TOKYO —Traditional Japanese culture prizes simplicity and shuns excess. This is, after all, the country that likes to take the time to appreciate the beauty of a solitary arranged flower or single cup of green tea.
At the same time, authors of “light novels,” Japan’s literary equivalent to young adult fiction, are known for being anything but pithy. Light novel readers, on the whole, are a pretty accepting bunch as far as high-word-count prose is concerned, and that attitude extends to the titles of books that fall into the category as well.
But even with that backdrop, people in Japan are stunned by the name of an upcoming release from major light novel publisher Dengeki Bunko. Going on sale March 10 is the first book in a new series from author Uwami Kuruma, which is called: “Sew for Her! Strip Her? Change Her Clothes!! She Screwed Up Her High School Debut and Became a Shut-In, so I’ve Ended Up Coordinating Her Youth (Fashion).”
Kind of a mouthful, isn’t it? But does it sound better in the original Japanese? “Nuiage! Nugashite? Kisekaeru!! Kanojo ga Koukou Debyuu ni Shippai Shite Hikikomori to Kashita no de, Ore ga Seishun (Fasshon) wo Koodineeto Suru Koto ni.”
Nope, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue in either language. It gets high marks for informativeness, though. The publisher goes on to expand on the expansive title by saying the book will star Tomonaga Ono, an “incredibly ordinary” high school boy whose childhood friend overdresses on her first day of high school, with the reactions from her classmates sending her into such shock that she becomes a “hikikomori,” which leads to Tomonaga taking off her clothes (and presumably dressing her in more appropriate ones, no doubt after a suitable amount of sexy times are allowed to take their course).
So what drives light novel authors to choose such long-winded titles? Well, it’s an intensely youth-focused market, which means the market is crowded with dozens of competing novels all packed with whatever tropes are currently in-vogue among teens. “Love interest who’s a childhood friend,” “sympathetic shut-in,” and “main character who’s an ordinary guy but volunteers to help a girl with a problem” are all incredibly common storytelling elements in contemporary light novels (and also anime and manga), so having a comically long name can give a book a much-needed edge in standing out from others on the shelf.
But aren’t such long names hard to remember? Sure, but there are two ways that can work to their advantage. “Otaku” (the primary purchasers of light novels) have long taken pleasure in possessing specialized knowledge, and being able to rattle off the complete title of “Sew for Her! Strip Her? Change Her Clothes!! She Screwed Up Her High School Debut and Casey Can’t Remember the Rest” makes those who can pull off the feat feel like part of a special club. Plus, such a long title means that should the series’ popularity take off, it’s almost certainly going to get a shortened nickname (as happened with “Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?/Danmachi”). Fans being able to use that nickname when talking to one another is almost like a secret handshake, which creates a feeling of solidarity among members of the fandom.
Of course, that doesn’t make things any easier for casual readers, but like anime, the light novel business is powered by its most passionate supporters. One other group that’s probably a bit nonplussed by the title “Sew for Her! Strip Her? Change Her Clothes!! She Screwed Up Her High School Debut and Became a Shut-In, so I’ve Ended Up Coordinating Her Youth (Fashion)?” The graphic designer who has to fit all that on the front of the book in an aesthetically pleasing way, and so it’s not surprising that Dengeki Bunko has yet to unveil its cover artwork.