Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 7th 2007
Seikai: Crest of the Stars
A Modest War
Pilot Trainee Lafiel has been assigned a twofold mission: deliver Jinto, the young Count Rock Hyde, to his military training school and inform her Star Forces superiors about the attack on the warship Gosroth by the United Mankind. Because she is also an imperial princess, she has been detained at the refueling station at Febdak by the Baron Febdash, who seeks to use her as a future bargaining chip and imprison her charge Jinto. Having won the loyalty of some of the Baron's servants, she embarks on a dangerous plan to rescue Jinto and leave, one which ultimately brings her into a direction confrontation with the Baron. Later, She and Jinto discover that the forces of United Mankind have reached the Safugnoff system first, leaving them on their own as they crash-land and try to go into hiding on the planet. Lafiel is decidedly out of her element and so finds herself relying on Jinto (instead of the other way around, as it has been so far) as numerous parties seek them out.
Meanwhile, Empress Ramaj of the Humankind Empire Abh meets with ambassadors from assorted human nations, a meeting which could lead to war, while the Abh Star Forces prepare for a massive counter-strike.
A Modest War picks up precisely where Princess of the Empire left off, devoting only a half-page to a recap of events to date before forging ahead. It fully assumes that the reader has already completed the first novel, and those that attempt to start with this one without being familiar with the first novel or anime series will be mightily lost. For those that are familiar with the anime based on this series of novels, the second novel corresponds to episodes 7-10 of the anime and the parts of episode 11 involving Undertaker and his crew. As with the first novel, this period of the anime follows the novel almost scene-for-scene and sometimes even line-for-line, although the anime condenses some scenes that play out in more detail in the novel. Even so, it would be nearly impossible for an anime series to more faithfully adapt its source material than Crest of the Stars does. To this point, at least, that hasn't become a problem.
The greatest appeal of the universe writer Hiroyuki Morioka has constructed is the fascinating Abh people and culture, which is as meticulously-detailed as any “alien” race ever invented for sci-fi. Even though the first novel spent a lot of time laying the groundwork, the second novel has much, much more to tell on who the Abh are and what they're like, including a lesson on their early history imbedded into a conversation between Lafiel and Jinto late in this novel. The contrasts in behavior between Lafiel and Baron Febdash show clearly that all genetic Abh are definitely not alike, but the way the general attitudes and character traits inculcated in its members affect their actions and thinking is thoroughly fascinating, and Jinto's steep learning curve provides the reader a handy perspective to explore them further. (For instance, Abh tend to seem cocky to outsiders even when they know they're likely to lose a battle because they just don't waste time considering failure.)
Nearly as interesting are the well-defined individual characters. Hardly the genteel princess, Lafiel is more cut from the mold of Princess Leia: practical, temperamental, determined, and more than a little ruthless, she well embodies the traits of the Abriel ruling family of the Humankind Empire Abh. She previously showed that she could be friendly if approached right, and the sequence of events on the planet Safugnoff, where for the first time she is totally out of her element and thus must learn to rely on Jinto, show that even she can be vulnerable. That episode also gives Jinto, who had until that point been totally dependent on Lafiel, a chance to assert himself a bit, which puts the two on a more even playing field. It also pushes their relationship along; although no hint of romance exists beyond Baron Febdash's father's sly comments, one can clearly see the bond forming between the two that is one of the defining elements of the overall story. A few supporting characters also get chances to assert themselves, but their roster changes almost entirely when the action moves from Febdak to Safugnoff.
As with the first novel, A Modest War heavily immerses the reader in Baronh, the Abh language. The first thing that any reader should do is bookmark the substantial Glossary and listing of Abh weights and measures in the back, as they are utterly indispensable for keeping track of what terms mean what, such as how great a distance “10 sedaj” is or why Lafiel keeps being referred to as a “Bene Lodair.” The translation's normal pattern is to introduce a Baronh word for an item, concept, or title in parenthetical notation after the English name the first time it appears and thereafter use the Baronh term exclusively. Because of that, reading Morioka's novels is a more involved process than the norm for what is essentially young adult content, but those who get wrapped up in this universe are unlikely to mind given the well-paced, somewhat casual, and smoothly-flowing writing. This isn't an award-caliber literary effort, but it works well enough.
Tokyopop's translation has done an acceptable job securing the tone and feel of the story, although it has an annoying tendency to use discordant English euphemisms. (Is an Empress – even an Abh Empress – really likely to say “get a move on” to someone?) The occasional typo also crops up, including a misalignment in the Abh Weights and Measures chart in the Appendix that some readers may find quite confusing. In addition to the aforementioned, other extras include notes from the editor and fan consultants about pronunciations of Baronh and a postscript by Morioka. The cover art is just a silver-colored version of the Abh emblem seen on the first volume, and as before there are no interior illustrations. If you want to see what the characters are supposed to look like, see the anime, which portrays them quite accurately based on the descriptions here.
If you liked the first novel or the anime series, A Modest War will undoubtedly not only work for you, but also leave you anticipating Return to a Strange World, the third and final novel due out in May of 2007. Despite some minor production flaws, Tokyopop has a winner here which could find an audience beyond just anime/manga fans if it is marketed right. (Like, say, being pushed as a general sci-fi title and not just a manga-related title.)
Overall : B+
+ Rich and complex “alien” culture, good lead characterizations.
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