Given the fact that Japan seems obsessed with animation and manga we in the west tend to forget they also write novels too. It does seem to be the exception however that one of these books becomes adapted in to an animated feature or series. The benefit of manga books is that TV or film producers already have an idea of how it will look once animated. Books on the other hand are left open to far more interpretation on the part of the readers and producers and so are a bigger risk. In this environment it is no surprise then that books becoming animated like Yukikaze by Chohei Kambayashi will continue to remain the exception. The question then is whether or not that is a bad thing.
I do not want to delve too much in to the anime series as I want to concentrate more on the book. I do want to say however that I am big fan of the five part OVA and that is what lead me to buying this book as I wanted to delve deeper in to the world of Yukikaze. If you have never heard of Yukikaze then here is the plot: thirty years ago a hyperdimensional portal opened in Antarctica allowing an alien race known as the JAM to come through and attack our world. They were beaten back by Earth’s forces however and now humanity are the alien invaders as they have established a base on the JAM’s homeworld to continue the fight. The story follows Rei Fukai and his advanced reconnaissance aircraft named Yukikaze which has a sophisticated AI system. Together Rei and Yukikaze unravel the truth about the JAM while the Earth forces seem determined to remove men from the fight and replace them entirely with machines.
Just from that alone its easy to see that a lot is going on in the world Kambayashi has created. This is a very philosophical story in places as it discusses the ramifications of giving machines greater intelligence and taking over more of our everyday lives – in truth not a new concept but still an interesting one. One interesting point that comes up is that the JAM initially believed our planes and ships were the lifeforms on Earth rather than machines created by Humans. To some lifeforms I suppose that would be how it would look. Another really interesting point was that some people on Earth believed the whole thing to be a hoax and to me that echoes the Moon landing and the conspiracy theory that has surrounded it ever since 1969.
I have read repeatedly that Japanese texts lose something when they are translated in to English. I can’t vouch for that as I don’t speak Japanese but what I will say is that at times this becomes a hefty read and I found there were long periods that failed to capture my interest and then BANG a section would come up where I was hooked. It really was an up and down experience at times. There were sections of the book I felt were unnecessary to the story and seemed to be filler. One bit that did surprise me however was in a scene where a reporter is talking to Rei about the reasons why humanity is remaining on the JAM’s homeworld and he mentions that if it was for monetary purposes then it must involve Jews somewhere. I was surprised by this because it seems a very western concept and not one I would expect to find in a Japanese book.
I have read many aviation based books over the years and am a big fan of Dale Brown, Stephen Coonts and John Nichols. I therefore have high expectations on the descriptions of military flying. It was perhaps the biggest disappointment about this book that the flight scenes aren’t very vivid in fact they are almost glossed over. I think because the anime had such spectacular flight scenes that I was expecting that to be translated from the book but it just wasn’t.
I don’t think this book is for everyone. Fans of anime and science fiction may enjoy it but I do believe that this is a very Japanese story and you have to be aware of that reading it.