How did a web novel created as writing practice become a bestselling series that inspired an anime? The novel author Kanata Yanagino shares the surprising origin story of The Faraway Paladin, along with his creative influences and his personal trials and tribulations as an author.
What inspired you to start self-publishing your novel on Shо̄setsuka ni Narо̄?
It was in 2014, when a friend of mine got really passionate about submitting their novel to newcomer writing contests. In the first few months, I looked on impassively. If you play tabletop RPGs, everyone gets the urge at least once. I just assumed it was one of those commonplace things.
They experienced a string of rejections. But even after half a year, my friend did not give up. They said, “I’m giving my all to my dream to prove that I’m not the kind of trash who gives up without even trying.” They continued to prove that they were just like Rocky Balboa in the film Rocky, who challenges the invincible champion Apollo.
My own thinking started changing around that time. I wanted to prove that I wasn’t the kind of trash who would just sneer at my friend. The fire they had in their heart to take on a challenge lit a fire in me as well.
Then, in 2015, I started writing my first novel. I had plans to submit to newcomer writing contests like my friend was doing, but considering that I’d never written a novel before, I thought it would be rash if I went at it straight away. So, as practice, I started writing a single book-length story on the web novel site that Mushoku Tensei, a series which I absolutely adore, is posted on.
But at this point, fate started playing tricks. The title of the story that I wrote as practice was The Faraway Paladin, which I’m sure you all know of if you’re reading this interview. This story was well-received by the readers and climbed the rankings of the web novel site, and from there I got an offer to publish it. Before I could enter a writing contest, I became a pro.
…If you’re reading this, you might wonder if the relationship between me and my friend worsened. Jealousy, resentment, conflict, separation—you could easily imagine that sort of scene. But don’t worry about us. Actually, allow me to brag about my wonderful friend. While celebrating my success, they managed to achieve their dream and become a professional novelist, too. We still get along great to this day. Quite a happy ending, right?
One of the notable aspects of The Faraway Paladin is that it doesn’t place much emphasis on heroines. There are many readers (including myself) who think that this is part of the story’s unique flavor, but did you ever worry about creating something that goes too far against the trends of what’s popular on Shо̄setsuka ni Narо̄?
Okay, so this is related to my answer for the previous question. I started writing this story entirely as practice. So it was originally supposed to be a story that ends at the conclusion of the anime’s fifth episode.
Let me just talk about what I anticipated at the time: I thought that by the time I finished writing, I would only get maybe three or four positive comments. Then, taking that encouragement to heart, I would write another novel, this time to submit to a writing contest in earnest. I would probably only make it to the second round or so. But I could tell my friend with pride, “I did my best, just like you did.” I thought it would be something like that.
However, on the very first step, I got over 100 positive comments, which threw all of my plans into the air. Everything. And when I looked at the reader comments and wrote whatever I fancied, I learned that the lack of emphasis on the heroines was something that they appreciated. If that was what they wanted, then I thought that whatever I wrote was just fine. So I didn’t worry much about that particular aspect.
Through their encouragement, all my readers taught me that even stories that go against the trends still have an appeal. With such reliable allies on my side, I don’t have anything to fear, right?
Despite the detailed lore and the hints of larger-scale conflicts, Will has very humble ambitions, and the story has a strong focus on family as a theme. Why did you decide to focus on those aspects instead of writing an epic adventure?
Let me pose the question to you instead: If you were in my shoes, what would you do? You’re trying to write your first novel with the intent to practice the craft. You want to arrive at a clean ending without abandoning it midway. If possible, you want the story to fit the length of a single book to match the requirements of a novel writing contest. Under these conditions, would you choose to write a story with a massive scope that involves detailed lore and large-scale battles? Anyone saying “Yes” to that would have to be rather brave indeed.
I’m no valorous hero, however, so I sought a small-scale theme. Something perfectly suitable for a single-length book. As I wracked my head on what that could be, Mushoku Tensei came to mind. At the time, it was massively popular on the site that I intended to post my practice piece on. It’s a story with a family theme about the long life of a man named Rudeus, who has been reborn into another world. I, too, was a huge fan of that novel. Living life for the second time, loving one’s family—I thought it was a really great theme.
Of course, plagiarism is a terrible idea. So I only took inspiration from the theme and made sure to write a story that was entirely in my own style. That was the beginning of The Faraway Paladin. I will never forget that this was my starting point.
Your past interviews and your novels make it evident that you’re a big fan of tabletop RPGs. Can you tell us about some of your favorites?
My first tabletop RPG was the Japan-made Sword World. It is set in the same world as the Record of Lodoss War anime. I’ve also played a lot of other Japan-made games: Arianrhod, which has a light fantasy style; Double Cross, which is about superhumans fighting in the modern world; and Labyrinth Kingdom, in which you create a country in a world swallowed by a dungeon. Many of these titles might not be familiar to the English-speaking world, but I have a strong attachment to them all.
Also, I’ve mainly been playing Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (D&D5e) lately. Alas, it is deeply unfortunate that developments for the Japanese version are currently on hold.
If someone from Wizards of the Coast sees this interview, I wonder if they would look into continuing the Japanese version? My friends and I were really looking forward to the translations of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything!
…Oops, I got a little excited there, but that’s how much I love RPGs (laughs).
Although the only TRPG I’m familiar with is Dungeons & Dragons, it’s common for players to create exhilarating campaigns, but when they try to write it down as a novel later they think, “I can’t quite capture the ‘magic’ of the campaign.” How do you overcome this wall as a writer?
I know that feeling myself! The enjoyable “magic” of the campaign never seems to flow out of the pen. I always have that feeling whenever I write down a record of my tabletop RPG adventures.
And to be perfectly honest, my own work doesn’t overcome that wall. The reason being that The Faraway Paladin is not based on any actual campaign. It’s not even based on any particular tabletop RPG rulebook. Of course, the setting does take inspiration from Sword World, D&D, etc. However, it doesn’t involve inputting any “character data” or any similar system, nor does it involve rolling dice. It’s just a story I wrote while imagining a world with a similar vibe.
I’m sure that if you were to look at it as an RPG campaign, the character’s abilities and the power levels of the enemies they encounter would be completely whack. If you watched the anime, I’m sure you’d get it, right? Right before the character sets out on his journey, he’s sprung into a fight with the Echo (or Aspect) of a dark god! (laughs)
So rather than overcoming the wall, I would just say that I walked in a direction where there was no wall. I wrote a heroic saga without worrying about data, set within a world that has the kind of atmosphere I’m very fond of. That’s all.
Lately, you’ve been very active on Twitter communicating with your overseas fans in many different languages. Have you noticed any cultural differences thanks to your interactions?
This might come across as a stereotypical way of seeing things, but on Twitter, where you communicate solely through writing, I can feel a sort of tradition in the way people of different countries use words.
French people come across as very flamboyant and witty. I’m sure it’s because there are many traditional French turns of phrase that are flamboyant and witty. For them, they might be well-worn clichés, but I’m always amused by their slightly joking way of expressing themselves.
People from South America are very enthusiastic, and there are many people who express their positive feelings without mincing words. Due to historical circumstances, the region is filled with people of different ethnicities. I wonder if there are a lot of straightforward ways of expressing things so as not to create misunderstandings. I like their warm atmosphere when they cheerfully usher me into their fold, saying, “You are my friend.”
Arabians have a unique way of expressing themselves that somehow gives off a sense of distance between people. Although they can speak familiarly, they never overstep certain bounds. They have words that express things in a roundabout way, giving off a rather different impression from other languages. It makes me happy because I feel like I’m traveling in a distant country.
As for English speakers, they’re spread across so many regions that they might be distinctive because I can’t see the distinctions. People from America, England, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Malaysia all speak English. I’ve been spoken to in English by people from all sorts of countries that I didn’t expect. I get really surprised from time to time.
I’ve always admired traveling and other cultures. If only I had a slightly stronger and healthier body and a knack for languages, I might have become a globe-trotting backpacker. But I didn’t, so I ended up being the kind of person who reads books and imagines myself traveling in fantasy worlds. Because of that, I started writing my own fantasy story, which then became an anime, and so now Will travels the world in my stead.
Through the anime, I’m able to talk with so many different people. It’s like a childhood dream come true.
Because bilibili is heavily involved on the anime side, I get the impression that your work may be popular in China as well. Have you had much interaction with your Chinese audience?
Indeed, The Faraway Paladin anime is airing in China as well. I really like Chinese fiction and history, so when I was asked to write a letter for my Chinese audience to promote the bilibili stream, I hand-wrote it in Chinese even though I was told that it was fine for me to use Japanese. I even quoted the historical Chinese poet Du Fu as an extra on top. I’ve always admired how those ancient literary people expressed themselves.
When I did that, I was told that on Chinese social media, people were saying, “A Japanese person wrote a letter with old-fashioned turns of phrase that even a Chinese person wouldn’t write.” There were even Chinese people who joked: “Thank you for teaching me some Chinese.” I laughed and had fun. I really like them.
At the same time, you know how in China there are strong restrictions on the internet due to government policy? They use different social media services than we do. It would take an awful lot of time for me to overcome that wall by creating and managing an account aimed at Chinese audiences while juggling my novel-writing. There aren’t many occasions when our paths cross, so I don’t get to interact with them all that often. I find that saddening.
After a break, you recently resumed writing The Faraway Paladin. How does it feel returning to this world? And do you have any hints about the kinds of things you’d like to write in the future?
Right. I took a break because I had a mental illness called adjustment disorder, which hindered my ability to write for a long time. It was really awful. Even when I wanted to write, I would be seized with such excessive fear and anxiety that I physically couldn’t. I would spend my days feeling as if I was stuck in mud. Even now, I visit the doctor and get prescribed anti-anxiety medication. I’m still a long way off from regaining my former writing pace.
Nevertheless, my editor has been very considerate towards me. My friends have been approaching me the same way they did in the past; we play D&D like usual and chat about works of media. It feels like a faint gleam of light shining at the end of a dark tunnel, and it fills my heart with a bright hope.
Going forward, I am thinking of writing a story that further develops Stagnate, the God of Undeath who also appeared in the anime. It would be a story where Will travels to the “Twilight Country,” the region controlled by this distinguished god. What made the God of Undeath become a dark god and lead the undead? It would be a story related to those circumstances, regarding the first hero who became an undead. Through this difficult encounter, Will must once again face off against the ideals of the God of Undeath Stagnate.
How does that sound? Does it pique your interest? It’s a story I’m really keen on writing.