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Library and Online Game – Unlikely Match Made in Heaven


Aozora Bunko means Blue Sky Library.  It is an e-library service containing classic Japanese novels, of which the copyrights have expired.  It started in 1997 and always relied on volunteers who believed in the value of preserving these scripts spreading them to a wider readership, under the blue sky.

20 years on, it continues under the same system.  Over 14,000 titles are now available online.

But recently, the organisers noticed some changes in the profiles of readership and volunteers.  They suspect the influence of an internet game.

Choices of Authors and Novels Are Changing, but Why?

There has been a notable increase in volunteers and a slight shift in the authors whose books are uploaded.  The common choices have been award winners and famous writers, such as Akutagawa, Yasunari Kawabata, Soseki Natsume, and Kenji Miyazawa.  Their pieces have widely been translated into English and other languages.

One of the volunteers, who started uploading since the 1990s and is now responsible for Aozora Bunko social media, noticed an increase in inputs and proof-reading of novels that were not typically popular.  They are of more romantic and poetic, such as Hakushu Kitahara, Chuya Nakahara, Haruo Sato.  It is hard to find their titles in other languages, often not only because they are not award-winning authors, but also because their novels are difficult to translate.  They have a more atmospheric quality and a delicate beauty of Japanese language.

Bungo and Alchemist

The online game “Bungo to Alchemist” is set in a parallel world.  Characters are reincarnations of Bungo (“legendary great authors” in Japanese), such as Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Osamu Dazai, Toson Shimazaki, and so on.  Players nurture the characters of their choices and battle to protect the treasured novels from supernatural phenomena which turn pages black.  The characters superpowers are their abilities to create stories.

It is widely known as “Bun-aru” among the fans.

In line with the current gaming world’s trend (refer to the post on Feb 2017), famous actors participated in the production.  The character designs and animations are of a high standard, typically expected for Japanese Anime movies.  Background music is so good that the soundtrack CD is now released.  The tasks are complex and intellectually fulfilling, rather than just shooting in a battlefield.  It was released in November 2016, and the number of users has reached over 300,000 in 6 months, and it is going strong nearly one year on.

Since then, small changes appeared in various unexpected places.  One example is a memorial museum for a poet Haruo Sato.  He was very influential in early 20th-century literary society, but his novels were not blockbusters.  Not many people know him and his novels.  But after the release of the game, there is a notable increase in visitors, especially younger women.

Aozora Bunko Goes Sky High

Of course, Aozora bunko saw the change.  On the Twitter page, there are new kinds of feeds such as:

“I feel ashamed that I have not read any novels by these game characters.  So, I started reading on Aozora Bunko.”

“Classics and contemporary pieces of literature were not my cup of tea, but I am making an effort to understand little by little.  Bungo & Alchemist and Aozora Bunko are great.”

Some gamers started volunteering for Aozora Bunko entries.

One the veteran volunteer tells that it is rare to see a volunteer who can complete input or proof-reading all alone.  “More volunteers are helping each other, and this is very much appreciated.  Text entry and proofreading are tasks that are often lonely, and they require lots of perseverance.  A Tweet that someone is working on an input of a particular title would motivate others, especially fans of the same authors.”  This surge of interest is a surprise but a very welcome movement.

The novelists featured in the game would have found these revived interests in their novels through very modern media startling, amusing, and puzzling.  But surely they will, in the end, appreciate any reason for anyone to read their treasured novels.




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