Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 7th 2008
The Twelve Kingdoms
Novel 2 - Sea of Wind (Hardcover)
In all of the lands of the Twelve Kingdoms there is only one Sati-tree, on Hohzan, one of the Five Mountains at the heart of the Yellow Sea. From that tree spring the fruit that become the noble kirin. Shortly after the fruit for the new kirin of Tai began to grow on the Sati-tree calamity strikes, resulting in the fruit being blown across dimensional boundaries into Hourai (i.e. Japan). Ten years later the fledgling kirin, now grown into a boy who has had immense trouble fitting in, is found and recovered, bringing Taiki back to his proper place. Though Taiki, an auspiciously rare black kirin, quickly comes to accept his new reality, the ten years he spent in Hourai have prevented him from developing what should be instinctive kirin traits, such as how the world of the Twelve Kingdoms works, how to pacify demons to become his sirei (i.e. bonded servants), and how to shift into his animal form. Despite that, it falls to him to choose the new king of Tai, a holy task that he has little time to prepare for or understand.
In the spring of 2007 the first of the novels on which the beloved Twelve Kingdoms anime was based came out, and it was not only good but really good. After a year of waiting the second novel has finally arrived, begging the question: why do we have to wait so long to get work of such quality when they've already been out in Japan for a while, Tokyopop? Granted, translating an entire novel is a much more involved process than translating a manga, hence a greater delay can be expected, but really, is a year in between books necessary? Still, at least they are finally coming out, and at least at a better pace than oh, say, the work of Jean Auel.
Sea of Wind is the basis for the anime's second story arc, which spans most of volumes 4 and 5 (episodes 15-20 and parts of 21) of its North American release. Unlike its anime equivalent, it is entirely a stand-alone read from Sea of Shadow, as the two stories have only one supporting character in common and, in fact, this story takes place several years before the events in Sea of Shadow. (The one major flaw in the original writing of this novel is that it does not make this time differential clearer, which may leave some readers not understanding that the Lady-King of KEI referred to in the story is not Yoko but her immediate predecessor.) This novel also does a thorough job of explaining the basic principles on which the world of the Twelve Kingdoms operates, so a newcomer to the franchise need not have read Sea of Shadow, or seen the anime version, in order to fully understand and appreciate this work. Reading the first two novels out of order is not recommended, however, as Sea of Wind would then offer a couple of key spoilers for Sea of Shadow.
In some senses this novel follows a similar pattern to the previous one: a youth from the “real world” is drawn into the world of Twelve Kingdoms because they originally came from that world and are a VIP there. Over the course of the novel the youth learns about his/her home world and the role he/she plays in it while dealing with issues of inadequacy and lack of self-confidence. Unlike Yoko, though, Taiki knows precisely who he is supposed to be from the beginning and has people around him to explain things, so his learning curve is much faster. He also does not have to go through the physical tribulations and violence that Yoko did, so his story slants more towards a pure fantasy drama, while Yoko's story slanted more towards an action-adventure piece. Focusing on a kirin, an important creature dealt with little in the first novel, provides a fresh angle on the world, assuring the plotting does not feel repetitive or formulaic. At a mere 320 pages Sea of Wind is also a decidedly shorter work, although it does have a less involved story to tell.
Those who have seen the anime version of Taiki's story will find the novel version to be a more focused, stripped-down version of the same basic story, with many scenes repeated exactly and others appearing in only slightly altered form. The novel form entirely lacks the anime's framing device of Taiki's story being told to Yoko and does not include any of the anime's exploratory Hourai content beyond the opening scene; once again the anime's Sugimoto was used to investigate some issues that are purely narration or Taiki's internal ruminations in the novel, while the rest of the Hourai content goes well beyond what is presented in the novel. Keiki appears a little more often in the Taiki timeline in the anime than he does in the novel, and Lord Shinkun (the god who protects travelers in the Koukai) was apparently exclusive to the anime. The novel also offers no explicit brief guest appearance by Suzu (one of the trio of girls at the center of the next story arc), nor does the map pool make an appearance. The novel does, however, go into much greater detail about the environs of the central continent where the story takes place and more thoroughly elaborates on Sansi/Sanshi's role as Taiki's most devoted and intimate protector.
The true joy in reading Fuyumi Ono's work comes from her impeccable writing style, which offers natural-sounding dialogue while also striking a perfect balance between richness and simplicity. It does not needlessly engage in flowery language or background detail and rarely strays from getting precisely to the point of a scene, yet it can never be called sparing and still vividly describes environments and behaviors. The complexity of the language makes the writing accessible to readers on a Young Adult level, but without undercutting adult readers. The structure of the world, which is heavily derived from Chinese concepts and myth, continues to fascinate even if the reader has already seen the anime, while the structure of the story achieves a highly satisfying balance of discovery, character development, and crisis; even with little for true action scenes, it still creates some impressively intense moments. Perhaps most importantly, Ms. Ono knows how to tell and pace a story to keep it thoroughly involving while also providing some degree of depth.
As with the first novel, Tokypop has released this one in a manga-sized hardback edition, complete with a paper sleeve that provides an illustration of Taiki in the foreground against a green background containing a picture of Sansi staring at the pivotal Shoku. Occasional illustrations are the work of Akihiro Yamada, and this novel does include a more detailed (but still crude) map of the Yellow Sea to complement the simplistic Twelve Kingdoms map carried over from the first novel.
The general translation has been handled exceedingly well, with none of the clumsiness of phrasing or grammatical errors that regularly creep into other translations of anime-related novels. Fans of the anime will notice that, like with the first novel, the transliterations of names are handled significantly differently here than in the anime, and this goes beyond spelling discrepancies such as “Sansi” vs. “Sanshi” or “Teiyei” vs. “Teiei.” As a general rule the book translates or puts into Western terms several designations left untranslated in the anime, such as palace names, yoma being referred to as demons, nyokai as lamia (a term which may be too specific to Sansi's form to be accurately used for nyokai in general), and nyoken as oracles. Names which have no close Western equivalent, such as sirei (for the yoma that are pacified to serve a kirin) are left untranslated, as are mountain names, resulting in “Hohzan” being used in the book where “Mount Hou” is used in the anime, for instance. There are also a few cases where the anime and novel translations differ on fine points of interpretation, such as the ability of a kirin to change forms being referred to as “metamorphosing” in the anime and “shifting” in the novel.
After the action-oriented approach of the first novel some readers may find this one to be a bit of a letdown, but more likely fans of the franchise will become just as swept up in the wonderful world of the Twelve Kingdoms, and the wonderful writing of Fuyumi Ono, as they were with the first novel. Sea of Wind may tell a narrower story than the equivalent anime content, and without the fantastic character designs, but it tells the story even better.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : B-
+ Engrossing writing, superb setting and storytelling.
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