“Mimizuku and the King of Night” by Kougyoku Izuki
Musings on the Efficacy of Light Novels as a Medium of Literature
★ ★ ★
Before we plunge into the nitty-gritty of Mimizuku and the King of Night (2006 Grand Prize winner of the 13th Dengeki Novel Contest), let’s examine a very contentious yet popular statement widely believed to be true:
Now, before y’all start rolling your eyes at me for being technical about the definition of literature (I mean, basically every light novel anime adaptation you’ve known is as chuuni as Jurai Andou’s “Dark and Darker,” right?), please allow me a moment to step out and borrow Zero-kun‘s bat so I can smack you all on the head.
We’re all brainwashed by the Conspiracy, I tell you!
First of all, if you take Sword Art Online and Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei to be representative of all Japanese light novels, that’s basically the same as taking Taylor Swift to be representative of all modern Western music.
Isn’t it interesting that a bulk majority of all English-translated novels on the Internet are either harems, RomComs, or chuuni power fantasies? Where are the light novels for girls, for instance? On Baka-Tsuki, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have
literotica panty shots, moe, scantily clad girls, accidental kisses, groping, or some combination of the above.
Don’t tell me you actually thought all light novels were like this?
My hypothesis: Because we’re all teenage perverts who spend all our time thinking about sex sex sex sex (and boobs), the only light novels we’ve translated into English are essentially the trashy ones.
We’re missing the gems of the light novel industry.
Take any reputable light novel writing competition (i.e.: The Dengeki Novel Prize)—virtually all of the top ranking novels are not translated into English.
This says something about the current state of LN translations, hmm?
I actually have great faith in the light novel medium.
If you ask me, manga > light novels > anime.
Part of my reasoning for this is that there are more manga in print than light novels (I think); light novels in turn overwhelmingly outnumber anime. The shear size of each medium roughly correlates with the capacity for each to hold hidden gems.
Oyasumi Punpun and Sangatsu no Lion—both are very niche manga series, yet I would without question include them among the ranks of great literature.
On the other hand, we hardly have a clue about what kinds of treasures are hidden in that sea of thousands of light novels. I fear we’ll never really know, simply because it’s so difficult to fan translate light novels and our English publishers will probably continue licensing series that’s best at making us horny.
As someone who used to be an extremely avid writer, the structural concept of light novels appeals to me immensely, because it’s extremely well suited to creating powerful literature.
Well, once upon a time in a galaxy far far away, (elitist) writers waged massive interstellar wars over whether poetry or prose was better.
The debates were extremely heated and impassioned. People flipped tables and such. I’ll tell you straight off that it was roughly analogous to our contemporary otaku-relevant feuds about whether large boobs or small boobs are better. ;P
Light novels are extremely well suited to being the middle ground.
They’re very well suited to abusing poetic one-liners that pack punches interspersed with longer paragraphs that are filled with pretty language, sarcasm, irony, metaphor, or whatever have you.
Also fun gimmicks like bolding, sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex
sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex
sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex
sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex
sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex sex
sex sex sex sex sex sex sex
sex sex sex sex sex
sex sex sex
rhyming, puns, and other cool stuff.
A light novel done well can make you cry.
A light novel done well can make you hate the world.
A light novel done well can hit you like a brick.
So what are we waiting for?
Let’s get into Mimizuku and the King of Night.
Mimizuku and the King of Night is a 267-page standalone light novel published without any illustrations. It was Kougyoku Izuki’s first work, and she submitted the story to the Dengeki Novel Contest as a first-year university student. It later went on to win the Grand Prize.
It was completely translated by Amazing Buffalo on Baka-Tsuki in 2011, but I neglected it for several years because the cover was horrendously ugly and I thought it was a horror novel or something.
To be accurate, it’s actually a fairy tale with dark themes.
Mimizuku, a small girl with chains on her wrists and ankles and the numbers “332” branded onto her forehead, wanders into the Forest of Night seeking to be eaten by a monster. However, when the ruler of the monsters, the mysterious and beautiful “King of Night,” refuses to eat her, she tries to formulate a way to convince him otherwise.
The novel is fairly well endowed with symbolism and theme. There’s a tasteful amount of color iconography, a character named “Dante,” a blood red flower that is pulled out of a place called “Purgatory…”
This light novel deserves its share of literary analysis, friends! ;D
Not to mention a very fascinating protagonist and an extremely smexy “King of Night.”
Mimizuku and the King of Night is weaker in the second half of the novel, largely because the story wanders a little bit and later transforms into a somewhat predictable love story.
Despite this, I highly recommend this light novel because it’s one of the few english-translated novels that might actually appeal to a female audience, and I’m pretty sure you male fans are surely tired of reading all those harems, magic fantasies, and RomCom’s by now? ;D
Amazing Buffalo’s translation is pretty good by the standards of most fan translations. However, my sources tell me that quite a bit of Kougyoku Izuki is lost through translation:
The way Kougyoku uses commas and periods to shape the flow of words works incredibly well to convey the notion that the main character is quite mad, further enhanced by drawing out the final syllable in each of her spoken lines. It creates an eerie mood, which is utterly bewitching and otherworldly. I do wonder how it could be reproduced in a language like English, though. It’s hard to imagine reading an extended “you” without being irritated rather than charmed.
Don’t look down on light novels, because there are plenty hidden gems out there. They have a lot more potential than many of us weebs might think.
If you haven’t found a light novel you like yet, it’s most probably because your would-be-favorite-novel hasn’t been translated into English yet (orz). The light novel industry is nearly as diverse as the manga industry, and there’s almost something out there for everyone.
This really goes out to emphasize Frog-kun’s point in his recent post about the future of light novel fan translations—we translators should really try seeking out those niche projects and hidden gems.
For me, one thing’s for sure:
By no means would I condemn all light novels as inferior literature.
- By perverts, I’m including girls as well. ;D ‘Cause most of the english-translated light novels targeted to a female audience are either really smutty or flat-out yaoi (proudly hosted on tumblr).
- Due to the unfortunate lack of illustrations, I’ve placed fanart all around to try and perk people’s interests.
- Trivia: I myself started translating Romeo Tanaka’s Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita a while back, but it’s definitely also worthwhile to explore the wider spectrum of light novel genres with pieces such as Hikaru ga Chikyuu ni Itakoro or Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou.