To break down the perceived barriers between light novels and literature, Mashiro Hirose, a professor in Japanese Literature at the Aichi University of Education, has added NisiOisin’s Bakemonogatari to his curriculum. The module ‘Seminar on Japanese Literature’ will make reference to the first volume in the modern folklore mystery series Monogatari in teaching the basics of textual analysis, and his students will be asked to make critical evaluations of what the book imparts on Japanese culture and society.
Hirose is a known fan of NisiOisin, having quoted Tsukimonogatari in his discussions on narrative tone and structure, and even imitating Shinobu’s idiosyncratic tones of speech, as interpreted for the SHAFT anime by Maaya Sakamoto. He feels that Bakemonogatari in particular describes how “fantasy is used to reflect reality” with its use of fantastical elements within realistic settings, and it isn’t even the first time his class has attracted international attention with its inclusion of pop culture franchises as literature.
In 2014, he also assigned Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online as reading material, and in an interview with the Japanese news site Da Vinci News, he called it “an ideal text” for evaluating our present society through the lens of an imaginary world. He asked his students to identify which of the text’s elements functioned as entertainment and why, and set a kind of thought experiment where they assessed what their own actions would be if they found themselves trapped in a game. Other light novels and anime looked at as literature on his course, making intentional strides to shatter the divide between Japanese pop culture and art, have included Durarara!!, Little Busters!, Toradora! and Hidamari Sketch.
After the news in 2012 that Rice University in Houston, Texas was offering a course on the fantasy RPG Skyrim swept across the net, and the inauguration of a heavy metal course at a Nottingham college in 2013, it’s heartening to see this movement spreading across the world, asserting that no art form should be looked down on as “low art”.