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.

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