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Leyla Aker [Archive]

Yukikaze, More Than “Plane Porn”

About a year and a half ago, when we were passing around a list of potential new titles for Haikasoru, not one but two of the long-time editors here were thrilled to see Yukikaze among the contenders. Personally, I’d never heard of the series, but when Leyla Aker said, “I’ll work on this book for free!” I thought, Hmm, less work for myself, eh? and happily threw my support behind the title. And that was only half-mercenary; enthusiasm is a necessary ingredient for putting out books, and when enthusiasm manifests itself in a business meeting (where that emotion usually comes just to die), one has to take advantage of it. Now Yukikaze is here, and every day I get questions about the possibility of doing the sequels (short answer: make sure all your friends buy the first one and you’ll be much more likely to see the sequels) and I asked Leyla to write a little something on the series. Without further ado…

Yukikaze: That Damn Good

Mr. Mamatas has graciously invited me to guest blog here on Haikasoru.com about a new book that I (being the complete sucker for scifi/military/social commentary/satire/suspense tales that I am) most happily did the editorial grunt-work for.

That novel is Yukikaze. And in truth, to call it “new” is a bit misleading. It’s new to the English-language audience, certainly, but the translation that Haikasoru published is actually that of the 20th anniversary edition of the book, which included some minor emendations by the author, Chohei Kambayashi.

So who is Kambayashi that he merits 20th anniversary editions of his books? The short answer is: the Philip K. Dick of Japan. But that sounds like the punchline of a bad joke, and, more importantly, is dismissive of and condescending to an entire body of another country’s literature. (Nothing against St. Phil. And yes, dear reader, speculative fiction is literature, although that’s for a thousand grad students to argue, not me.)

The long answer is that Kambayashi is one of the most esteemed and prolific speculative fiction writers in Japan. His corpus displays a breathtaking range of format (short stories, novellas, novels) and content (running the gamut from the dead serious to the antically comedic, hard science fiction to straight-up adventure), and even a cursory review of his work explains why he’s been the recipient of armloads of awards. In short, the man is a damn good writer.

And what is Yukikaze that it merits a 20th anniversary edition? The short answer is: a damn good book. The long answer is that it’s one of the seminal works of the “Third Generation” of Japanese science fiction, and one that has spawned an array of spin-offs, from video games to toys to dramatizations to manga to anime.

This last, the anime, is how almost everyone outside of Japan first became aware of Yukikaze. Bandai released it in the U.S. in 2006, and then again on Blu-Ray in 2008. The consensus among anime fans is that it’s a beautiful work, full of what I and one of my colleagues affectionately refer to as “plane porn,” but a somewhat baffling one. The bafflement is due to the fact that the anime’s producers compressed the content of two very dense books—Yukikaze and its sequel, Good Luck, Yukikaze—into roughly three hours of animation. And so one of my hopes for the publication of this book is that it will help fill in the gaps in the story. (By the by, the translator of the book, Neil Nadelman, also did the translation for the anime, in both instances heroically slogging through a wilderness of military and scientific terminology.)

I came to Yukikaze through another vector, the manga, which is in turn quite different from both the book and the anime. It was created by one of the biggest names in Japanese alternative comics (yeah, world famous in Poland, I know, but trust me), a woman by the name of Yumi Tada. I had been a longtime fan of Tada’s work, which for the most part consists of what’s usually described as “urban realism,” hard-bitten yet romantic tales of small-time hoodlums, two-bit hookers, rockers, drifters, and other societal marginals. So when I picked up her version of Yukikaze, my first reaction was: Huh? But I quickly became interested (okay, a little obsessed) with it. (OCD can be a beneficial editorial trait. Betcha didn’t know that.)

Apparently Tada sensei became obsessed with Yukikaze as well, because she went on to do the character designs for the anime and became a story consultant for it as well. Her influence is what accounts for what another one of my colleagues refers to as the, ahem, “bromance” between Lt. Fukai and Maj. Booker in the anime, which is absent from the Kambayashi’s work. And if Rei comes across as a slap-worthy emo boy in the anime, you can lay that blame on her creative doorstep too. But better yet, take a look at the manga if you have the chance since it adds some interesting backstory to how Rei wound up on Faery.

When you read Yukikaze you might notice that it’s not structured as holistically as many of us would expect when reading a novel. This is largely the result of the fact that the content originally appeared in serial form in a science fiction magazine, but it’s also due to a difference in emphasis between Western novels and Japanese novels. As a gross (really gross) generalization, Western novels tend to focus more on plot and story—the actual mechanics of what happens and how—whereas Japanese novels tend to focus more on character and causality—the reasons for why things happen and why the people who make them happen do so. In line with that, Kambayashi’s concern in Yukikaze is not to “narrate” and explain the war with the JAM so much as to explore how Rei understands his place within that conflict and his heroic struggle to try and formulate answers to the same hard questions that have always confronted humans: Who am I? What am I doing here? What is it that I’m supposed to be doing here? Is it possible to truly understand another sentient being?

It’s Kambayashi’s deft treatment of these questions that has secured Yukikaze’s place in the ranks of classic speculative fiction. Strap in and enjoy the ride.

P.S. I’m gonna take the opportunity here to answer a question that came up in a couple of reviews: Yes, the correct transcription of the names is “Booker” and “Lydia,” not “Bukhar” and “Rydia.” Ah, the joys of translating katakana

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