Twitter debate shows that one person’s eye candy is another’s visual garbage.

Light novels are essentially Japan’s equivalent to young adult fiction. Starring protagonists in their teens or early 20s and featuring heaping helpings of fantasy and science fiction elements, light novels have exploded in popularity (and title length) over the last decade while becoming one of the most fertile sources of anime adaptation source material.

One of the things that makes light novels so easy to adapt into anime is that the writing style often heavily depends on dialogue to propel the plot forward, which also makes for a quick, breezy read. The lesser quantity of descriptive text is partially compensated for with multiple pieces of character artwork throughout the book, plus an anime-style cover. However, one Japanese Twitter user recently set off a debate with his complaint about how light novel covers aren’t just lavishly illustrated, but often lasciviously too.

@chounamoul’s tweet reads:

“I was at the bookstore with my daughter today, and I saw her make a completely unpleasant face. ‘Dad, this is gross…’ she said while pointing at the scenery in my photo. I can imagine how disgusting it must be to have the body of your gender drawn in such a strangely exaggerated sexual manner, for it to be treated as a single-minded tool for sexual gratification, and I once again felt that having it displayed openly in a place where kids can see it is almost tantamount to violence.”

While not all light novel covers are sexually explicit, there’s no denying that many of them, in keeping with the visual traditions and trends of popular anime aesthetics, feature generously endowed characters dressed in revealing outfits, often in a clear attempt to signal the risque situations that unfold between their pages. @chounamoul’s frustration at this aspect of literary marketing was echoed in comments from a number of other Twitter users:

“I totally agree. I wish they’d do something about the adult magazines in convenience stores too. I see them when I’m on my way to use the bathroom, and they give me the creeps.”

“The world today is so full of sexual content that it’s hard to even realize how strange that is.”

“I don’t get why light novels have covers with such exaggerated breasts that have nothing to do with the story. They’d be better off with a cover that has something to do with the plot.”

“I’m a 40-year-old guy who doesn’t dislike anime or manga, but I feel like light novel covers go too far.”

“It’s like you have to just avoid the light novel corner entirely now. I miss the days of [less explicit] light novel series like Slayers and Sorcerous Stabber Orphen.”

▼ A selection of new light novel covers from publisher MF Bunko

Other commenters, though, were less critical.

“If you can’t approve of the covers, then please take the responsibility to teach your kids not to browse the light novel section.”

“Freedom of speech means you’re free to express your dislike of the covers and criticize them, and I don’t think it’s fair to say ‘If you don’t like them, just don’t look at them’ or that criticizing them is infringing on the artists’ freedom of expression. But I’m completely opposed to the notion that stores shouldn’t display the covers, or that publishers shouldn’t print them, just because you don’t like them.”

“I’m a woman, and I enjoy reading these sexy light novels. I know a lot of other women who do too.”

“I think that artists should be able to draw what they want, and readers should be able to buy what they want, even if some people don’t like them. I do kind of worry that some publishers might be thinking that without covers like these, they can’t get good sale numbers, which I think is a mistake.”

Somewhat ironically, as critical as publishers think covers are in attracting attention to light novels, in Japan it’s customary for bookstores to place a paper cover over novels (of all genres) when they’re purchased. Primarily this is done to protect the cover from damage, something that’s much appreciated since many readers sell their novels to used bookstores when they’re done reading them, and the better condition they’re in, the higher the resale price. In the meantime, though, it also lets them read light novels on the train or elsewhere in public without having to feel self-conscious about the scantily clad characters on the cover.

Sources: Twitter/@chounamoul, Yahoo! Japan
[ Read in Japanese ]