What makes licensing LNs so hard compared to Manga / Anime?


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    bi@renofury
    Sales of Japanese LN's are biggest in Japan.
    In 2017 - the total sales of light novels in Japan was approx (is US dollars) $190,000,000 (19 billion Yen) , sales outside Japan were a fraction of that - still a big 'nut' but not a huge market compared to the overall "book" market. In the USA alone - overall book sales were around $6B in 2017 (I don't know what % of the overall market is translated LN's, I suspect it's tiny)

    in researching the numbers - JNC's model looks pretty smart

    digital can have a lower 'production' cost than print, and 70% + (by unit sales- not dollars) of all books (adult/fiction) are ebooks or audio. And the lion's share of those digital sales are via Amazon.

    so how do we get more folks interested in LN's? if you liked a story- give it a positive review on Amazon. Once JNC grows to a point where it's feasible, market to fandom beyond Anime/Manga lovers. maybe SCI-FI or general comic book conventions? Maybe ads targeting to Trekkies or Star Wars fans (or Harry Potter fans?) or online gamers? are there titles that fit with Young Adult fiction genre/demographic like Harry Potter did (or Twilight) will they sell at school book fairs? how popular are titles w/ school libraries?


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    I have to agree with the model being well devised, but for a different reason. From my personal experiences, I don't think most people are interested in setting aside the time to read a 300 page book. Even my own "entry" into LN was due to an accidental Barnes and Noble online purchase, thinking I was getting manga of the same series, and that sat on my bookshelf for a long time before I bothered opening the cover. Some of that was because it was just too daunting a task to bother reading it, and the rest was because I was already reading the manga (which is much more "bite-sized").

    The weekly releases (although pre-pub) make it a lot easier to set aside the time to keep up on the story without feeling like I'm leaving something. It's just easier. Even my venture to this site was only for a single title which Amazon apparently didn't want to sell to me (later found out that this was because I hadn't used the account since moving back to the US and they didn't want to accept the move). If Amazon had sold me that book, it would have been my first digital book purchase, and I'd have never came to this site. On the same, I'd have never bothered giving LN a chance if not for reading that first accidental physical purchase just to have something to do during a 16 hour flight. Echoing back to what I mentioned earlier regarding time, I still didn't manage to finish the entire book during that time.

    Among anime fans, which I can only assume make up the vast majority of the LN purchasing community, there seems to be a trend to want to display their purchases. Digital copies do not lend themselves well to this. For instance, I have several collections where I displayed the US version of the anime and manga beside each other, and now (in the case of untranslated books) have a couple of completed collections which include the manga, LN, Japanese disk set, and English release (only bothered buying the Japanese disks to complete those collections because of the untranslated books). I suspect most collectors of a series tend to try to do the same, and there really is something aesthetically pleasing about looking at those collections. Given the opportunity (meaning physical copies), I'd be doing the same with a couple of J-novel titles (not so much with the anime of those because I've not been impressed with the transition from page to screen).

    While I'm sure there is a percentage of the crowd which are solely into a title for the sake of the title, it seems like most LN readers are into the sum total of the anime/manga/LN/figure culture. What that means, at least in my personal perspective, is that even though I haven't bothered with buying the digital copies of several series because I've been able to read them via this site, I will be purchasing physical copies if they're made available. At this point, that only means Smartphone as a definite, Outbreak Company would be displayed with the anime, Potion loli has potential but still too soon to be sure, and New Life + if it were to ever get straightened out and become available (yes, I'm still upset about this one). The anime adaptation of Arifureta could potentially add it to the list if the adaptation turns out well enough to make me want to add the collection (could go either way based on the trailer being kind of vague). Yes, I'm a fan of the OP characters!

    A lot of personal opinion in this post, but I think the sum of those opinions from people already reading LN is going to be the easiest way to see any trend. However, I think most of the "outside community" are still daunted by the sheer volume of a LN when compared to the more condensed manga/anime of a given series.

    One of the things which Sam has done, and was a rarity before, is licensing series which don't have the advantage of a manga/anime to create a fan base. While they may be great books, they're only ever going to appeal to the portion of the community which enjoy reading and are not driven by the anime fan base. While it's easy to "try out" a manga (I've done this in the past based solely on artwork and cover description), trying out a book purchase is still a more intimidating proposition. This is inherent in the comparison. You can get a feel for the story from a few frames of a manga, but randomly finding a significant paragraph in a book to base a decision from is much less likely.

    Sorry, got kind of random there, but hopefully it at least got my perspective across.


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    The weekly part release model is a god-send because I don't have the same issue when reading other publisher's releases that's 4 month between volumes.

    "Yay, a new volume came out! ...WTF happened the last volume again?"


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    @pleco_breeder

    I concur that I like (most of the time) the 'bite-sized' nature of releases on JNC (occasionally frustrating when it's a 'good part', and I gotta wait.... but it keeps me 'hungry')

    You raise an interesting point regarding anime fans, is it common to build a collection for display? Even if volumes are in a language one cannot read? I've accumulated a library over the years of my favorite novels, many autographed by their authors- but I've also read (sometimes several times) all that I have.

    In the USA, is the that large an overlap between LN readers are into the sum total of the anime/manga/LN/figure culture? I'll read manga and watch anime but don't really have any desire to own DVD's/figures/ paraphernalia.
    In addition I sort of got the impression that marketing is 180 degrees different in Japan (in this regard) Anime is often used as a vehicle to promote a LN/Manga series, (existing manga/LN fan-base watches anime- gets excited to buy next books in series) vs. leveraging a anime's existing fan-base to introduce them to printed works. (notable exceptions- Darling in the Franxx, Samurai Champloo) - a situation that I find frustrating. I'll watch a season of an anime on Crunchyroll and want to know what happens next and there isn't a 2nd season and the LNs haven't been translated!


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    @jon-mitchell I'll admit that I'm the exception rather than the rule in this regard, so some of it may not apply to everyone. In my case, I watched Holic rather early on in my expedition into the realm of anime. After an internet search, I found out that the VAST majority of that had not been adapted to English. Not only was I interested in the story line, but became interested in the mythology (Japan has more types of imagined monsters (even separated into multiple groups depending on characteristics) than anywhere else I've encountered), the traditional architecture displayed in the series, and the cultural aspects which led to all of this.

    As a result, I started studying the language, and have done so almost consistently (took a year off because of being disgruntled with it) for almost seven years. The year off was after moving back to the US from Japan because of the circumstances surrounding my return.

    I only buy for collection from series which I REALLY like. It has to leave an impression else I'm just killing time with it. Same holds true for books. I wouldn't imagine buying the anime of either Smartphone or How Not to Summon a Demon Lord. However, I've enjoyed the books enough to want them.

    I do tend to fall into the Japanese advertising trap though. I have a couple of book series which I picked up in Japan which weren't available in the US because I wanted the rest of the story. I've read all of those and am currently working through yet another Japanese language title, but it is easily the most difficult title I've read because of certain "quirks" associated with the way it had to be written. It's digital, but my next trip to Japan will likely include searching Book Off stores to find the series in print.

    With regard to J-novel, the marketing aspect is finally getting to follow the Japanese model. Yen press and Seven Seas have always tended to look for titles which already had an anime to boost their sales. J-novel has a couple of these, but seems to be slowly trending toward getting series before the anime is produced and creating the buzz in that way. I'd have never heard of Arifureta (not until the anime was released) if not for the J-novel publication. Now I already know that I at least want to watch it, and potentially own it in conjunction with print copies. The connection with the series is the driving force for purchases.

    What this means in regards to J-novel marketing is that the titles have to leave an impression. Members of the site still purchase digital (and soon to be print) copies of the books they've enjoyed. It's effective advertising (in the form of weekly releases) that drives that. Japan, through sites like Shosetsuka, has similar advertising where the author has the story online and success there equates to publication sales. I actually expect the current J-novel method will eventually become more similar to that model, with the same downside. That, of course, is that current readers will be upset with the anime of series they're already reading.


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    @raitoiro said in What makes licensing LNs so hard compared to Manga / Anime?:

    I think it's because

    1. it way more expensive at least in translation cost, than manga or anime
    2. the market is still young and not that big, so your probably going to make less despite higher cost
    3. it's more of a difference with anime, but a LN which manage to get something like 4~5 vol is really unlikely to be stop (except if the sell became terribly low or some special circonstances like New Life) so when you licence a novel you may be in for a lot of volumes and if the serie doesn’t do well you can't really stop it because you would lose a part of your reader trust. Whereas most of the time an anime is going to last around 12 or 24 ep and only get a second 2 if it was really popular so the odd of being stuck with a money-lossing serie are lower.
    4. it doesn’t consern every serie but one the ones you list is a good exemple: some serie may have a big fandom but not the type to go read novel, DxD is a ecchi serie which mostly appeal to a teen audience which aren't the biggest of reader in the west, so even if the fandom as a whole is big, the fan who read novel might be quite low even more if they have other way (anime/manga) to get it and on a probably more fitting medium (who want to imagine tits when you can see them).

    In fact DxD has all the bad sign: it's a long serie in a genre which may be a big risk, it's mostly like for its ecchi (even if the plot is okay its not really what attract people), it has an anime adaption which didn't stop and show the ecchi, and the publisher is a problem.

    This basically sums up the issue.

    Anime is higher cost to produce, but the translating costs tends to be more worth it because of how easy it is to watch instead of read (Most people like to just sit in front of a screen and veg out and most on-screen media are designed for that sort of mentality - remove anything that requires deep thinking. I think Kino no Tabi is a good example of cutting. It cut out a lot of stories where the clues wouldn't work in anime (or manga) since there are stories where the solution is given away immediately if you could actually see what is happening. (There was an artist that did tricks with manga type media as well, such as showing a person talking - then revealing later that it was actually 'twins' (I think there were more than two though) with a bunch of speech bubbles basically literally being hung while they were talking about how some literary tricks only would work in manga form).

    Basically, Anime tends to cut out a lot, even though Anime can also add (there are a few animes even where the Anime is quite different because they change the story to match the media). Because of the change in flow, it is easier to pick up by people who don't want to dive too deeply into the story or can't be bothered to as well as certain target groups that are less likely to pick up a book willingly.

    This means anime tends to have a decent return value.

    Manga is sort of in-between Anime and Novels in some senses, but where it excels is a lack of parts of licensing fees associated with Anime and a lower amount of text that needs translation. Image editing might cost more per edit, but because there are fewer edits compared to the cost of translation, it can be cheaper. Combine that with the fact that visuals are more attractive to most people than text and you end up with a better return value.

    Novels generally also lack certain parts of licensing fees associated with Anime, but can also incur image editing costs and tend to have a lot of words that need translation. Combined with the rather low interest in reading (I was considered abnormal to the point where I had multiple English teachers telling me to read less/stop reading while most people in my schools had to be forced to read), this makes light novels a rather poor investment in comparison as you really don't know whether you'll get a return. Combined with how long novels tend to run and how easy it is for people to lose interest when you go say years without a new novel...

    And as said, just because a series is popular doesn't mean the Novel version is popular. There are a lot of more Ero type anime out there where the fan service is what people are interested in. Manga still has those fan service moments, but Novels tend to have very limited amounts.

    Another issue is merch. Usually the anime version and the merch are bundled together as far as licensing rights go. That is the main reason why anime is profitable. The merchandise. The problem is that usually the merchandise is based on the anime version because the same companies backing the anime version are the companies producing the merchandise. The manga versions MAY have similar art styles to the anime (though there are many that do not), but it is very rare for a light novel to have similar art styles to the anime. Take Goblin Slayer as an example. The anime looks really CLEAN compared to how the light novel portrays the characters/settings/situations and while the art of Goblin Slayer Novel is rather clean compared to the text, it is still not as clean as the anime version.

    A big issue also is translation. It is VERY hard to find translation that pleases most people. Effectively impossible to find translation that pleases everyone.

    You have people like me who want BOTH the literal translation AND the flow. There are companies that try to do this by using footnotes and translation notes, but even then, it is hard to do, much less do well.

    You have people who don't care about the original meaning and want things localized (most professional translators fall into this category) even if it loses a bunch of meaning. You have people who want the meaning preserved and don't want things localized (generally the sub>dub group and more extreme fanatics tend to gravitate towards such).

    You also have the issue where translation is hard to maintain. (Part of why I don't like localization). You get, for example, Souma in one chapter and Soma in another. Or one translation of a skill in one book and another translation in another. Now, some groups of translators get around this by having a guide of "Ok, when you see this, translate it this way" to keep translations uniform, but it is fairly clear that JNC doesn't use this considering how their translations can go back and forth from one volume to another or even within the same volume. This becomes rather clear around Volume 4 of a series that is 4+ Volumes. I don't know why, but this has been the case in basically every JNC novel I've read. (As an extreme example, imagine seeing "used Eat" get translated as "cast Devour", "used Hunger", "<<Feeding Time>>", or "applied Empty Stomach" at seemingly random over the course of a volume. Many people would think that it was four different skills.)

    Even aside from minor translation differences, you have other translation issues such as when you have something that is translated one way, then the story later takes advantage of the wording... And the way the text was translated prevents that wording from making sense. While if you understand the original language, it might still make sense in the translation, most people don't know the original language. This means that you end up with a sentence or two that just doesn't make sense in context because the context was effectively removed. And it doesn't make much more sense if the text is translated differently because then it doesn't make sense because it seems out of place (due to people knowing the text as a different translation). Basically, it ends up as being rewritten with something that wasn't there before (or removed) or out of place or doesn't make sense.

    Take NGNL as an example. There are plenty of times where the translated names wouldn't work considering even the romanji of the names doesn't really work because they are playing off of the Kanji. Yen Press sort of went about it in a strange way that while I don't know if I can fully approve of, they at least tried to keep the original intent there in a few cases. There is basically a giant footnote in one volume of all the translations and the original version of the translations because they had to do some really major modifications to make the puzzle aspect even make sense in English.

    In Manga, these sort of wordplays tend to occur less often (excluding series that focus on puzzles or clues/mysteries) because of the visual focus or at least it is made to be relatively easy to understand because the original image can be kept if all else fails and simply restructure the text to make it seem like it was meant to be a 'foreign' puzzle).

    (Sorry my grammar is all over the place. I swear it isn't on purpose to show how typos are easy to make in a large amount of text as yet another issue).


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    @sinnoaria One other point to make is that an average anime script is 30 pages or less. This doesn't really make a difference in licensing, but does effect the production cost of the final product.


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    @pleco_breeder said in What makes licensing LNs so hard compared to Manga / Anime?:

    @sinnoaria One other point to make is that an average anime script is 30 pages or less. This doesn't really make a difference in licensing, but does effect the production cost of the final product.

    Yeah, but I didn't really mention it because there is also VA costs which can grow pretty fast if you have multiple languages considering in the cost of licensing VAs works or even hiring new VAs. Plus costs for OPs and EDs and other music.


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    @sinnoaria With which JNC serie did you have the problem of name changing in or between volumes, I've never had (or maybe notice) it?

    Manga can also be quite hard to translated even in Shounen serie, i remember that in Medaka box, the fourth arc had a tresure hunt and the companie which was translating the serie just put a message near a riddle basically saying "there's no way we can translate that" --'
    Well, the serie is from NisiOisiN so the riddle was a crossword puzzle where you had to find a drawing by linking kanji which can sound as 4 based on a pun on the other way to say 4 in the question above the puzzle, the drawing itself being an iregular roman number use on clock...
    I can see why that one would be hard to translated ^^


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    @raitoiro said in What makes licensing LNs so hard compared to Manga / Anime?:

    @sinnoaria With which JNC serie did you have the problem of name changing in or between volumes, I've never had (or maybe notice) it?

    Manga can also be quite hard to translated even in Shounen serie, i remember that in Medaka box, the fourth arc had a tresure hunt and the companie which was translating the serie just put a message near a riddle basically saying "there's no way we can translate that" --'
    Well, the serie is from NisiOisiN so the riddle was a crossword puzzle where you had to find a drawing by linking kanji which can sound as 4 based on a pun on the other way to say 4 in the question above the puzzle, the drawing itself being an iregular roman number use on clock...
    I can see why that one would be hard to translated ^^

    Yeah, that is kind of my point, sometimes you can't translate it so you end up with a workaround in manga where you can leave the original text there because the puzzle will still work even if harder to understand (given that not all puzzles are meant to be easy). Thing is, with manga, you can still manage to make it seem natural (some companies might try to make it seem natural to have something untranslated while others might just apologize). With Novels that are primarily text, that is a little harder to do.

    Smartphone (understandable since the readers requested the change, but it wasn't fixed in the first volume with the name), Grimgar, even in the same volume, it changes, although I think it had an issue relatively early on. Just as two examples of longer series with an issue. Grimgar is especially weird because the translation just seems really abnormal, even for JNC. You have "Fighto" "Ippatsu" thrown in there, which looks odd given JNC's stance on translations being more towards localization, as an example. At least based on what I've seen on the forums.

    Some of the series I don't have access to anymore since I didn't buy the epub so I can't be for sure on those ones.

    That said, I also do realize that the epub versions and the previews tend to be very different since I don't think they ever fix the preview version. I know that Grimgar and Arifureta were especially hard to read the epubs for due to all the typos though. I gave up partway through Arifureta on trying to list the typos or places where the grammar was odd or where the names of things seemed off.


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    @sinnoaria The only one i read was Grimgar, i didn't notice the name changing, maybe they fix it in latter versions, i can't speak for the grammar or typos tho, english isn't my native langage so as long as it's not a really big mistake i will never see it.
    It's true that they keep way more japanese words in Grimgar than in most of their serie, may be it's because it was one of the first licence and they had yet to really define a standar for localisation, and now it would be a problem to change it.



  • @raitoiro said in What makes licensing LNs so hard compared to Manga / Anime?:

    It's true that they keep way more japanese words in Grimgar than in most of their serie, may be it's because it was one of the first licence and they had yet to really define a standar for localisation, and now it would be a problem to change it.

    Relevant twitter reply from Sam: https://twitter.com/jnovelclub/status/987737118578388997
    Same logic as that probably.


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    @doublemangekyo Yeah probably, the characters do question the use of "fighto ippatsu" in some of the last vol.


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    Well, the same thing goes for anime and manga as well as it does with licensing light novels.

    1. Some companies and authors just don’t want their works translated. Why? Some of them feel that the story loses a lot of content in getting translated so they refuse to license them outside of Japan. This was really prevalent when anime and manga started coming over to America. Until the market showed that there was big enough demand a lot of companies would not let there works outside of Japan. The internet and subbing sites helped with this and soon after a lot of the companies decided to allow American companies to license and distribute here in the U.S. and abroad.

    2. Licensing companies outside of Japan have to pick titles that will turn a profit. If you don’t make money you’ll go under and so they have to pick really carefully which titles to bring over. If a title is especially large then it holds a greater risk because there is fear that we, the English readers, will lose interest and abandon the series so there is that. Also, there are so many titles out there that it would be almost impossible to translate them all. So, while it seems that they aren’t picking a title that you want, there just may not be enough interest or it may just be too risky. Anime tend to be short, 12 or so episodes long anymore, so it stands to reason that people will watch those through to the end while the LN may have 50 volumes and most companies that agree to license their titles to be translated do so on the stipulation that all volumes are translated regardless as to whether the translating company sees a profit or not.

    3. Some titles like “Highschool DxD” are considered too, how should I put it, close to a whole other genre all together to get licensed here in the English-speaking world. If you’ve seen the anime then you know where I’m coming from on this one. “The Testament of Sister New Devil” is another great example in this case. It’s part of our sensibilities as a culture that says we “shouldn’t” be reading something like this while watching it is something entirely different it seems. That, and there’s the fact that video sales can be more closely monitored and controlled that the sale of a book in a book store. The covers look innocent enough but the contents are not. There is also the debate as to which section in the book store such titles should be sold. With the rest of the LN’s or in the adult section. Yeah, not an easy problem to fix. Then there are the legal ramifications that might follow should a pissed off parent disapprove of the book that they just bought their kid. The list on this goes on and on.

    This is just a little insight that I have. I hope that it helps.


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    @raitoiro said in What makes licensing LNs so hard compared to Manga / Anime?:

    @sinnoaria The only one i read was Grimgar, i didn't notice the name changing, maybe they fix it in latter versions, i can't speak for the grammar or typos tho, english isn't my native langage so as long as it's not a really big mistake i will never see it.
    It's true that they keep way more japanese words in Grimgar than in most of their serie, may be it's because it was one of the first licence and they had yet to really define a standar for localisation, and now it would be a problem to change it.

    I'm not necessarily saying that it is a bad thing, but that it feels off due to the translation style being very different from the usual. That is why I said it was weird and looks odd rather than bad. It was like: hmm... I mean, I sort like that they left it in there considering that the characters wonder what it means (and it would have less of an effect if they translated it into English).

    What I had more of a concern was stuff like Souma vs Soma (the most obvious one since it changed multiple times even in the same volume. I think the graphics for one volume used Soma, then an early instance used Souma, then a later instance used Soma or vice versa).

    Honestly though, it kind of strays from my original point of how Novels tend to be harder to translate due to the volume of text that has to be translated and proofread and how it makes it very easy to have multiple different translations if you don't use a translation guideline.

    For example as a guideline system (This would normally be per series):
    "Soma" (JP) -> "Souma"
    "Bakuhatsu" (JP) -> "<<Explosion>>" (otherwise you might get Explode, Explosion, Burst, etc. depending on how the Translator was translating at the time).
    "Blue Eyes White Dragon" (JP version) -> "Blue Eyes White Dragon" (Otherwise you might end up with Green Eyes instead of Blue Eyes since Green and Blue are the same depending on how you translate them (this is more the case of people translating from JP to CH to EN though)).


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    @lighthawk96 said in What makes licensing LNs so hard compared to Manga / Anime?:

    Some titles like “Highschool DxD” are considered too, how should I put it, close to a whole other genre all together to get licensed here in the English-speaking world. If you’ve seen the anime then you know where I’m coming from on this one.

    I think the fact that JK Haru is a thing, kind disproves this point.



  • @timmaaah said in What makes licensing LNs so hard compared to Manga / Anime?:

    I think the fact that JK Haru is a thing, kind disproves this point.

    1. The talk is about physical books in bookstores.
    2. It's not LN, so it wouldn't be with LNs anyway. (Probably, with satire books...is that a good choice?...dunno)
      There are many other licenses like these in Japanese literature, you just keep it away from teen LN/YA audience.

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    As a genre, LN aren't technically any more difficult to "license". The type of production work AFTER licensing is different. I don't know any anime translators personally, but speak to manga, LN, and VN translators semi-regularly. I'm going to assume that anime translations are done from script rather than audio since this would simplify context issues, but would also increase the likelihood of "mouth flap" issues causing problems for editing. It's much easier to understand what is being written rather than spoken. In the three formats listed above, it's obviously done from written format.

    I've been told enough times that I'm pretty sure it's an industry standard, since everyone tends to use the same statement (almost word for word), but "localization is not a direct translation as much as a similar story based on the original".

    I'm not familiar with the Grimgar issue but, judging from the twitter post referenced, it has to do with the use of honorifics. This is something that bugged me when living in Japan, but Japanese consistently used these even when dealing with peers in an office setting. In the case of foreigners, aka me, they consistently used my first name followed by san because they assumed that all foreigners use their first name rather than last. Even after explaining that I'd only used my last name, because of my profession, for nearly 20 years, and anyone not using my last name calls me "daddy". It wasn't till several months after first meeting people before anyone finally dropped the honorific, and even then couldn't get used to being called by my first name. Most just settled into keeping the honorific, even at bars after work, as if it was part of my name. This is how ingrained honorifics are in the culture, and there is a significance to their use in interactions. I won't get into the teineitai versus futsutai discussion here, but it's pretty easy to tell the nature of a relationship based on the structure of their communication and use of honorifics. Even when dating someone, it's pretty common to hear san pretty regularly till the relationship is well established and more serious than flirting and going out once or twice a week(dated one woman for four months and never stopped hearing san). That nature isn't as easy to see in English speaking countries unless done at extremes. In this way, because it's semi-understood among English speakers, it gives some idea of relationship since Mr./Mrs. doesn't sound natural among peers.

    As mentioned, I'm unfamiliar with the exact situation, but may be able to shed some light if anyone wants to fill me in with more detail.


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    @bloodygaikotsu I thought that he was just talking about licencing in general