Yoshiki Tanaka*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Yoshiki Tanaka*

Yoshiki Tanaka* 田中芳樹

Yoshiki Tanaka (1952–), who began his career as a novelist after winning a sci-fi magazine’s new writers’ award, possesses a wide scope of talents. His works range from space operas and fantasy adventures to present-day stories and historical novels about medieval Japan and China. He has matured into a writer whose works cannot be described merely as science fiction.

Ginga eiyu densetsu (Legend of the Galactic Heroes) is a multivolume space opera that takes place in our own galaxy and calls to mind the Star Wars movies. Though the first volume was released in 1982, the series still attracts many readers to this day. It is set in the end of the 8th century of the Space Era, when the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance are engaged in an epic struggle. The emergence of two figures marks a turning point: Reinhard von Müsel, an ambitious officer in the Galactic Empire, and Yang Wen-li, the Alliance’s genius in military strategy. They confront each other for the first time during a campaign in which the Alliance intercepts an Empire expedition.

The series has given rise to various anime, manga, and films. A total of 16 books, including ten volumes belonging to the series proper, five spin-offs, and a handbook, have been published to date.

The Soryuden (Legend of the Dragon Kings) series, which is set in a world parallel to that of Galactic Heroes, is made up of 13 volumes so far. Taking place in a neither too contemporary nor too neofuturistic Japan, the story begins with the kidnapping of the Ryudo family’s youngest son, 13-year-old Amaru. Amaru’s brother, 15-year-old Owaru, catches up with the car that has whisked Amaru away and rescues his brother, who is fast asleep. As it turns out, the four sons of the Ryudo family—23-year-old Hajime, 19-year-old Tsuzuku, Owaru, and Amaru—are descendants of the Dragon King, and all possess tremendous supernatural powers. The kidnappers serve Tadayoshi Funatsu, a figure wielding great power from the shadows. The plot goes as follows: Funatsu, having drunk the blood of a dragon in China, has lived 90 years and rules over Japan. He attempts to attain further longevity and power by injecting himself with the blood of the Ryudo family, but fails. The four brothers bring stormy weather to Mt. Fuji and knock old Funatsu into the mud. But the victorious brothers have a premonition that an even bigger evil is out to get them . . .

Thus far, 13 books in the fantasy saga Arusuran senki (The Heroic Legend of Arslan) have been released in paperback. This is a popular series whose fans wait longingly for the next installment. (There are plans for a total of 16 installments, each of two volumes.) In it, the hitherto unbeaten King Andragoras III reigns over Palse, which boasts a troupe of brave knights. But the kingdom falls in a single day when invaded by Lusitania, a religious state. Prince Arslan narrowly escapes from a battlefield that is littered with corpses, and together with Daryoon, “the warrior of all warriors,” and the brilliant tactician Narsus he sets off to regain control of their homeland.

Readers are sucked into the absurd settings and developments in the Yakushiji Ryoko no kaiki jikenbo (The Strange Case Files of Ryoko Yakushiji) series, which can be characterized as an eccentric, humorous parody of the cop story genre. This, too, is a popular series of which nine books have thus far been published. Its protagonist is Ryoko Yakushiji, a 27-year-old criminal investigator in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. Blessed with a flawless physique and unparalleled beauty, she is a talented woman who has passed the bar exam, the foreign service exam, and the civil service exam.

In the first installment, Matenro (Skyscrapers), Ryoko and her subordinate, Assistant Inspector Jun’ichiro Wada, are in a fancy building in Tokyo’s seaside district when a chandelier in the building’s convention hall suddenly falls from the ceiling, killing several people. Soon after, a giant bronze lion statue falls from its marble pedestal, also claiming victims. All lines of communication with the outside world have been cut. At the scene is Ryoko’s rival, Yukiko Muromachi, an inspector also famous for her beauty and intelligence. Sparks fly as they begin to investigate, but as it unexpectedly turns out, the culprit is a monster hiding in the marble used in the building’s floors and walls. Ryoko, who discovers that olive oil is an antidote to the monster, emerges victorious.

* Ginga eiyu densetsu (Tokuma Shoten, 1982–89, 14 volumes, 223–256 pages)

* Soryuden (Kodansha, 1987–, 13 volumes to date)

* Yakushiji Ryoko no kaiki jikenbo (Kodansha, Kobunsha, and Shodensha, 1996–, 9 volumes to date)

* Arusuran senki (revised edition, Kobunsha, 2003–, 8 volumes to date)