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Yukikaze, More Than “Plane Porn”

by nickmamatas

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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13 Responses to “Yukikaze, More Than “Plane Porn””

  1. Marc McKenzie says:

    This is a wonderful essay–thanks much, Leyla.

    I was introduced to YUKIKAZE through the anime, which I love very much. Being a fan of both SF and aircraft, especially fighter jets, I was drawn to the anime because it had those elements. I’m so glad that the book has finally reached these shores (granted, 20+ years later, but better late than never, right?), and I also loved it too.

    The structure of the book took a bit of time to get used to, due to the fact that it was serialized originally. It shares that similarity with such classic American SF like Asimov’s I, ROBOT. I did enjoy Kambayashi’s writing, and it is one of the best “man vs. aliens” novel I have read. Hopefully, GOOD LUCK will make it over here too.

    Also, praise should go to Neil Nadelman–he did a fantastic job on both the anime and the novel. And thanks for the correct transcriptions of the names–although I was shocked to see that Booker is British!

  2. Leyla says:

    Hey Marc;

    It’s true: Jack’s a Brit! I guess most of us Yanks just self-centeredly assume that he’s one of us. But he actually hails from the green vales of Sheffield. (Which you can read for yourself if we ever do the sequels.)

    Glad you liked the book, and I will pass on your kudos to Neil.

  3. Ben says:

    What I like to know is how many people ever heard of “Teki wa Kaizoku” (The Enemy Is the Pirate) another title by Chohei Kanbayashi that also made in to an anime in 1989.It is a comedy science fiction of a man, a cat like alien and a spaceship with advance AI working together to arresting space pirate.

    There is an official crossover that main character from Teki wa Kaizoku gone to planet Fairy/Faery by accident and almost got shot down by a SAF fighter in one of the book. Just for that, I am now hoping that it will be translat soon.

  4. Neil Nadelman says:

    Hi all,

    Thanks so much. Working on Yukikaze was a new frontier for me as well, since this was the first novel I’ve ever been asked to translate. A lot of kudos should go right back to Leyla, since she did a great job of polishing my translation in the editing process. I think the thing which I found most surprising in the novel was how much humor there is in it. Rei comes off as a complete cypher in the anime because his character spends a lot of his time internal monologing to himself in the novel, none of which comes through in the animation. He’s actually fairly thoughtful and has a ver dry wit, which I always like. I think one of my favorite parts of the story is the bit with him and Andy Lander, which I jokingly referred to as “Rei Fukai and Rush Limbaugh Across the Eighth Dimension” when I handed the first draft in to Leyla. The whole bit with Lander and his conspiracy theories and the way they send Rei’s bullshit-o-meter off the scale was hilarious to me. Likewise, the bit in the first chapter with the android honor guard and the near-sighted general made me wish they’d gotten ANY of that into the anime.

    Oh, and my favorite chapters in there? It’s a close tie between the one with Tomahawk John (who also showed up in the anime in what was my favorite episode) and (surprisingly) the chapter about Lt. Amata, the snow plow driver, mainly because the first half of that story is so evocative in describing how crappy life is for the ground personnel of the FAF in winter. I especially loved the bits describing the cold air whistling in through the bent crack in the door frame and the image of the snow plows lined up in the blizzard, amber lights turning in the darkness.

    I really hope the book sells well, and not just for purely mercenary reasons. It’s a good book and deserves to be read by SF fans over here.

  5. Wolfgirl says:

    Mr. Nadelman Sir! Kudos to you, you did a fantastic job! I was so excited to finally hold and read the novel that I read the thing in two hours. I only hope and pray that you are able to translate the other two novels in the series. ( insert groveling and pleading action here) PLEASE! warm a fangirls heart and translate them PLEASE!

    anyways, fantastic job to everyone involved.

  6. Marc McKenzie says:

    To Neil: Excellent job, Mr. Nadelman, and it was pretty cool that you’ve worked on both the anime and the novel. Granted, translating it had to have been a challenge, especially with the technical details.

    I did like the Rei/Andy Lander storyline also (gotta admit that he could pass for Glenn Beck as well) as well as “All Systems Normal”. Again, it was wonderful to finally read the book that was the basis for one of the best anime I’ve seen.

    Granted, there are elements from the book that do not appear in the anime, but I guess that can be chalked up to the differences in media. Happens pretty much every time a novel is adapted to a movie, TV show, anime, etc.

    Here’s hoping to GOOD LUCK (and I guess UNBROKEN ARROW?) making it over here!

  7. Mike says:

    As an enthusiastic fan of Yukikaze, and one of it’s early supporters (I’m Leyla’s “plane porn” colleague) I’m more than chuffed about this book. I’m a huge wingnut and airplane geek and my threat radar is always tuned for stuff like this – if I see some cover art with that distinctive needle-nose of a modern jet fighter on it I’m all over it. There’s lots of military sci-fi out there and most of it is either about the grunts on the ground or big space fleets duking it out. Granted there are stories about starfighter pilots but not many, and Yukikaze is one of the only military sci-fi stories I can think of that’s about pilots of atmospheric aircraft.

    As a fan, I demand accuracy too, and the translation of Yukikaze nails it. There’s no doubt the jargon of fighter pilots is like a foreign language to most people, and although the original must speak for itself through the translation, there was indeed a great effort to get it to sound right. I think Leyla was looking over the flight manual of an F-16 for pointers – good move!

    Now that I’ve worked myself up about it, I think I’ll go read Yukikaze again! Check six!

  8. Leyla says:

    @Mike
    >I think Leyla was looking over the flight manual of an F-16 for pointers
    *cough* Uh, yeah… Aforementioned OCD, yanno…

    Seriously, I spent so much time online ferreting out military info. and equipment specs that I half-jokingly wondered if the NSA was going to flag my IP.

    /testing, testing/

  9. Issy says:

    A salute to you Mr. Nadelman, you did a fantastic job beyond that I cannot find a phrase to describe my gratitude. And Thank you Leyla and Viz media team for choosing the tile, you made a small group of Yukikaze fans in Thailand jumped in joy when we got hold of the copies! It was a long wait, although English is not our native language, it is a lot more comprehensible than Japanese.

    Like many, I’ve learnt of Yukikaze through anime which gained my interest on the novel. For years I’ve searched for a translator to fulfill my thirst but many turn down becuase the words far too hard for them. Therefore, I truely appreciate your hardwork, it’s must be really like what you said ‘new-frontier’.

    I prey for the book good sale, so Good-luck and Unbroken Arrow and all volumes after will make it into our bookshelf.

  10. Lucas says:

    After straying to Hamburg, I’ve received my copy of Yukikaze a couple weeks ago, which I pretty much devoured in a couple days. After watching the OVAs on the same week, I have no words to explain how much I’m looking forward for you guys to pick up Good Luck Yukikaze and even Unbroken Arrow, wherever it fits on the timeline.

    Also, I’m sure this isn’t the space for this but I’d love to read Harutoshi Fukui’s Gundam Unicorn, though licencing it would probably be as big as a hassle to translate it, taking Fukui’s writing style.

  11. CptChaos says:

    A huge thank you to everyone who played a part in getting Sentou Yousei Yukikaze translated and available in the U.S., and to Kanbayashi-sama for writing such a wonderful story. I’m looking forward to translations of “Good Luck SYY” and “Unbroken Arrow,” and would love to see translations of “Fairy Air Force At War” and Yumi Tada’s manga as well. Please?

  12. schumie says:

    I have to agree with everyone above. I first found out about Yukikaze back when the OVA was still in fansubs. After that I discovered Yumi Tada and fell in love. I had the Yukikaze novel pre-ordered the moment I heard about it. I appreciate all the love that went into it. It couldn’t have been an easy translation, and it was done very well–the whole thing had that sort of straight-forward, robotic feel about it that fit perfectly.
    I would love to read “Good Luck SYY” and “Unbroken Arrow.” I know that a translation of the manga is probably not a possibility, so having the novel sequels would be a good salve for my soul.

  13. nickmamatas says:

    You’ll be happy to know that Good Luck, Yukikaze is currently at the copydesk, and will soon go to the designer, for a summertime release!


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