Publisher nixes two of the most common storytelling tricks in the anime playbook in attempt to create something adults can enjoy.
Hey, you know the anime series about the teenage boy? The one who gets transported to an alternate world?
Sure you do. Okay, you may not know the anime like that so much as an anime like that. For that matter, if you’ve been watching Japanese animation for any length of time, odds are you can name several franchises that description works for, since high school kids ending up in isekai, as alternate worlds are called in Japanese, have long been one of the most popular premises in anime.
In recent years, though, the iseka craze has gone into overdrive. It’s gotten to the point where authors of light novels (the serialized paperbacks from which many modern anime are adapted) are having to think of increasingly outlandish scenarios to stand out from the herd, such as making the reincarnated-in-an-alternate-world hero a sentient hot spring that naked women crawl into.
At least some in the industry seem to be of the mind that enough is enough. In the rules for its upcoming light novel contest, publisher Kadokawa has specifically banned both the isekai genre and teen protagonists.
▼ Promotional image for the Entertainment Novels that Adults Want to Read Contest
Back in February, Kadokawa, a publisher of light novels as well as other books, manga, and magazines, formed a new label, called Novel 0, with its theme being “The lifestyle of cool adults.” In keeping with that, Kadokawa’s Entertainment Novels that Adults Want to Read Contest has specified that submissions in any genre are OK, except alternate world stories. Furthermore, the main character must be an adult male, thus ruling out “ordinary high school students” and teenagers in general for the lead (it’s unclear whether older university students would be acceptable leads, as legal adulthood begins in Japan at the age of 20).
Submissions can be made between June 1 and July 16 through the Kadokawa-administered Kakuyomu novel publishing website. Winners will be chosen through a combination of reader rankings and judgement by a panel of Novel 0 editors, with the grand prize being 300,000 yen (US$2,700) and the official publication of the winning novel (full details can be found here).
Taking two of anime’s most representative tropes off the table, even as they remain highly popular among consumers, might seem like a backwards decision given the hugely symbiotic (and profitable) relationship between connected light novels and anime adaptations. Teen protagonists have long been a staple of animation in Japan, since their age makes it easier for young viewers to identify with them and taps into nostalgia among older fans happily thinking back on the good old days of high school.
At the same time, though, the otaku culture boom I gradually causing a change in anime fan demographics in Japan. An increasing number of adults, even those with active social lives, are feeling increasingly comfortable continuing to pursue their anime interests into adulthood. In light of such developments, the rules of Kadokawa’s contest seem like a forward-thinking strategy in trying to develop a new franchise that these adult fans can follow and enjoy in the here and now, instead of having to tap into memories of how they felt a decade or more ago.
Follow Casey on Twitter, where he can’t entirely hate the isekai genre since Escaflowne is technically part of it.