For the uninitiated, a web novel is just well, a story published on the web. In this particular context, I’m referring to the stories that get written chapter by chapter in Japan then translated over for us. I’ve been thinking a little about how these stories come to be and why I read them and figured I’d do a haphazard job of putting it into words.
I’ve only read a few web novels and haven’t actually finished any. The ones I’ve looked at are (to the best of my memory):
- Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou
- Mushoku Tensei
- Tensei Shitara Slime datta ken
- The New Gate
And several other manga adaptations including:
- Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari (Shield Hero)
- (Probably more that are escaping me as well as Mangas of Arifureta/New Gate/Slime)
Like any other denizen of this colorful planet, I am going to let my limited perspective color my world view. That’s what it means to be human, no doubt.
When it comes to anime, a large number of people normally end up working on it. Sure, a good director or writer will still impart their vision into their art, but in the end, it’s not normally the literal stream of one person’s consciousness.
Published manga can end up closer to that, but you’ve still got an editor, and a magazine with constraints. Published light novels are perhaps a little less tethered, but the editor is still there. Web Novels are of course generally unedited and can just be raw streams of the author’s desires and fantasies.
Sure, they’ve got their tropes and anime-isms (more in a later post) and do their best to appeal to their readers, and try not to stray too far from other web novels, but it really does feel like the main character’s life is one the author really wants to lead.
I am generalizing a little there, but from what I’ve read, Web Novels are more the stories the author wants to live and less the story they want to tell. There is nothing wrong with that of course. I have no problems with people reading media to live the lives they can’t, nor with writing it to lead the lives they envisioned.
Many of us when we are young, we have fantasies and delusions of grandeur. We read and watch cool stories and think about what it would be like to be a Ninja, a Magical Girl, a Dark Mage and so on.
Some play act it out with their friends, others simply retreat into their minds and direct their variants of those stories. Most outgrow this phase, but some don’t. They go into their teenage years still yearning for a chance at fantastical adventure.
It is not so much that these young adults don’t recognize the futility of their fantasies, but that they chose to believe in the 0.00000001% chance of it coming true. Haruhi does not run around looking for aliens, espers and time travellers because she thinks they exist, but because she desperately hopes the chance of them existing is not 0. That recognition of the impossible, while continuing to try and pretend otherwise is very much the core essence of ‘Chuunibyou’.
I assume most people too, grow out of this. They find goals or dreams to keep them occupied or they take life in slow stride with good company. Unfortunately, many of course are simply too occupied by the anguish of a hard life to pay much attention to childish delusions. Then there are those of us who simply drift through a lukewarm life, with little in the way of actual goals, dreams and accomplishments.
We look at the mailbox and wonder why the invitation to Hogwarts is 13 years late. We look at the sky and wonder why our 10 year old selves prayers to become a Power Ranger went unheard or why the elaborate self-fiction we concocted as a fourteen year old remained just that, fiction.
Wonder is perhaps a strong word, but many of us look at adulthood and daily meniality through a tepid lens. Wizards and Knights, Warriors and dark villains are all cooler than bills, job anxiety and the loneliness of being but one boring human out of 7 billion.
The protagonists of most of the stories we love (especially the ones in Manga/LNs) are way younger than we are. The life we perhaps could have lead with some miracle of the universe is no longer within reach.
How can you become a cool Magic Mafia boss when the Vongola 10th boss was only 14 when he got his ring? How can you go on a Pirate Adventure when most Pirates start their Grand Line adventure in their mid-teens and those that don’t, have been training for it for years?
And even looking around reality, you might find a similar sort of gloom. Your friends boast about their achievements on Facebook. The next Zuckerberg founds a startup at 20, and the next Aaron Swartz authors a web standard at 15. If you lead a boring, ordinary life, it is easy to look at the highlight reel of others and groan and grumble.
So, having concluded our 0.00000001% chance of being cool is now 0%, we do what any delusional human does. We pretend it is 0.000000000001%. Or, to put it in better terms, we hope for a bigger miracle.
This is perhaps why many of us find joy in ‘reincarnation’ stories like Mushoka Tensei or Re:Monster. These stories are about adults finding a literal second chance. They die, they reincarnate in an alternate universe with magic and stuff and all of a sudden, they are big stuff.
Granted, most ‘transported to another world’ stories are also this kind of wish-fulfillment, but I find the reincarnation ones to be especially so and they really do feel like they are targeting a slightly older audience who feel they’ve wasted too many years to have a good adventure now.
It is perhaps short-sighted of me to suggest we all read these stories because we can’t live them, and perhaps even more short-sighted to suggest they are written because the authors can’t live them either, but it does feel like that!
I feel most stories are written because we have a message or two to share or an adventure to live through, and often both. Given the raw, streamed, almost unedited natures of many of these web novels, it really does feel like they are just the author’s personal fantasies put into written form. And again, there’s nothing implicitly wrong with that.
If anything, I admire someone who can say ‘hey, this story I came up with will never come true, so I might as well write it down and share it’.
It is probably bad to be dangerously cynical over the real world and obsessed with fictional ones, but I think and hope most folk don’t reach that level. They are just invested enough in their own stories to write them down.
Perhaps this post is a little strong in its assumptions, but when I read these stories, I think of the stories fourteen year old me came up with, the same stories the fourteen year old in the mirror recites back every morning and the same stories 24 year old me spends the better part of two days running through.
Anyway, apologies for the slightly personal, possibly overbearing post. I wanted to talk more about the tropes and trends and shared points of interest in these web novels, but I’ll do that in a sequel post. Ciao.