How ChiRamune Author Hiromu Got His Start in Light Novels: A Translated Interview
Hiromu, author of the popular, up-and-coming light novel series Chitose-kun wa Ramune Bin no Naka, sat down for an interview recently to celebrate the series’ first place finish in the “Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! 2021” rankings. This article contains the second half of the interview, which starts with a discussion of the series’ metaphoric language before diving into Hiromu’s history with light novels. For the first half, please check out the link below.
Yearning to Reach the Moon: Conveying the Appeal of Lyrical Writing to Readers
Interviewer: I’d like to briefly talk about the “glass marble in a ramune bottle” and “moon” metaphors in the book. First, let’s talk about your usage of the moon.
Hiromu: So the moon’s shape changes every day, right? It goes from a new moon to a crescent moon to a half moon and finally a full moon. Everyone has a different perspective on the moon’s phases. Some might see a crescent moon as sort of lonely, while others find it beautiful. I think that the moon, with its different phases and the different perceptions of those phases, is similar to humans. I also think the moon can serve as a symbol of yearning or aspiration.
Interviewer: And those separate meanings have complex overlap.
Hiromu: Within the book, different characters have their own feelings about the moon, and readers have their own interpretations of those feelings. As the author, I can’t just offer a complete explanation on my own. What I can say is that I depicted the moon as something pretty, something to yearn for, something that seems really close and yet just out of reach.
Interviewer: Expressing that through the symbol of a glass marble in a ramune bottle is very emotionally moving.
Hiromu: I think they’re really similar. They’re both pretty objects that people desire that seem like they are within reach, but when you reach for them, you might feel that they are quite small. That’s the image I have when I write about a glass marble in a ramune bottle.
Interviewer: This sort of metaphor and emotional writing is one of the big appeals of the series.
Hiromu: I’ve received comments from readers like, “Reading ChiRamune made me realize the appeal of the prose itself,” or “I tried to consider the meaning behind the metaphors.” I am very particular about my prose, so I appreciate that people are enjoying it. One of the interesting parts of the writing in novels is that the surface meaning of the words is not the only information that any given passage contains. The prose and the dialogue are things that the characters thought and said in that moment; they are not simply an answer presented directly by the author. I think that if you take the time to consider the deeper meaning and purpose behind the writing, reading novels becomes a lot more fun. I personally like literature and the liberal arts, so I would really be thrilled if people came to appreciate literary expression more through ChiRamune.
From Literature-Loving Youth to Nascent Otaku
Interviewer: You have said that you used to read more literary works in the past. What kind of teenager/young adult were you like?
Hiromu: I was a really active, sporty type in middle school. I’d always gather with all the other sporty kids and we’d noisily get a game going. Novels were very much the result of my father’s influence. None of my sporty friends were interested in reading. I can really associate with the uncertainty and feeling of isolation that Asu-nee felt in the third volume before she realized that she wasn’t alone in her passion for novels.
My father was a literary enthusiast, and our house had a large shelf of books. But it wasn’t like my father forced me to read anything. I started naturally checking out books from our small town library when I was in early elementary school and was already an avid reader from a very young age. Riku Onda’s books were perhaps the most memorable that I read during my high school years. Her nostalgic scenic depictions were beautiful, and I found myself seeking out her novels. This was unusual, because I am usually the type of person who buys books based on the cover.
Interviewer: And then time passed, you entered graduate school, and that was where you experienced otaku media for the first time.
Hiromu: One of the guys I became friends with in college was just waiting for the opportunity to get me despite my lack of interest in otaku stuff. On my birthday in graduate school, he bought me an eroge (erotic dating sim) called Parfait as a present. At the time, I didn’t read light novels or watch anime, but I decided to give it a try. I ended up getting super into it and even cried at the emotional scenes (laughs). After that, I took all his recommendations and steadily played my way through all the greatest hits in the eroge genre. That was how I got into otaku media. I still can’t forget the impact of that first experience. The mixture of writing, illustrations, and music, along with the player’s ability to proceed through the story with a click of the mouse, made it incredibly immersive.
Interviewer: So eroge were an influence on your decision to try writing a high school romantic comedy then?
Hiromu: Actually, I didn’t have any intention of writing a high school romantic comedy series at that time. I was personally satisfied in the rom-com department through the eroge I was playing, and thought that I would try my hand at a horror or an edgy battle series. But over time as I read more light novels, I came to realize to my surprise that the romantic comedy that I wanted to read didn’t exist within the medium. I just wanted to read a standard high school romantic comedy with no special setting or circumstances. I wanted to experience that moment of emptiness when you finish a really good book or complete a really good eroge.
Interviewer: You eventually came to write ChiRamune, but before that, you worked at a publishing company and did freelance writing for some time, right? Did you ever write any other novels before this series?
Hiromu: Although I was convinced that I wanted to be an author, I couldn’t get myself to write (laughs). My work was too busy and it prevented me from writing, so I quit, and soon after, I completed my first novel. It was similar to the “light literature” genre. I submitted it to a newcomer’s competition, and although it came close, it didn’t win. After that, I made my realization about the lack of romantic comedies I wanted to read within the light novel industry, which led me to start ChiRamune.
Interviewer: So after reading many other series, you decided to write one of your own and entered the world of light novels.
Hiromu: I didn’t just become an author because I had always wanted to, I also realized that I simply wanted to enjoy my own books as a reader. For example, at first I thought that if I wrote the “love comedy I’ve always wanted to read,” it would be boring because I would already know what happens in the story. But I later realized that my writing style, as I talked about earlier, actually allows me to be the first reader in a way. And that was when I decided to write a high school romantic comedy.
Interviewer: So in other words, is this all to say that even you don’t know what will happen in the future fifth and sixth volumes?
Hiromu: I have no idea (laughs). What I do know is that Saku Chitose’s story as a believable hero will continue down the different heroine characters’ respective story routes. And once all the routes are explored, I think that the human connection and romance elements will come even more to the forefront. “Which heroine will Saku choose in the end?” is honestly a question that even I don’t know the answer to yet (laughs). I don’t want my story to be one where it’s obvious from the beginning which heroine will emerge victorious. I’m writing with iron-hard determination to make sure that readers’ favorites will continue to shift back and forth until the very end!
Interviewer: You’ll also write about Saku’s guy friends moving forward as well, right?
Hiromu: That’s correct. The relationships from here on out will involve more common scenarios that are unavoidable for most high schoolers. I imagine that the relationships between the girls and boys in Saku’s friend group, as well as the friendships between the boys themselves, will come up quite a bit in the future.
Interviewer: Is there a plan for publishing the fifth volume yet?
Hiromu: I just recently submitted a draft of the overall plot to my editor. That being said, the outline doesn’t have concrete details, so I can’t really say how it will actually turn out yet…I’m thinking right now that the book will center on a significant change of some sort that occurs over summer break. Although the plot is still pretty fuzzy, I do have certain details about how the series will end that I have finalized in my head. This isn’t to say I’ve decided who Saku will end up going out with or anything like that. It’s more of an overarching aspiration I have for the series. I can’t tell you what that is right now, but I told my editor about it before the first volume was published. They told me, “As long as the series is successful, that’s fine,” so right now I am diligently working to achieve the results needed (laughs). I just want to make it clear here that this aspiration is something I’ve been thinking about for the series from the beginning!
Interviewer: I think you are delivering on those results so far. I’m looking forward to what comes next in your series as the new up-and-coming high school comedy in the Gagaga Bunko imprint.
Hiromu: Gagaga Bunko’s track record for high school romantic comedies is full of not only romance but also great stories about youth in general. I think that love comedies published under this imprint really treat the “high school/youth” part of the genre title with great importance. I definitely want to continue putting all my efforts into writing a story that encourages readers to take action and make changes in their own lives.
There is no such thing as a one-to-one translation when converting Japanese to English, as many of you are likely aware. As such, I’ve made a variety of linguistic choices throughout this interview that I hope best convey the original conversational Japanese into English. I’m including this section not as a comprehensive list but as fun trivia of a few interesting terms that came up during the interview.
1) Edgy Battle: Hiromu actually says 厨二バトル (chuuni batoru) here. An alternative writing for chuuni is 中二, “second year of middle school.” It refers to cringe-worthy power fantasies that one might expect of a middle schooler playing make-believe. Your internet username from middle school is likely a good example of this.
2) High School: The term that Hiromu uses for high school romantic comedy is actually 青春ラブコメ (seishun rabukome), which translates literally as “youth romantic comedy.” There is some debate as to how to translate this term since 青春 tends to refer to teenage years and the more common colloquial term in English is “high school romantic comedy.” You can see this debate play out in OreGairu’s English releases, where the official anime title uses “high school” and the official light novel title uses “youth.”
3) Light Literature: This is a category of novels that are somewhere in-between light novels and more literary works (hence the name). Most light literature books are short and have a few illustrations like light novels, but they also encompass a wider variety of genres and are more likely to use complex literary expressions.
4) Old-Fashioned Ideal Japanese Woman: This is the phrase I used in place of the Japanese term 大和撫子 (yamato nadeshiko). As Hiromu notes in the interview, it’s a pretty outdated view of femininity, which is why I added the phrase “old-fashioned” in the translation. For more information on the history of this term, check out this informative blog post.
5) Popular Kid: This is the translation I chose for the word リア充 (riajuu). A lot of fan translators tend to translate this word as “normie,” although it literally means “someone satisfied with real life.” Riajuu is a bit complicated because its translation in English depends on what it is being contrasted to. For example, when the opposite term is “otaku” or people really into anime, “normie” works. However, in the case of ChiRamune, the term is clearly being used to refer to the fact that Saku is one of the most popular kids in school.
6) “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”: You have probably heard that this is a common Japanese saying. Hiromu actually says “stake” (杭, kui) here instead of nail, but the nail variant is the one that most English readers are more familiar with, so I chose to swap it. Both versions are common in Japanese.
This is the second part of a three-part series about the up-and-coming light novel series Chitose-kun wa Ramune Bin no Naka. Stay tuned for part three to get my personal thoughts on the first volume!
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