It goes without saying that I’m a big fan of anime and because of this, I’m also vastly interested in the manga and light novels they’re often based off on. When it comes to English translations of light novels though, the market is still very small despite the success of publishers like Yen Press, but that could be about to change with the launch of J-Novel Club.
The intention of J-Novel Club is to give its members the chance to read parts of various light novels as they’re translated and once they’re finished, collecting all of the parts of as an e-book. For someone as invested in light novels as I am, it’s a brilliant service, but I appreciate that not everyone will want to sign-up blind without first knowing the quality of the service and the first four titles on offer. That’s why I’m here to give an overview of my time with the service and also my thoughts on the series on offer.
Let’s start off with talking about J-Novel Club itself. They’ve launched with iOS and Android apps, which are a big deal because I certainly wouldn’t have signed up without the ability to read on my mobile or tablet. I can’t speak for the Android app (because I don’t own an Android device), but as far as iOS goes, the design is fairly simple. There aren’t any options to select titles as ‘favourites’ or mark a part as ‘read’ but beyond features like those being missing, it works fairly well. Reading a part is a bit of an oddity because the whole thing loads at once, for you to just scroll down through instead of having pages. Once you get used to this though it works well enough and the app does remember your page if you close it and go back later.
The only problem is that the iOS app is a bit prone to crashing if you hit the text adjustment sizes. This doesn’t happen for all parts; it’s a memory issue to do with the bigger ones, but it’s a problem all the same. The team are aware and will fix it for the next release and in the meantime it’s not an issue for me, as I find the text size perfectly fine, but it’s definitely something to be aware of. Apart from the crashes though, there are no problems to speak of with the service being provided. The parts always load quickly, the website is very easy to navigate and it works seamlessly the majority of the times. The actual translations sometimes have a typo or two, but these are being fixed as the team are alerted and the service is not advertised as translations being flawless; they’ll be checked over again before being released as an ebook. J-Novel Club are advertising themselves as a Crunchyroll-like service for light novels and when all’s said and done Crunchyroll are not flawless with their releases either, so I certainly don’t fault J-Novel for a couple of errors.
Anyway let’s move on to the important part – the light novels themselves. First up we have Occultic;Nine, which has an anime adaptation currently streaming thanks to Crunchyroll. J-Novel Club describe the series as follows:
“From the mind behind Steins;Gate, Chaos;Head, Robotics;Notes, and Chaos;Child! Now a hit anime, too! –Q: Do you believe in ghosts? A: Of course not! Yuta Gamon, a young boy who lives in Kichijoji, runs an Occult-related blog called “Kirikiri Basara”. He spends his days dreaming of making a fortune off his affiliate links. Suddenly, Yuta’s blog brings together the fate of nine strangers, as what starts off as a tiny feeling that something’s wrong develops into a case that goes beyond imagination. Black magic, the afterlife, psychics, fortune-telling, other dimensions, prophecies, hypnosis, urban legends… The world is filled with flim-flam!”
Now I’ve watched the first two episodes of the anime and I’m not the biggest fan of Occultic;Nine, but I think the light novel might fix that. Currently there are three parts of the first volume on offer and these basically match up with the first episode of the anime. It’s still quite crazy and confusing to get a hold on right now because the story hasn’t fully set itself up yet, but main character Yuta’s excessive rambling is much easier to understand in book format than in the anime (because he talks way too fast) and that’s already a huge plus point for me.
With so many different perspectives to tell the story from, Occultic;Nine is setting itself up for a hard time as this kind of idea usually doesn’t work that well. Thankfully it appears that author Chiyomaru Shikura has a good handle on how to tie everyone’s story together and I’m left with a Durarara!! vibe where everything will probably make sense eventually even if I’m lost now. Of all the light novels that J-Novel Club are offering, this is probably my favourite and has the most potential to be something I want to continue reading past the first volume.
Next up we have My Little Sister Can Read Kanji, which is a series that finished in Japan at five volumes. J-Novel Club describe the series as follows:
“The year is 2202, and Japan has become the land of moe. Aspiring author Gin Imose and his little sister Kuroha are travelling to TOKYO to meet with the world famous author, Gai Odaira. Kuroha is uninterested in his orthodox literary style, and amazingly is able to read ancient modern Japanese books written in kanji! This fateful encounter sets off a chain of events that could change the course of literary history! Could it be that, long ago, books could be about more than little sisters showing their panties and getting in compromising situations with their non-blood- related older brothers? Impossible! It’s hard to even imagine a Japan where everyone could read kanji and the Prime Minister was a 3D human being…”
Now of everything I’m reading, this is probably the one that makes the least sense, but then it’s also the only series with only two parts currently on offer. From two parts it’s difficult to see where the plot is going, because all we’ve seen so far is that Gai Odaira is fairly insane and Gin Imose is a total idiot. In fact, only Kuroha has any sense in this whole world! The interactions between Gai, Gin and Kuroha have been fairly funny and I think the eventual blow-up as Kuroha gets more and more fed-up with Gai will be quite fun but for now it’s just a curiosity more than a series I can actually recommend.
The synopsis makes it sound as though Kuroha might write a book to overthrow this world of moe (or perhaps Gin might) and I think going against the tropes of 2202 sounds like a fairly interesting idea! Only time will tell if that’s what will actually happen, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying all the jabs aimed at the current state of light novels in Japan and if you’re a big light novel fan or just find the description interesting then you’ll likely have some fun. Definitely a series to keep an eye on if nothing else.
I didn’t want to end this article on a down, so let’s get Brave Chronicle: The Ruinmaker out the way right now. J-Novel Club describe this one book series as follows:
“Meet Kurono Kokuya, a student in the lowest rank at Star Gate Academy – the world’s cutting-edge training facility for star sorcerers, the beings who use star sorcery to protect the Earth from otherworld invasions. His childhood friend Yukihime Yukigane just happens to be the world’s strongest star sorcerer, and she never lets him forget that fact. One day, their days of peace are interrupted by a powerful threat from another world. Kokuya and Yukihime stand on the front lines, risking their lives to protect those they love, but will they be able to defeat the Dark Lord Redge and his cruel minions?”
Now the problem with Brave Chronicle is that it’s not even trying to be a good light novel in my opinion. We have the adoring brother who loves his little sister and wants to sleep with her (let’s not talk about how he talks about her bra and panties when she’s trying on various clothes at a cosplay store…), he’s in a world where everyone has magic powers and yet his are the lowest ranked you could have and his parents were tragically killed when he and his sister were young. I’ve listed off at least three big themes a lot of light novels tend to have in common and it’s very obvious that Brave Chronicle isn’t even trying to do anything original with them.
Author Kenya Atsui has a good handle on how to write action scenes and those I’ve read so far have been quite compelling, but when the whole of the second part was filled with Kurono obsessing over his little sister I can only say it put me off reading more. As this is a single volume title I’ll probably finish it (I hate dropping things partway unless there is a really good reason), but I definitely don’t recommend Brave Chronicle to anyone unless you want to laugh at how generic everything about it is.
To finish off with we have My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World, which is currently on-going in Japan and J-Novel Club describes as follows:
“One day, first year high school student Yuichi Sakaki suddenly awakens the power of “Soul Reader” within him, and he can see words above peoples heads that describe their true nature! With just a glance at the people around him, he sees crazy things like “Zombie”, “Witch”, and “Vampire”… That would be bad enough, but then there is “Serial Killer” Natsuki Takeuchi walking straight toward him… Nobody would ever believe him! Well, except for his older sister Mutsuko: This kind of stuff is right up her alley.”
I think this is a really silly supernatural series that reminds me of Strike the Blood and to a certain point, The Isolator. It’s fairly generic in a lot of its ideas, but I’ve had so much fun with the four parts currently on offer that I don’t think being generic matters that much – at the very least Yuichi isn’t in love with his sisters!
Right now it’s unclear how Yuichi’s sight is going to affect his day to day school life, or indeed why he has the sight at all, but now that he has this power he can’t help but intervene when he sees a girl from his class being attacked (by a Monster Hunter) for being a vampire. Now that the two know one another’s secret they agree to help each other out and potentially we’ll learn more about Yuichi’s power by them doing so.
Perhaps the best thing about My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World is that the world is very ordinary unlike say the world of Strike the Blood, where the main character was a vampire living among other vampires and monsters. Obviously the world of My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World is not as ordinary as we’re first led to believe but Yuichi certainly seems like your typical high-school kid so it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to battling vampires and Monster Hunters and the like. Meanwhile his older sister is anything but ordinary and fits in just fine with the idea of the world being full of monsters! We haven’t seen a great deal of her yet, but the one part she was present for she proved to be a fun read and gave me confidence that the more she’s involved the better the series will become. Definitely a title to keep an eye on!
So with all that said and done I’ve enjoyed my time with J-Novel Club so far. I think it’s lacking that must-read title for a lot of light novel fans, but having Occultic;Nine is a step in the right direction and for the £4.07 my membership cost I’m very happy to support the company’s efforts in bringing more light novels to the west. It’s cheap, easy to use and most importantly has ambition. Just avoid Brave Chronicle and a good time reading light novels is ensured!