Planetes, Omnibus 1

Planetes, Omnibus 1Creator: Makoto Yukimura
U.S. publisher: Dark Horse
ISBN: 9781616559212
Released: December 2015
Original release: 2001-2003
Awards: Seiun Award

Makoto Yukimura’s Planetes, a realistic, near-future science fiction manga series about space exploration and development, was originally released in English by Tokyopop. It’s a great series, and one that I’ve made a point to hold onto over the years. I was very pleased to learn that the manga was going to be brought back into print by Dark Horse—this time in a larger trim size, with more of the color pages, and with artwork that has been better reproduced. Dark Horse’s edition of Planetes consists of two omnibus volumes and it’s production quality makes it well-worth the upgrade. The first omnibus, released in 2015, contains the first and second volumes of the original Japanese edition as well as a small part of the third volume, which were published between 2001 and 2003. In 2002, Planetes earned Yukimura a Seiun Award for best manga. Planetes was also adapted into an anime which happens to be one of my favorite and most frequently rewatched series.

The year is 2074. Humankind has established numerous bases on the moon and has sent multiple expeditions to Mars. The next major goal in space exploration is to successfully man a mission to Jupiter in the hopes of harnessing the planet’s resources to support the ever-increasing energy needs of the solar system’s human populations. However, with the continued development of space comes a significant problem—the creation of vast amounts of waste. Junked and outdated satellites, exhausted fuel cells, and other debris orbit the Earth, endangering the lives of anyone who would attempt to leave the atmosphere. Hachimaki is a debris hauler, one of the unsung heroes who makes space travel possible. Along with the rest of the crew of the Toy Box, a decades-old ship that’s falling apart itself, Hachimaki either retrieves the debris drifting in space or drops it into the atmosphere to burn. It’s important and demanding work, not to mention dangerous, but the thankless job rarely receives any recognition.

Planetes, Omnibus 1, page 93Planetes is a manga about many different things—scientific progress, socioeconomic tensions, geopolitical discourse, and so on—but more importantly it’s a series about many different kinds of people. It’s about the dreamers who are inspired and compelled to reach for the stars, the scientists and engineers who are focused on advancing technology above all else, the medical researchers who are developing treatments and cures for space-caused disorders, and the people for whom leaving Earth is simply a way of making a living. But it’s also about all of the loved ones the spacefarers leave behind, the families and friends who can do little but hope and wait for their safe return. While incorporating into the story all of the basic, mundane, and day-to-day requirements necessary for life in space, Planetes explores the complex human relationships that support and make that life possible.

Planetes spends a fair amount of time delving tin the psyches of its characters. This is most obvious with the manga’s treatment of Hachimaki, who goes through an extreme psychological crisis and transformation after a traumatic accident, but the other characters have their own struggles, too. Their evolving relationships with one another and their changing attitudes towards space are critical components of Planetes, lending an additional sense of realism to the series. Yukimura doesn’t just limit himself to the personal aspects of the characters’ lives in the series, he also addresses wider societal issues and concerns such as inequality, terrorism, and war. It takes a few chapters for Yukimura to fully settle into the tone and art style for the series, but from the very beginning Planetes is an excellent work of science fiction, balancing humor and pathos while maintaining a largely optimistic outlook on the future believably punctuated by some of the harsher realities of life.

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.


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.

Japan Sinks

Author: Sakyo Komatsu
Translator: Michael Gallagher
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9784770020390
Released: September 1995
Original release: 1973
Awards: Mystery Writers of Japan Award, Seiun Award

Sakyo Komatsu is considered to be one of Japan’s masters of science fiction and is highly regarded as an author. Probably his most well-known and influential work was Japan Sinks, an earthquake disaster novel that he wrote between 1964 and1973. Published in Japan in 1973, Japan Sinks earned Komatsu both a Mystery Writers of Japan Award and a Seiun Award. The novel has since inspired a sequel (which Komatsu coauthored with Kōshū Tani), two live-action films, a television series, and even a manga adaptation by Takao Saito. Michael Gallagher’s abridged English translation of the novel was first published by Harper & Row in 1976 and became the basis for translations in eleven more languages. Kodansha International brought the novel back into print in 1995 with an additional author’s note from Komatsu. Unfortunately, that edition has gone out of print as well and Japan Sinks is now somewhat difficult to find—a shame for such a notable work.

Earthquake and tsunamis are not unusual occurrences in Japan. They are something that the country has faced for centuries and has made preparations to deal with. But an increase in seismic and volcanic activity has many scientists concerned, especially when an entire island off the southern coast of Japan disappears over night. An investigation is subsequently launched into the incredible event. As hard as it is to believe, the island has sunk. What is even more terrifying is the discovery of unprecedented tectonic plate movements that will result in increasingly violent and destructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It is theorized that within a few years the entire Japanese archipelago will be lost. The real question is what can be done about Japan’s impending doom. The geological event cannot be stopped, but no one wants to believe that it will actually happen, either.

The narrative in Japan Sinks is a bit disjointed, particularly early on in the novel. I assume this is at least in part due to the abridgement, but I’m not entirely sure how much or even what was cut from the original Japanese edition of Japan Sinks. The beginning of the novel seems like a sequence of scenes that aren’t directly related, but most are eventually revealed to be needed for the story as a whole. It’s as if the connecting material is missing, though. However, as the novel progresses, the disparate story elements are tied together. By the end of Japan Sinks the only things that seemed tacked on and largely unnecessary were the romantic subplots; I can only imagine that these were more thoroughly developed in the original, but once again I’m not certain. For the most part, the unconnected nature of the storytelling was only a minor annoyance.

Although the narrative is somewhat fragmented, there is one thing that Komatsu excels at in Japan Sinks—he takes into consideration all aspects of the impending crisis in a very realistic way. The story is solidly based in real science, which makes it all the more terrifying. Komatsu explores the political maneuverings, both national and international, that are involved in dealing with the disaster as well as its economic implications. The scope of Japan Sinks is both global and personal, but I found the novel to be most engaging when it focused on the experiences of individuals. Granted, these sections were so effective because they took place within a greater context. Widespread death and destruction takes on more significance when it is known what it means for a single person as well as for a country as a whole. Japan Sinks addresses all of these issues and as a result the novel is a chilling account.

Fullmetal Alchemist, Omnibus 1

Creator: Hiromu Arakawa
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421540184
Released: June 2011
Original release: 2002
Awards: Seiun Award, Shogakukan Manga Award

My introduction to Fullmetal Alchemist was through the first anime series. The franchise is so popular that it has spawned a second anime series, films, light novels, drama CDs, and video games, among other merchandise, but it all began with Hiromu Arakawa’s manga series. Somehow, I am only now getting around to reading the Fullmetal Alchemist manga. Fullmetal Alchemist began serialization in Monthly Shōnen Gangan in 2001 and would later win the Shogakukan Manga Award for shōnen in 2004. The first three volumes of the series (out of twenty-seven) were originally released in Japan in 2002. Viz Media initially published the individual volumes in 2005 before releasing a “3-in-1” omnibus edition in 2011. I really enjoyed the first anime series (I haven’t seen the second one yet, though I do plan to); I saw the omnibus as a perfect way to finally give the original manga a try. And as much as I love the anime, I think the manga might be even better.

In alchemy, one of the most important rules that must be followed is the law of equivalent exchange—in order to gain something, something of equal value must be given. Even working within this constraint the science of alchemy is capable of amazing things, but it is still not able to solve all of humanity’s problems. Edward and Alphonse Elric learn this difficult lesson the hard way when their attempt to bring their dead mother back to life goes horribly wrong. Human alchemy is forbidden and the two brothers have paid the price. Al has lost his body and Ed lost one of his legs, further sacrificing an arm to save his brother’s soul. Now, in an effort to return their bodies back to normal, the brothers are searching for the philosopher’s stone. Ed even became the youngest state alchemist to have ever been certified in order to pursue the stone. It’s a military position of prestige, but more importantly it’s a position with research money and access to restricted resources.

I don’t know how far ahead Arakawa had the story planned when beginning Fullmetal Alchemist, but the world it takes place in is solid form the very start. Her artwork is strong and clear and is fairly straightforward with excellent page layouts that ease the flow of the story and help to emphasize emotional climaxes. Occasionally the fight scenes could have used an extra panel or two to clarify the action a bit more. While Arakawa’s artwork isn’t overly detailed, the world and characters of Fullmetal Alchemist are marvelously complicated and complex. There is a palpable tension between alchemy and religion and no easy answers are given. Science can be used for good or for ill; the alchemists have to make personal and moral choices and compromises and then deal with the consequences of those decisions. Science is capable of wondrous things, and it is also capable of terrible things. The fact that most alchemical research is funded by the military only complicates matters further.

The story of Fullmetal Alchemist is actually fairly dark, dealing with serious matters of life, death, sin, war, and responsibility. However, Arakawa includes enough humor that it never becomes overwhelmingly depressing. And even though the Elric brothers have a tragic past they don’t wallow in self-pity. Instead, while always being very conscious of their circumstances, they are determined to reach their goals, pushing forward one step at a time, showing tremendous strength of character. But while they are mature for their ages and have been through a lot together, they are still young. Most of the other characters in Fullmetal Alchemist are also dealing with difficult situations although some of them certainly handle it better than others. Fullmetal Alchemist is a fantastic series and an engrossing read. From these first three volumes alone I know that I want to see the story through to its end.