Realism/unrealism in Grimgal
(Written after release of Volume 1, Chapter 11.)
(Spoilers may follow to a minor degree, but Chapter 11 is where the novel starts getting good anyway, so maybe one shouldn’t care all that much.)
I’m not professing to be a huge reader of light novels, or anything. Or, really, even a huge consumer of anime and manga and all the things related to them, so feel free to comment if you feel differently about anything I say. But I mean, I still feel there’s something I can say about them, or at least, about how Grimgal is not like the rest of them. Somewhat. Not that it’s superincredibleuniquetrueart, you know. But there is something.
Light novels seem outright intended to take place in an anime-esque world, if packaged illustrations are anything to go by, and really feel as if they do. This is in spite of the fact that all the plot elements and stock characters are there, but few of the visual elements and exaggerations are. Which is to be expected, you know? It’s prose. So when adapted to anime they add it back in. Even so, reading light novels feels rather as if you’re watching an anime. People act like they do in an anime, unrealistic stock characters and all. Silly things and contrived occurrences happen just like they do in anime. The narration can be very short and snappy (and some say childish) to drive the plot, so there isn’t a ton of description and introspection stuff that would normally characterize prose works. I even imagine 2D characters walking around as I read, for crying out loud. A very different experience from native English (teen) lit.
These visual peculiarities to the mediums of manga and anime can be downright jarring to those unused to it, I suppose especially for older people. Now, my evidence for this is entirely anecdotal, but I once showed Madoka Magica to my 55 year old English teacher. Made her watch something like two episodes on a rainy day. She couldn’t get past a lot of things, but most of all, she couldn’t get over how kawaii every single character was, and I think it actually made her pay a lot less attention to the plot. Those magical girls might as well have been babbling about boys and lipstick as much as fighting witches for all it registered to her.
I was kind of put out by that, honestly. But on the other hand I was pretty surprised that she picked up on it. “Here, this is all stuff that’s strange to me.” Huh, I said. I guess that is strange if you’re not used to it. Though many of these weren’t in Madoka, I expect that these things include exaggerated gestures, like falling to the ground in embarrassment, assuming a dogeza pose, or puffing a cheek or two out in anger. Not to mention plots and character types common to anime and manga, especially to particular genres of anime and manga. Well, but I suppose with popular media like anime, you’re going to have some repetition of ideas. People want it? They got it! Still want it? Well, let’s churn out some more…
Regardless of light novels lacking these visual cues of anime, it still feels very much the same as anime. But Grimgal…doesn’t.
Here’s something I’ve noticed. Grimgal is very, very medium aware. It knows it’s a light novel that’s based off games. It knows what it’s doing and how to do it; for instance, it plucks a number of kids of unspecified age and turned them, reluctantly or otherwise, into warriors in a world that runs itself like a JRPG. Does anyone hear “stock plot”? It does everything. The named skills, the neat classes of Rogue, Cleric, Wizard. But even these by themselves won’t mean it’s medium aware necessarily; they just mean it’s neatly following the rules of the genre. So why do I say it?
It’s because when everything’s done, it’s done in an over the top way. The hunting monsters and farming for (combat) experience and items to sell. The magical “learning” of a skill after a week of training. The “level up” of Ranta’s abilities. Speaking of Ranta, he does some things you’d only see in an anime — he even topples himself over when something embarrassing happens. And Yume puffs her cheek out when she gets mad, and her eyes turn into literal dots when she’s bewildered, like happens in anime. Question marks rise out of someone’s head somewhere. Haruhiro sometimes talks when one eye closed. Who does that except in manga? No one does that! These are all anime visual cues, of course.
Grimgal forces, shoehorns anime visual cues into the work, much unlike other light novels. But it does this whilst maintaining a strictly sober tone, as well as narration that is less short and more evocative than those other novels. The city of Altana is a dark and dull place, and the description of the residents and the buildings is very vivid. And very gray. It sounds somewhat like a realistic fantasy work in those parts of the book, as well as in the fight scenes, where the exhaustion, drudgery, and reluctance involved in killing some non-human creature to steal its loot is heavily apparent. This is in juxtaposition with silly anime things that don’t seem to fit. Master Barbara who wears practically nothing. Unrealistic (and archetypal) characters like the idiot Ranta, the personalityless Shihoru, the troubled yet competent Renji. Even a bath peeping scene (which incidentally, our translator thinks was forced to be put in by the publisher).
Oh, and how about that they’re living in a role-playing-game? In those parts of the book Grimgal does feel like an anime. But then not really, because it takes all these anime and video game conventions and characters, takes them to extremes, and yet stays realistic and rather grim (gal, lolol) in tone. Especially with the darker turn taken in Chapter 11, where a death is handled in three times as many words and with 30 times as much significance as Sachi’s death in Sword Art Online (another light novel). I think when these video game conventions are pushed into such a realistic context, it’s not really a deconstruction so much as it is an experiment, a test of the genre. How seriously can I take myself, thinks Grimgal, before I stop making any sense and start being completely ridiculous? Well, Grimgal, you’ve been doing quite well so far.
So what’s the result? What do you get when you make it obvious that your work stars anime characters doing anime stuff, in an obviously video game world? Ah, but then you need to put a realistic spin on that video game world and have people get hurt and die. Make earning money and food real things to worry about. Turn being an adventurer into a job like any other. Make learning skills an odd mix between learning a video game technique and simply learning how to do something. [PICK LOCK], anyone?
Lastly, you need to make the struggles that the characters go through real as well, minus the bath peeping. And make their emotions not just caricatures of real peoples’. What happens in the end?
For me, at least, I read a novel with anime illustrations and characters that do anime-ish things, but for which I imagine events that unfold for real, three dimensional people. It’s an odd feeling, and one which I praise Grimgal for. It feels real, even as it takes all its unrealistic aspects right to extremes. I’m glad it was recommended to us.
Now, some quotes.
“being able to make a character insanely annoying and yet keeping people reading is difficult”. – Nanodesuyo, on the topic of Ranta
“why is it that grimgal gets all the mature readers? with names like ‘rectalcannon'” – TOM
Thanks for staying with us through the first half of the novel, everyone. I’m looking forward to seeing the end with all of you.
It would warm my hard if you responded in the comments. =) Some more staff to reader contact in these things would be nice.
– hikaslap, Grimgal editor