Western SF and Animu’d Covers

It’s surprisingly fun to image-surf on Amazon.co.jp, hopping from cover to cover with the “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed…” I especially enjoy seeing the covers for Western SF novels. I might nerd-rage over manga/light novels getting more “US marketable” covers, but the same thing happens in reverse. I don’t reflexively prefer the original cover, though, but the one that best hits my aesthetic tastes. And these hit them pretty well.

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Research Fail: Moe Images and Virtual Child Pornography

I found this eyebrow-raising passage while hopping through Google Books lately:

“In a poll conducted in 2005 by the Anime News Network, an online portal for anime information, 29 percent of American anime fans felt that moe images should be banned completely.” Japanamerica, by Roland Kelts, p. 162

What? Seriously?! Looking up the actual poll, of course, showed that it actually referred to “virtual child porn,” not “moe images.”

Should “virtual child porn” (IE: pictures and animation depicting minors involved in pornographic situations, but not involving real minors in its creation) be illegal?

No     684 (39.4%)
Yes     506 (29.1%)
It should be banned in certain situations, but not others.    340 (19.6%)
I’m Undecided     208 (12.0%)

I won’t claim there isn’t a healthy undercurrent of sensuality in moe imagery, but using it as an equivalent term to “child pornography” is absurd. I image he’s not willfully misrepresenting his research, but is instead just really confused. It makes one worry about the understanding of otaku culture, though, when a widely read book makes such a jarring mistake. In the US, unfortunately, the sexual innocence of children is the one debate topic where all standards of reason are jettisoned. And in this murky pool, moe is wading knee-deep.

Why you do this?!: Light Novels and US Covers

In the US, light novels have an unfortunate problem: publishers trying to purge their light novel-ness, by changing the cover to something less “anime” looking.

The worst thing about these cover changes is that, even if the core finds them “horrible,” they might still be in the publisher’s economic interests. The cover just has to create more sales than it kills. Not many fans of a series, except for the most cantankerous, would refuse to buy a volume because of a cover change. So no matter how much fans rant online about the cover changes, if it helps even a few casual browsers pick it off the shelves, it’s a good business decision. Besides harming some vague concept of “audience goodwill,” of course.
It’s one thing when a publisher makes a mistake: they can realize, and change it on the future. It’s much worse when a publisher is doing the right thing, for them, but the wrong thing for you; there’s no fix coming there. On the other hand, as brick&morter book stores disappear, and LNs are bought primarily online, casual cover appeal gets less important. Despite that, most publishers still think we’re on the other side of the trend, as evidence by these (rather recent) cover changes:

Kieli, Yen Press:

Kieli: This is nicely representative. Instead of a beautiful picture, with attractice character design and a very mood-setting use of color, we get…a camera in photo-negative. And a cover like your average horror book, but with poorer design.

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SF References in Anime, From Obvious to Obscure

Japanese edition of a Robert F. Young short story collection...with a really neat cover.

People have claimed that written science fiction is “dying” for decades now. Despite that, all these decades, more and more great science fiction books are being written. The classics, and even lots of modern stuff, have a huge influence on more “pop” mediums. Anime is no exception, with references to SF novels showing up everywhere.

Clannad, “The Dandelion Girl” by Robert F. Young: Kotomi reads it as a child in her arc, and it’s the source of the recurring line “Day before yesterday I saw a rabbit, and yesterday a deer, and today, you.” Japanese readers voted it the “6th best SF story of all time” in a magazine poll. In the US, it’s not well known enough to keep in print, although it was printed online by SciFiction. The story has also been adapted into a visual novel by fans.

Eureka Seven, Greg Egan/Greg Bear: The scientist character of that name is based upon the reclusive Australian author Greg Egan, who is especially popular in Japan. That Japanese poll? His “Reasons to be Cheerful” was voted the #1 best foreign SF story…and himself the #2 best foreign SF writer, behind only Philip K. Dick. The character’s nickname “Dr. Bear” also refers to the author Greg Bear.

Geneshaft, multiple books: All it’s episode title are references to classic SF stories/books. In some cases, they’re based on new names used for the Japanese publication, so they’re not obvious to English readers. For example, James P. Hogan’s “Thrice Upon a Time” was printed in Japanese as “未来からのホットライン (Hotline from the Future), and episode 6 is titled “過去からのホットライン”(“Hotline from the Past”).

In Japan, even Greg Egan's "hardest SF known to man" needs a girl on the cover.

Gurren Lagann: The subtitles for the two movies reference the science fiction novels “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke and “The Lights in the Sky are Stars” by Frederic Brown. The first book is well-known, but the second hasn’t gotten much attention in the US since its publishing in 1953.

Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, multiple books: The book-loving alien robot reads a number of SF books throughout the series. She seems especially fond of the Hyperion series; it includes the book she placidly calls “unique,” and the book she gives to Kyon with a hidden bookmark. The magazine which serializes the light novels also posted a list of “Nagato Yuki’s 100 Books,” with “Nagato’s Favorites” like “Permutation City” by Greg Egan and “Terminal Experiment” by Robert J. Sawyer…both books she could definitely relate to.

Nichijou/My Ordinary Life, episode 20, “The Sirens of Titan,” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: The book is seen randomly and conspicuously in one of the intermissions. Of course, if it’s SF in Nichijou, it has to be something like Vonnegut.

Toward the Terra, “Slan” by A.E. van Vogt: The 1977 manga shares the basic premise of (oppressed psychic mutants who live among humans, and are hunted down for execution) and main character’s name (“Jommy”) of A.E. van Vogt’s 1940 novel. Although the two stories have the same premise, they take it in very different directions. Slan is pure pulp, but it’s still an enduring classic which hit a nerve with the nerdy SF fans of its time. They took up the slogan “fans are Slans!,” comparing themselves to the evolved, imaginative mutant race persecuted by mundane society.