In the past, I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I haven’t read a whole tone of visual novels or manga. The only manga I avidly follow anymore is Yumekui Merry, and out of the small number of genuine visual novels I’ve read the one that still sticks in my mind the best was planetarian. On top of all of that, the only light novel I’ve read is part of Fate/Apocrypha. With all of that said, at a glance this might not be the best topic for me to talk about and likely as the piece goes on I’ll get a few things wrong, but something that’s been missing from my pieces as of late I feel are more dissection-esque posts from a unique perspective that maybe not everyone from the community has or that hasn’t been vocalized as well before (from what I’ve seen). This week: Using different mediums to reach different goals.
By far one of the most interesting things in the “anime” community to me are the different, what I’m going to call, sub-communities and how each one focuses on a separate form of Japanese medium that they likely got interested in through anime or manga. As I mentioned briefly in my post about music, specific mediums are good at doing different things and the truly great works in any medium do things that are only possible in that medium. An experience like the RPG Maker game Yume Nikki could only be crafted as a video game; no other medium could do the same exact thing Yume Nikki did, even to a slight degree. Each of the mediums we enjoy within this broad umbrella term of “anime community” excels at different things and what I want to look into today is how anime, manga, visual novels, and light novels all differ from each other and what each one does better than the others from my perspective. Also, this is in no way saying that these are the only Japanese mediums the “anime community” at large enjoys, just that they’re the most popular.
Starting in reverse order, what do light novels do what the rest of the aforementioned cannot do? Well, in it’s nature firstly in being a novel, it has the benefit of textual descriptions. The audience can read and acknowledge extremely precise details that the other mediums can’t go into. Description is where where light novels go above and beyond not because the other mediums can’t describe things, they certainly can and very well, but because of what happens when you precisely describe one thing but not another. You can point out important details in a light novel by not blatantly and literally pointing them out and you can also leave things to the imagination. Of course, this goes for novels in general, so what makes light novels special and important in comparison to visual novels? Firstly, illustrations along with this general benefit that all novels get can aid in specific visual details or how a fight looks specifically. If there’s an intricate design that you want to be sure the audience sees correctly, an illustration can guide them. Secondly, it’s serial nature allows for a more long running series while maintaining audience attention. Volume after volume of a light novel can come out and be short enough to where the author can work on the next installment soon enough that their audience wouldn’t get bored or forget about the series (even though that next installment doesn’t always happen) while full length novels and visual novels don’t have that luxury.
Speaking of visual novels, what do visual novels use that makes them unique and gives it advantages over the other mediums I listed? Well, it definitely takes all of the benefits I mentioned earlier about novels (as a visual novel is still very much a novel) but adds a few things. With kinetic novels, or novels in which there is only one completely linear and choice-less story, visual reference for specific details can be sparked on cue and of course the characters are all voiced which can drastically build into their character and who they are. This especially comes into effect in specific scenes where vocal performance drives the moment home, see the ending scene to planetarian, also allowing emphasis on parts of speech or inflection to be delivered to the audience rather than them having to imagine it. Proper visual novels with choices and everything also of course benefit from the same things kinetic novels benefit from but with options to craft a story that feels like it belongs to each member of the audience individually rather than a standard narrative that anyone can enjoy in the same way as everyone else. This cuts out the imagination part that visual novels (just written novels in general, as well) can use to their advantage but have an upper hand in that they can deliver a much more curated experience.
Well what about manga? Manga is excellent in that it can keep the imagination that written novels use to their advantage while also using the curated visual detail that visual novels have as their advantage. As a comic, all of the visual detail like fights or settings or conversations are all drawn out and every snapshot of visual detail leads the more active parts of the narrative are instantly available to the audience. On the other hand, imagination can thrive in what the characters sound like and the power behind their voice or actions. The mangaka can of course put an emphasis to help direct how the audience interprets specific things, and I imagine part of why shonen manga characters will verbally say how powerful an attack or foe is, but at least to some degree every element of the non-visual narrative is up to the audience’s interpretation.
Before we move on to anime, a quick tangent about manga is that it honestly surprises me not only that manga still is as popular as it is but also that I find it as captivating as I do. On paper, manga is a weird combination of written novels and visual novels (or at least the way I described it) but not quite an anime and in that sense it feels lesser to an anime in every way. Anime are also serial experiences, anime have animation and voice work in comparison to still images and imagination to fill in the gaps, anime are also short form and addicting to watch, but not only is manga still relatively popular but in having my own favourite manga I can in an unexplainable way understand. I can’t quite puts words to it, but I think it was still a tangent worth going on.
Back to the main topic, what advantages does anime have over the other mentioned mediums? Well, a bit of an unfair one. Anime’s strongest suit is clearly that it’s animated and expression through animation absolutely drives everything, but along with this music accompaniment and voice work not only can be used to help enhance the experience, but voice works are commonly dubbed to help reach a larger audience (with varying success) and as anime is a video spectacle it takes relatively minimal effort to consume while all of the aforementioned require some sort of effort. While that lack of effort required helps make it a much more accessible to a much larger audience, in return that leaves a lot of room for error and it lacks the in-depth detail that could be found in the novels or the room for imagination that some of the other forms of media had. While it’s a mindset I doubt anyone that reads these posts have, while anime is easily the most popular of the forms of media I mentioned, it by no means has all of the bases covered in comparison to every other medium.
In a similar note, no one medium can do everything better than the other. When I say “Truly outstanding examples of a medium do what is only possible in that medium” I don’t mean popular works, but rather things like Studio Ghibli’s films or Hiroya Oku’s manga; things that take not what’s only possible within their medium, but things that could only be experienced in that medium. If you were to take Spirited Away and turn it into a novel or a comic or a visual novel, without any doubt something would be lost. This argument is made constantly for video games, going back to the example of Yume Nikki literally no other medium could give you the feeling of getting lost within your own dreams and caring not about the end but the adventure and beauty of getting lost.
While I’m by no means saying that these mediums are under-appreciated in what they’re capable of doing, they’re popular still because people appreciate what’s possible inside of them, I am hopefully putting a spotlight on them and what I think are so great about them. No one medium is better than the other, each has their own hidden gems, and some are more popular than others, but it’d be doing a disservice to creativity that one medium conquers the others. Why each production is great typically has to do with elements of the production itself, but what would happen if your favourite anime, book, film, or game was completely turned into a production from a different medium and how much would it suffer from that change? It’s an interesting thought to have, in my opinion.
It’s been awhile since I’ve finished writing an editorial this late. God please let there be no major typos in the post. Anyways, thank you for reading this week’s editorial! I hope you enjoyed it; I’m curious, what are your thoughts about each of the mediums or maybe others I didn’t mention and how they compare to each other? I always read every comment I get, even if I don’t reply, so I’d really love to see what you all think. As always, if you like what I do here and want to see what I’m up to when I’m not writing for this blog, feel free to follow me on Twitter! I’ll see you all next week!
The featured image for this post was drawn by pixiv artist ArseniXC.