Good Luck, Yukikaze

Good Luck, YukikazeAuthor: Chōhei Kambayashi
Translator: Neil Nadelman
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421539010
Released: July 2011
Original release: 1999
Awards: Seiun Award

Good Luck, Yukikaze is Chōhei Kambayashi’s second Yukikaze novel as well as his second novel to be released in English. A sequel to Yukikaze—which was originally written in 1984 before later being revised—Good Luck, Yukikaze was published in Japan in 1999 after being serialized between 1992 and 1999. Like Yukikaze, Good Luck, Yukikaze was translated into English by Neil Nadelman and released by Haikasoru, Viz Media’s speculative fiction imprint. The English edition of the novel was published in 2011 and also includes a concluding essay with commentary by Maki Ohno. The Yukikaze novels are some of Kambayashi’s most well-known and respected works. Yukikaze wold earn Kambayashi a Seiun Award when it was first written and Good Luck, Yukikaze would receive the same honor after its publication as well. I found the first Yukikaze novel to be thought-provoking and so looked forward to reading its sequel. A third volume in the series also exists, Unbroken Arrow, however it has yet to be translated into English.

Despite humanity’s best efforts the war against the JAM, a mysterious alien force, has continued for more than three decades. Although the end of the fighting is nowhere in sight, some progress has been made, especially in regards to the technology, computers, and weapons that humans employ. But those advances could possibly lead to humanity’s obsolescence and are a threat to its existence. Rei Fukai was one of the best pilots in the Special Air Force, but he was left in a coma after his highly advanced fighter plane Yukikaze took the initiative and ejected him during battle against his will. Eventually he awakens, bu he continues to suffer from the immense psychological blow—Yukikaze was the only thing beyond himself that he trusted and he was betrayed and discarded; he struggles to come to terms with all that has happened to him. Meanwhile the war goes on, as does Rei’s personal battle against the JAM. Like it or not, he and Yukikaze have caught the invaders’ attention.

When I read Yukikaze it took a few chapters before the novel was able to completely engage me, and so I wasn’t initially concerned when Good Luck, Yukikaze failed to immediately grab my attention. I kept waiting and waiting for the moment when it would finally all come together for me, but that moment never seemed to arrive. In fact, I found myself growing more and more frustrated with Good Luck, Yukikaze as a novel the more that I read. If I hadn’t already had some investment in the story and characters from reading the previous novel, I’m not sure Good Luck, Yukikaze would have been something that I would have been interested in—at least as fiction. The problem was that, despite a few intense action scenes, very little actually happens in Good Luck, Yukikaze. The characters seem to spend most of their time talking in circles, over and over again, interrupting the flow of the narrative. I approached Good Luck, Yukikaze expecting a novel, not a philosophical treatise.

Even though Good Luck, Yukikaze can be a bit of a slog at times, and even though I didn’t particularly enjoy it as a fictional narrative, the tremendous ideas, concepts, psychologies, and philosophies that Kambayashi explores through the novel are undeniably fascinating and thought-provoking. Good Luck Yukikaze challenges the characters’ and readers’ understanding of the nature of reality and what it means to exist. In the novel, Kambayashi examines the often tumultuous relationship humanity has with the technology and it has created, and speculates on the direction that relationship is taking as humans struggle to maintain control and autonomy. Computers have become so incredibly advanced that the line between true consciousness and artificial intelligence is blurring. One of the central questions posed by Good Luck, Yukikaze is if it even matters if there is or isn’t a difference between the two, or if functionally it’s simply the next logical evolutionary step.

The Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami

The Battle Royale Slam BookEditor: Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington
Publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421565996
Released: April 2014

Battle Royale has recently seen something of a revival in North America in recent years. Koushun Takami’s controversial novel was originally published in Japan in 1999. Both the novel and its manga adaptation illustrated by Masayuki Taguchi first appeared in English in 2003. The novel was released again with a slightly revised translation and additional supplementary material in 2009 by Viz Media’s speculative fiction imprint Haikasoru. (This tenth anniversary release was my introduction to Battle Royale.) However, it wasn’t until 2012 that the film version of Battle Royale and its sequel Battle Royale II: Requiem received an official release in the United States. And now, in 2014, we’re seeing the releases of a new English translation of Takami’s novel by Haikasoru, the recent Battle Royale: Angels’ Border manga illustrated by Mioko Ohnishi and Youhei Oguma, and The Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami, which is also notable for being Haikasoru’s first foray into nonfiction. Takami’s original novel left a huge impression on me, so I was very excited to read all of these new Battle Royale releases.

The Battle Royale Slam Book, edited by Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington, collects sixteen essays (seventeen including the introduction by Mamatas) which examine various aspects of the entire Battle Royale franchise. The core of that franchise is of course Takami’s original novel, but The Battle Royale Slam Book also explores many of its manga and film adaptations as well. The contributors to the volume include award-winning writers, academics, fans, and many others from around the world—the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and even Japan itself are particularly well-represented. I was specifically excited to see an essay by Toh EnJoe included in the volume, but the rest of the lineup is great, too: Nadia Bulkin, Carrie Cuinn, Raechel Dumas, Isamu Fukui, Sam Hamm, Masao Higashi, Brian Keen, Gregory Lamberson, Kathleen Miller, Konstantine Paradias, Jason S. Ridler, Adam Roberts, John Skipp, Steven R. Stewart, and Douglas F. Warrick. All of their essays were written specifically for inclusion in The Battle Royale Slam Book.

The Battle Royale Slam Book includes several types of essays ranging from academic ruminations to literary and film criticisms to the authors’ more personal experiences with Battle Royale in all of its iterations. The topics of the individual contributions are also varied, though some recurring themes do emerge. Many of the essays focus on some of Battle Royale‘s most controversial aspects, such as extreme violence and the deaths of school-aged youth, gender portrayals and sexism, and so on. Other essays position Battle Royale within a greater context, exploring its place within and relationship to not only Japanese popular culture but Western popular culture as well. School literature, professional wrestling, teen films, and other similar subjects are all addressed. The volume also examines the historical context of Battle Royale and its themes. The Battle Royale Slam Book shows how the Battle Royale phenomena has been influenced by, uses, and challenges literary and genre conventions in addition to showing its impact and continuing influence on individual people.

Several assumptions are made with The Battle Royale Slam Book, primarily that the readers are adults already familiar with Battle Royale, have a basic understanding of the novel’s premise, or have been exposed to at least one of its adaptations. It’s also helpful but not absolutely necessary to have some grounding in literature and film, and especially with speculative fiction and horror. The Battle Royale Slam Book will probably appeal most to those who are already interested in or who have already experienced Battle Royale in some form. Though the contributors don’t hesitate to point out the flaws and challenges presented by the Battle Royale novel, manga, and films, it is very clear that they are all either fans or are fascinated by the material and the responses to it. There is criticism to be found, but in general the volume tends to take a positive approach. The Battle Royale Slam Book was written for people like me who want to learn more about Battle Royale, its influences, and impacts. I found The Battle Royale Slam Book to be utterly fascinating and would highly recommend the volume to similarly minded individuals.


YukikazeAuthor: Chōhei Kambayashi
Translator: Neil Nadelman
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421532554
Released: January 2010
Original release: 1984
Awards: Seiun Award

Chōhei Kambayashi is an award-winning, well-respected, and popular author of science fiction in Japan. His novel Yukikaze is one of his best known works and has even been adapted into a short anime series. It is also his first book to be translated and released in English. Originally published in Japan in 1984, Yukikaze would go on to win a Seiun Award in 1985. Kambayashi revisited and slightly revised the novel in 2002 in preparation for the volume’s sequel Good Luck, Yukikaze. Neil Nadelman’s translation of Yukikaze, published by Viz Media’s speculative fiction imprint Haikasoru in 2010, is based on this 2002 edition. Haikasoru’s release of Yukikaze also includes two very interesting essays about the novel by Ran Ishidou and Ray Fuyuki. Haikasoru also released an English translation of Good Luck, Yukikaze. Kambayashi has written a third volume in the series, Unbroken Arrow, which has yet to be translated.

Rei Fukai is one of the best pilots that the Faery Air Force has, surviving numerous encounters with the JAM, an alien force threatening humanity’s very existence. It has been more than three decades since the JAM first appeared on Earth. They were quickly pushed back to the planet from where their invasion was launched, however the prolonged war against the JAM continues with no obvious way to secure a complete victory. Survival is Fukai’s primary order and goal. A member of an elite squadron associated with the Special Air Force, his mission is to collect and record massive amounts of data about the JAM and their tactical capabilities. He is to return with that information no matter what, even if that means leaving his comrades behind to die. Because of this, he and the others in his squadron have earned the reputation of being cold-hearted bastards. Outside of himself, the only thing that Fukai believes in, cares about, or trusts is the Yukikaze, the highly advanced fighter plane that he pilots.

Kambayashi addresses several themes in depth in Yukikaze: what humanity’s purpose is within the context of war, what it means to be human or inhuman, and perhaps most strikingly what the impact of the convergence of human intelligence and the technology it develops could be. Yukikaze is an engaging war story, with kinetic and hazardous air battles that have terrifying implications, but like all great science fiction the novel is also incredibly thought-provoking. The members of the Faery Air Force, and especially those in the Special Air Force, are primarily made up of criminals, those with anti-social tendencies, and other people who are unwanted or have no place back on Earth. They are treated more like expendable resources than they are like human beings. The war and the fighting is so far removed from those living on Earth that they are mostly oblivious to what is occurring on Faery. Protecting Earth is a thankless task for those engaged in the war, people who have very few ties to the planet left but who have no better options other than to fight.

Considering all of this, it isn’t that surprising that Fukai and some of the other pilots would prefer their planes to people. I’ll admit, as unsociable as Fukai can be, I did like the guy. It did take me a couple of chapters to really settle into Yukikaze, but by the end of the novel I was completely engaged. A large reason behind that was because of Fukai and his development as the novel progressed as well as the evolution of the Yukikaze. In the chaos of war, Fukai’s relationship to his fighter is one of the only stable things remaining in his life, but even that begins to change. The members of the Faery Air Force are often called inhuman and compared to machines. At the same time those machines are becoming more and more advanced, raising the question of whether humans are even necessary anymore. The war against the JAM that humanity is waging may not be the only battle of survival that it should be concerned about fighting. After an interesting but somewhat clunky beginning, I was actually quite impressed with the depth of Kambayashi’s ideas in Yukikaze. I look forward to reading its sequel.

Self-Reference Engine

Author: Toh EnJoe
Translator: Terry Gallagher
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421549361
Released: March 2013
Original release: 2007

Although several of Toh EnJoe’s short stories and essays have been translated into English, Self-Reference Engine is his first book-length work to be released. Originally published in Japan in 2007, Self-Reference Engine was released by Viz Media’s speculative fiction imprint Haikasoru in 2013 with an English translation by Terry Gallagher. Having previously read and thoroughly enjoyed EnJoe’s shorter works, I was very excited for the English release of Self-Reference Engine. Before leaving academics to focus on his writing, EnJoe cultivated a strong background in theoretical physics and mathematics. As a result, his fiction is often quite intellectually stimulating in addition to being entertaining. Self-Reference Engine is no exception. Haikasoru even brought in a consulting physicist (Phil Kaldon, who also happens to be a science fiction author) to ensure the accuracy of its translation.

Self-Reference has been described as being neither a novel nor a short story collection, but whatever it is, it’s great stuff. The work consists of twenty chapters (twenty-two if counting the prologue and epilogue) divided into two parts: “Nearside” and “Farside.” Most of the stories can be read independently from one another, but Self-Reference Engine does build upon itself as the book progresses. Even when it’s not particularly obvious, all of the stories are closely linked as a whole, often in surprising and unexpected ways. Self-Reference Engine explores the collapse of the space-time continuum and the collision of multiverses, how humans try to deal with the situation (or attempt to simply ignore it), the development of highly advanced artificial intelligence systems known as “giant corpora of knowledge” in order to cope with the chaos, and the consequences of their creation.

One thing that surprised me about Self-Reference Engine was how funny and amusing it was. EnJoe has a very quirky sense of humor that comes through even in translation. (Also, major kudos to Gallagher on his work on Self-Reference Engine; the translation is great.) Many of the stories in Self-Reference Engine are rather strange and absurd, which I found to be very appealing and certainly very fitting for a work in which logic either operates in bizarre ways or not at all. If it were possible, I would recommend that all of the chapters be read simultaneously as they overlap and merge in space and time; everything is both happening and not happening at once. Failing that, attentive readers will note and be aware of the odd layering that EnJoe employs. Self-Reference Engine is wonderfully weird.

As funny as Self-Reference Engine is, the book is also incredibly smart. As might be expected from a work called Self-Reference Engine, it is constantly making references to itself, but it is also filled with historical, philosophical, literary, mathematical, and scientific allusions. I’m fairly certain that I didn’t catch them all, but those that I did were highly entertaining. Frequently, Self-Reference Engine delves and incorporates into the narrative legitimate concepts of theoretical mathematics and physics. It can be very cerebral and delightfully convoluted, but at the same time EnJoe maintains a sense of lightness and strangeness throughout the work. So don’t worry, an advanced degree isn’t necessary to enjoy the stories. Self-Reference Engine is quirky, weird, funny, smart, and clever. It made me tremendously happy to read and I enjoyed every odd, mind-bending moment of it.

The Book of Heroes

Author: Miyuki Miyabe
Translator: Alexander O. Smith
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421540832
Released: November 2011
Original release: 2009

The Book of Heroes is the second novel by Miyuki Miyabe that I have read. My introduction to her work was through her novel Brave Story and its various adaptations. The two novels share many similarities with each other: both were initially serialized in newspapers, both are fantasy stories featuring a young protagonist, and both were translated into English by Alexander O. Smith, just to name a few examples. But The Book of Heroes and Brave Story are each very much their own work. After its serialization, The Book of Heroes was released as a completed novel in 2009. Haikasoru, Viz Media’s Japanese speculative fiction imprint, first published Smith’s English translation of The Book of Heroes in 2010 in a hardcover edition. The novel was subsequently released as a paperback in 2011, which is the edition I picked up. Because I enjoyed Brave Story I was looking forward to reading The Book of Heroes.

Yuriko Morisaki, a fairly average girl in the fifth grade, was dozing off in science class when she receives terrible news: her older brother, who she adores, has gone missing after stabbing two of his classmates. Her family can hardly believe that Hiroki could be capable of such an act. They are desperate to find him and to understand what happened. Soon after Hiroki’s disappearance, Yuriko stumbles across a magical book in his room, one that may be able to help her find her brother. Suddenly, Yuriko is no longer an ordinary girl as she is swept into a world of story and magic. It is revealed to Yuriko that her brother and her very reality are in danger. The responsibility of rescuing them has fallen to her. She’s not without help and over time she gains some valuable allies, but Yuriko’s journey will be a very challenging one.

For me, The Book of Heroes worked better as a sort of philosophical exercise rather than as a novel. I absolutely loved the world building. I found the universes that Miyabe created to be fascinating and intellectually stimulating. I enjoyed thinking about the worlds in The Book of Heroes and loved the importance placed on books and stories—stories that hold tremendous amounts of power and that can quite literally change the world and reality; a reality that in turn can alter and affect those stories; and the grave repercussions that this system creates as a result. The ideas and concepts that Miyabe was exploring in The Book of Heroes were thrilling. But I found actually reading The Book of Heroes to be somewhat of a slog. Yuriko’s story felt terribly unfocused for much of the novel.

As often as The Book of Heroes frustrated me as a narrative (which was actually quite often), Miyabe pulls everything together beautifully in the end. In the beginning something just didn’t quite feel right about how things were progressing in The Book of Heroes. Yuriko, too, seemed to be frustrated and aware of this. Eventually, all is revealed to both Yuriko and the novel’s readers in the final chapter, appropriately titled “The Truth.” It was this chapter and the epilogue that follows it that made all of my frustration with The Book of Heroes worth it. The ending is fairly open-ended, but I thought it was very appropriate and very satisfying. The Book of Heroes is more complex and layered than it might first appear; Miyabe mixes reality and fantasy, light and darkness, in a very compelling way.