Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Japanese FICTION Bestsellers of 2011 (So Far), Part 1

Our coverage of Japan's bestseller lists continues with a look at the fiction bestsellers of the first half of 2011.

I'm almost tempted to go full car-salesman and just start saying "October is Bestseller Month at Wednesday Afternoon Picnic!!!" but I don't think coverage will quite last that long. Anyway, today we'll be looking at just fiction bestsellers.

Japanese vocabulary time!

Tohan divides up the sales numbers between tankoubon and bunkobon. Now, these do not stand for hardcover and paperback, the way we list our bestsellers (although they are, weirdly, similar, but we'll get to that in a second). They don't even describe the same qualities or standards of comparison.  

Tankoubon (単行本)just means a collected or independent volume; it is a complete work. Of course, this word is also illogically used to refer to a single volume in a manga series, believe it or not, to make it extra confusing.

The word bunkobon(文庫本) refers to the size of the book itself, which is similar to our mass-market pocket-sized paperbacks. They are designed, like our mass-market paperbacks, to be super cheap and portable, though they are generally nicer—they get their own dust jackets and everything.

As mentioned above, tankoubon does not refer to the quality of the book itself; however, if you look at the size of any novel on Amazon that's listed as tankoubon, you'll notice the size is usually somewhere around 19cm by 14cm. Which is in fact, just about the size of all the Japanese novels that I own that are indeed, hardcover books. So while it's not necessarily true, today, for all intents and purposes, we can think of tankoubon as the hardcovers and bunkobon as the paperbacks.

Today we look at the tankoubon bestsellers for fiction, according to Tohan:

1) 謎解きはディナーのあとで ("The Riddle Will Be Solved After Dinner")
by Higashigawa Tokuya
by Satohiro Saito
3) くじけないで ("Don't Be Discouraged")
by Shibata Toyo
4) 麒麟の翼 ("Wings of the Qilin")
by Higashino Keigo
5) 放課後はミステリーとともに ("After School Will Be With Mysteries")
by Higashigawa Tokuya
6) 傾物語 ("Twisted Tales")
by Nishio Isin
7) 花物語 ("Flower Tales")
by Nishio Isin
8)  江 姫たちの戦国 ("The Bay: The Princess' Warring States")
by Tabuchi Kumiko
 9) 苦役列車 ("Train of Suffering")
by Nishimura Kenta
10) 県庁おもてなし課 ("The Prefectural Hospitality Division")
by Arikawa Hiro

The first three on the list should be familiar from last time, so I won't go into any more detail about them. Some comments about the rest of the list:

4) Higashino Keigo is way more popular than he has any right to be. He's like the James Patterson of Japan—anything he writes seems to turn to gold (though thankfully he is not so prolific). I read MOST of Naoko which was put out by Vertical because I thought it had a great sounding premise, but couldn't finish it because it was such garbage...at least in my opinion. Your mileage may vary. You can also try reading The Devotion of Suspect X which was put out by Minotaur. "Wings of the Qilin" (qilin is the Chinese unicorn, way more bad-ass than the Western unicorn) is another murder mystery. Amazon's description is very generic. That's all I have to say.

5) Another mystery story by the author of the number one bestseller "The Riddle Will Be Solved After Dinner." There's a school, and they have a detective club, and for some reason there are a lot of crimes for them to solve. This has also been turned into a movie (although it looks like it was a web series that then had a special in-movie-theaters showing). 

6 and 7) Nisio Isin (not spelled the standard Ishin because his name is a palindrome) is a very popular light novel (basically young adult fiction with some illustrations, kind of a compromise between manga and literature) author. These two books are the latest installments of his "Monogatari" series. The series, under the name Bakemonogatari,  has recently become a fairly popular anime series. 

8) Again, it's because of a TV adaptation that this series (it's actually in three parts) seems to be on the list. It's the latest Taiga drama to be broadcasted on NHK. It's historical fiction. If you're interested in a summary, you can check out the big long Wikipedia article about it. (Sidenote: it stars Nodame Cantabile's live-action Nodame, Ueno Juri, so I imagine as an actress this is a pretty big deal for her and her fans).

9) I recognized this title as a book recommended in the last issue of Japan Book News. Unfortunately, I did not mention it in my write-up of said issue because I thought it looked mega-boring. It might be on the bestseller list because it did win the last Akutagawa Prize, which is a pretty big deal...though the description on Japan Book News can't help but be surprised that this work is a bestseller either. But plotwise...

Written in the form of an I-novel (basically a confessional, thinly-veiled autobiographical work written in the first person), it's about a guy who drops out of school, has some shitty backbreaking jobs, the money of which he squanders on booze and prostitutes... I don't know why I'm so cynical about this work (or rather, the idea of it, I guess). I'm deeply suspicious of any work that uses such bleakness as shock value in lieu of deeper thematic content. And that might not be the case for this novel. But guilty until proven innocent, for me.

10) Arikawa Hiro is another wildly successful light novelist. If you're an anime fan, you might be familiar with her work through the anime adaptation of Toshokan Sensou ("Library Wars"). It's supposedly about a young government worker struggling between bureaucratic red tape and the will of the private citizen as they start their new job assisting a popular local writer...but it's also a story that simultaneously is, you know, interesting to teenagers.

Some parallels are starting to emerge regarding Japanese and American reading habits. I think what we can all take home is that both cultures love:

1) Mysteries and thrillers (and a general darkness in content and tone).

2) Books that are "inspiring" and more about the person behind the book than the book itself (in the case of 100-year old Toyo Shibata and her poetry), see books like this or this.

3) Serialized young adult fiction that easily adapts to non-book entertainment.

Next time, mass-market paperback fiction (bunkobun)!


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