Reviewby Theron Martin,
Seikai: Crest of the Stars 1
Princess of the Empire
Jinto Lin's father was the President of the planet Martine, but that changed when the Humankind Empire Abh came to conquer the planet. In an effort to arrange the best possible deal for his people, Jinto's father made the highly unpopular move to surrender the planet to the Abh and turn over its defense weaponry codes in exchange for being made its sovereign, which also made him Abh nobility. As his son and now a member of Abh nobility, Jinto was obligated to study about the Abh and eventually join the Abh Space Forces, and seven years later, at age 17, he's shipping off to his formal training aboard the patrol warship Gosroth. Along the way he strikes up a close association with a young Abh pilot trainee named Lafiel, whom he does not realize at first is actually the granddaughter of the reigning Abh Emperor, and thus a princess who could, potentially, one day be chosen as Emperor herself. That is all in the future, however, for more immediate concerns are Jinto's first-hand education about the Abh, Lafiel's efforts to safely escort him to a fleet command base at Safugnoff when the Gosroth is threatened by attackers, and the gradually growing relationship between the two.
Ever since the Crest of the Stars anime first started becoming available in the U.S. in 2001, fans who became wrapped up in the rich universe crafted by creator Hiroyuki Morioka have clamored for the novel series on which it and its successors (the three Banner of the Stars series) were based to also be imported and translated. Now, thanks to the efforts of Tokyopop, that dream has finally become reality. Thankfully, the first novel proves worth the wait.
For fans of the anime, the novel's 197 pages of storytelling cover the same territory as the first six episodes of Crest and most of episode 7. During that period the anime is as faithful an adaptation of the novel as one could possibly expect, as it follows the novel virtually scene-for-scene and, with much of the dialogue, word-for-word. The only two significant exceptions are a scene in anime episode 2 where Jinto and Lafiel chase down a thief in the spaceport (not in the novel at all) and some of the early conversations between Jinto and Lafiel, which are relocated from the shuttle ride to Gosroth to the conversation they have at his room on Gosroth. If this level of strict adherence to source material keeps up across future novels then it would partly explain the bad tendency of the second and third anime series to get bogged down in barely-related tangents involving side characters, as that's something that can be gotten away with much easier in a novel than in animation or live-action.
For those new to the franchise, the story in this installment actually doesn't cover much plot. Jinto gains his status, gets picked up by Lafiel, has to leave the Gosroth when it's threatened with attack, and the two of them run into trouble with the local Abh Baron when they stop at Lyumusko Febdak for refueling and resupply on the way to inform the fleet command at Safugnoff about the impending battle – and that's it. The true joy and appeal of Crest/Banner of the Stars has always been its meticulous universe-building, most especially the creation and development of the fascinating Abh race and culture, and that is where the novel shines as well. It's the reason such a thin plot can cover a full 197 pages, as it not only amply fills in the space but never feels dull, even when it sidetracks for pages in the middle of a scene to explain a particular point. Though the Abh, who call themselves “Children of the Stars,” are really just humans who have been heavily genetically modified, centuries of extreme gene manipulation has effectively produced an entirely different race, and the wealth of detail on their culture, distinct physicality, and unique way of looking at things (for instance, genetic Abh have no concept of marriage and never acknowledge or are raised by more than one parent, the other being only a gene donor) make them the best-developed and most interesting “alien” race to come out in sci-fi media since Star Trek introduced us to Klingons and Vulcans.
While the level of the writing is, at best, on a middle-school level, this is one of the most linguistically complex novels this side of Tolkien. The very first thing any reader, whether newcomer or long-time fan, should do upon opening this novel is locate the Glossary in the back and bookmark it, as you'll be referring to it a lot. Morioka developed Baronh, an entirely new language with its own well-defined linguistic rules and standards, as the Abh language and uses it extensively throughout, with the names of even common items such as belts being given in Baronh terms. So many titles, terminology, and technical terms are thrown around that the novel cannot be read casually, as having to work to keep track of what the oft-used term Lef (landed family, aka “gentry”) means, who the Fasanzoerl (Imperial family) are, or what a wikreurl (warship) is forces the reader to concentrate on what they're reading. These aren't randomly-made words, either, as a reader can gradually come to see a structure to it all. Some readers may find the constant flipping back to the Glossary to be tedious, but more will doubtless find getting so immersed into the Abh mindset to be fun. Although most of the anime series' narrations are spoken in Baronh, the full-language immersion is an effect in the novel which does not carry through as well to the anime.
This series of novels posed a special challenge for Tokyopop, as the original novel was written concurrently in Japanese and Baronh. Differences in production between Japan and the U.S. made retaining the dual-languages structure impossible, so as a compromise Tokyopop kept Baronh references whenever they came up in dialogue and otherwise included parenthetical Baronh equivalents to various terms and titles in descriptive text. This is probably the most reasonable and functional result possible, and it works well towards retaining the exotic flavor of the Abh universe. The extensive Glossary and breakdown of officer and official ranks in the Appendices are absolutely essential, and they are supplemented by additional textual explanations, notes from the editor and fan consultants about pronunciations, a brief main cast breakdown, and a Letter From The Editor explaining the whole thing about the use of Baronh. Also look for a relatively short Postscript by the author at the end. The one thing lacking is any illustration of the characters or Abh in general, as the black cover only features the Gaftonosh, a mythical eight-headed dragon used as the Imperial crest of the Humankind Empire Abh.
One other issue worth mentioning: unless Morioka has a funky writing style, Tokyopop may have overused American slang and euphemisms a bit in the translation. Some of the language used is almost jarringly casual; “Lyumusko Febdak sucked” is an actual line, for instance.
Whether you're a long-time fan or a complete newbie to the Crest/Banner of the Stars franchise, Princess of the Empire makes for an excellent read. Fans of well-detailed worlds will doubtless fall in love with this meticulously-constructed universe and surely be inspired to check out the anime created from it. The semi-cliffhanger ending and suggestions that the events started here have much greater scope should heighten anticipation for the next novel.
Overall : B+
+ Well-constructed new race, language, and universe.
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