

Audio Paraphernalia

Bit depth refers to the method that a particular set of hardware projects and processes sound; the higher the bit depth, the higher quality of sound. In the early age of computing, before our modern day technological advances, most video game hardware, and home computing devices were equipped with audio drivers surpassing no more than 8 bits. According to Philip Phelps, the techniques employed by these devices involved careful control of the available hardware (Phelps 1). One of the earliest examples of this is the game of Pong; a simplistic video game named after it is a most well-known sound effect. The game’s few sound effects sport a specifically strange hollow, almost bass-like sound known as a square wave (“Pong-Story: Atari PONG – First Steps.” 1). Many early video games utilized the basic sound waves: sine, square, triangle, and saw. Due to the limitations of the medium, that is to say, the available hardware, advanced sounds were limited by these basic sounds.

The sine wave is a mathematically simple wave that has a smooth sound, and is centered around a singular frequency; the square wave is physically shaped as it’s namesake (a square), and is formed using multiple sine waves of varying frequencies, each frequency lowering in amplitude the further away they are from the original frequency; the triangle wave bears a shape of a triangle, and, similarly to the square wave, is made of multiple sine waves of varying frequencies stacked on top of each other, however the amplitude decreases at a quicker rate than the square wave; and the saw wave which appears as a right triangle laid on its side, and is created with many different sine waves of different frequencies than the square and triangle wave – the amplitude of these sine waves lowers similarly to the square tone (“Basic Soundwaves.” 1-2). Some hardware sported programs designed specifically for that system. For example, a program going by the name of Magic Synth was a product programmed for the Atari which used hexadecimal values to iterate what sounds would play and when. Many modern-day programs attempt to recreate the nostalgic sounds that these pre-era synthesizers created. YmVST is a program created by Gareth Morris that, “Emulates the built-in YM2149 sound chip with a decent plugin user-interface on [a] PC” (Morris 1). Another example would be Magical 8bit Plug, a software dedicated to the emulation of primitive, basic instrumentation focused around old school game systems (“YMCK Official Website.” 1). While these programs create sounds eerily similar to the sounds of old, they could never truly replace the music which struck nostalgia in the hearts of gamers worldwide. triangle laid on its side, and is created with many different sine waves of different frequencies than the square and triangle wave – the amplitude of these sine waves lowers similarly to the square tone (“Basic Soundwaves.” 1-2). Some hardware sported programs designed specifically for that system. For example, a program going by the name of Magic Synth was a product programmed for the Atari which used hexadecimal values to iterate what sounds would play and when. Many modern-day programs attempt to recreate the nostalgic sounds that these pre-era synthesizers created. YmVST is a program created by Gareth Morris that, “Emulates the built-in YM2149 sound chip with a decent plugin user-interface on [a] PC” (Morris 1). Another example would be Magical 8bit Plug, a software dedicated to the emulation of primitive, basic instrumentation focused around old school game systems (“YMCK Official Website.” 1). While these programs create sounds eerily similar to the sounds of old, they could never truly replace the music which struck nostalgia in the hearts of gamers worldwide.

Electronically Produced

Chiptune is the name of the genre of music generally derived from PSG sounds chips, regardless of their true nature. A PSG, or programmable sound generator, is a sound chip that utilizes the aforementioned sound waves and produces a coherent sound as a result (“Programmable Sound Generator.”). Chiptune, at its core, is music that is created from these sound chips, whether they are digitally emulated, or physically manufactured. While chiptune was first and foremost generated in tandem with video games, it was not long before chiptune’s influence began to flood the underground electronic music venues. One of the most influential groups to make the integration between chiptune and electronic music was Yellow Magic Orchestra. One of their earliest albums, for example, used audio bits from the popular games Space Invaders and Gun Fight (“Yellow Magic Orchestra”). Chiptune integration did not at just electronic music either, as even more experimental artists began to sample sound effects from popular video games. Beck, a band known for being traditionally alternative rock and Americana, features a 15-second chiptune intro to their song Girl released in 2005 by Interscope Records (“Beck”). Another traditionally alternative band known as The Killers released a song in 2004 by the name of On Top, which also featured a 15-second chiptune reminiscent intro (“The Killers”). America was not the only country to introduce 8-bit music to their mainstream genres, however. Circa 2003, J-Pop group Perfume introduced chiptune beats into their music and continued to do so well into the mid-2000’s (“アイドル検索のWho Idol – J-POP 史変遷.”). Their influence led to many other artists in Japan to integrate that style of music with their own. In more recent years, chiptune had spread its influence worldwide, spawning songs such as Gwiyomi (귀요미송) by Hari, and れをる,ギガ by -No title- (“-No title-”). Furthermore, because of the ease of access to the internet, and the hivemind-like tendencies of its users, a new self-aware genre of music was born, and it spread like wildfire.

Bitpop is a genre of music known for being similar to chiptune but is created using contemporary methods dissimilar to former methods. Despite this, many forms of bitpop concurrently utilize both contemporary and preceding methods. Similarly to chiptune, bitpop carries it’s 8-bit influences, carrying the primitive sounds of the four primary sound waves. The term bitpop in itself is an umbrella term. Due to the ever-increasing amounts of ‘subgenres’, bitpop covers a wide variety of video game reminiscent music styles. Some examples of the subgenres that bitpop covers are complextro, electroclash, future bass, glitch, nintendocore, skweee, and synthwave. While each genre is wildly different from each other, they all share the influence of traditionally 8-bit sounds. The first of many artists to bring PSG sound chips back to the forefront, while staying in touch with modern production techniques, was Welle: Erdball (Mueller 1). One of Erdballs’s many recognizable novelties is the extreme utilization of the Commodore 64’s sound chip. Since Erdball, there have been many more artists drawing influence from antiquated video game music. Anamanaguchi, a traditionally American band sporting New York City pride, is a band that combines the soul of real instrumentation with the nostalgic representations of bitpop (“Anamanaguchi”). Lewis Fitzjohn, known colloquially as DJ Allergy, forwards the notion, “Music from games such as Tetris and Mario has become well recognized among the public. It seems bizarre at first that people would listen to these sounds at home or in their car as music” (Fitzjohn 1). This does introduce an interesting question, why is video game music so popular? It’s almost unbelievable that a primitive form of electronic music would captivate the hearts of people everywhere, but in a way, it should be expected. Recognition is one of the biggest reasons that bitpop and chiptune are popular. Super Mario Bros. for the NES sold 40,240,000 units alone (Rick 1), and of all of the people who played that game, any one of them would be able to point out the theme song if available. Millions of video games introduced with the limitation of 8-bit audio depth were sold worldwide, and many of those games have tunes that are easily recognizable using technology that many of its perusers are familiarized with. Another reason for its popularity is its integration into the worldwide media. Despite original 8 bit music, bitpop does not have the same limitations. With chiptune, there were only a certain set of noises you could make due to the characteristics of it’s PSG hardware and software. Without these restrictions, bitpop has a much higher reception due to the experimentation of modern-day tech.

Closing

With all the advances in today’s technology, when it comes to electronic music, the only limitation appears to be the mind itself. Despite this, as artists and audiences, we have gravitated backward to music from an age littered with restrictions and limitations. These primitive sounds have even infiltrated genres that seemingly have nothing to do with traditional electronica, influencing bands such as Beck, and The Killers; and even going as far as to influence bands worldwide, such as Perfume from Japan, and Hari from Korea. These sounds, derived from pre-modern computing chips, have even created a whole new genre of music dedicated to the tribute of old school video games such as Space Invaders. Despite the antiquated methodology of production, people tend to gravitate to these video game reminiscent styles of music. The answer could be nostalgia, or perhaps there’s more; for what reason could the general populous possibly find attractive in a style of music limited by technology?


Work Cited

-No Title-. “れをる*,ギガP*.” Reol. Discogs, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

“Anamanaguchi.” Anamanaguchi. Anamanaguchi, n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

“Basic Soundwaves.” Make Music with Sounds. EARS2, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

Driscoll, Kevin, and Joshua Diaz. “Transformative Works and Cultures.” Endless Loop: A Brief

History of Chiptunes. Transformative Works and Cultures, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

Beck. “Girl.” Beck – Girl. Discogs, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

Fisher, Darren. “Audio File Formats.” Audio File Formats. SED Six-Eighteen, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

Morris, Gareth. “YmVST – Atari ST VST Plugin – Authentic YM2149 Sounds.” YmVST – Atari ST VST

Plugin – Authentic YM2149 Sounds. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

Mueller, Dirk. “Offizielle Homepage Der Band WELLE:ERDBALL.” Offizielle Homepage Der Band

WELLE:ERDBALL. Welle: Erdball, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

Phelps, Philip. A Modern Implementation of Chiptune Synthesis. Woolyss. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept.

2016.

“Pong-Story: Atari PONG – First Steps.” Pong-Story: Atari PONG – First Steps. N.p., n.d. Web. 26

Sept. 2016.

“Programmable Sound Generator.” Programmable Sound Generator. OMICS International, n.d. Web.

27 Sept. 2016.

Rick. “Super Mario Sales Data: Historical Units Sold Numbers for Mario Bros on NES, SNES,

N64…”Super Mario Sales Data: Historical Units Sold Numbers for Mario Bros on NES, SNES,

N64… N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

Tanaka, Yuji. “Red Bull Music Academy.” Yellow Magic Orchestra: The Pre-MIDI Technology Behind

Their Anthem. Red Bull Music Academy, 11 Nov. 2014. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

“The Evolution of Video Game Music.” NPR. NPR, 13 Apr. 2008. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.