Banner of the Stars: The Ties That Bind

By Hiroyuki Morioka and Toshihiro Ono. Released in Japan by Hayakawa Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Giuseppe di Martino.

These are novels rather than light novels, so you don’t get cute interstitial artwork. This may be why we get this cover, with Lafier trying to look cool and captainlike while a cat is climbing on top of her. The cat is Jint’s (it’s Jint now. Don’t ask. Or rather, ask Hayakawa Publishing.), and spends much of the book wandering around places where it shouldn’t be and basically being a cat. That said, after the massive firefight that dominates the second half of the book, it’s probably for the best that the cat ends up being given a permanent home on planet. The cat also provides a different source of humor from the usual in this book, which is banter. Everyone in Banter… erm, Banner of the Stars is in a two-person team of back and forth dialogue as if they’re Nick and Nora Charles – indeed, Jint and Lafier are not nearly as caustic about it as many of the others, perhaps showing the feelings they have for each other. It’s almost Moonlighting in space.

This book takes place three years after the events of Crest of the Stars, with Jint now reunited with Lafier as her Clerk and right-hand man on her brand new ship. She’s just one of many ships that are setting out to fight the enemy, though, and we get a large amount of time devoted to space combat, things blowing up, and last-minute escapes. We meet Lafier’s crew, with Number Two Sobash, stoic Ecryua (stoic may be the wrong term given her love on Jint’s cat) and lovable drunk Samson. There’s also her Assault Unit Commander, who happens to be the sister of the guy that Lafier killed in Crest of the Stars. Sporr is still hanging around and being fabulous. And we also see Neleth and Nefeh, two twin brothers (unusual among the Abh) with a propensity towards being exceptionally weird. Everyone talks back and forth at each other like it’s His Girl Friday. Oh yes, and there’s the planet they’re fighting to conquer, which irritatingly hasn’t surrendered yet.

As I said, Jint and Lafier are also part of this, and we do get some choice banter (the thing about Lafier thinking her mother was a cat is brought up by Jint multiple times, to her displeasure). At the same time, there is a certain fatalistic quality to Jint that the reader, and Lafier, may find disturbing. Atosryua invites Lafier and Jint to a dinner to commemorate the life of her brother… the one Lafier killed… but it’s all very polite and no hard feelings. Afterwards, Jint remarks how he doesn’t have anyone who would miss him after he died anyway, and the look that Lafier gives him burns through the page and onto your fingers. She makes it more explicit later that she would miss him, dammit, but it’s fairly clear that if there is any romance going on between the two, she will need to break through a bit of his self-debasement first.

The author notes that each book in this series will be self-contained, which is probably a good thing given the first came out in 1996 and the 6th in 2018. As with Crest of the Stars, it will bury you in vocabulary, and some of the eccentricities of the characters feel like the author is being cute rather than letting it develop naturally. Still, this is a good solid start to the “second season” of Jint and Lafier.

Crest of the Stars: The Return to Strange Skies

By Hiroyuki Morioka and Toshihiro Ono. Released in Japan by Hayakawa Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Giuseppe di Martino.

The final book of the trilogy, though not the final book in the series overall. This wraps up getting Jinto and Lafier off the planet they’ve been stranded on and back to the Abh Empire, where he can finally go to quartermaster school an she can be a pilot. In between, we get cops chasing them, soldiers chasing the, the resistance desperately trying to get them to behave like hostages, a wild chase through an amusement park with animatronic animals, space battles galore, getting shot into space in a coffin, and an epilogue that neatly wraps everything up. If there hadn’t been more of the series, you’d still be pretty satisfied. That said, I am very happy that Banner of the Stars is to follow, as I think this was the best book of the three, despite a few battle scenes that were overfilled with vocabulary, this series’ Achilles heel.

The best reason to read this third volume is the introduction of Sporr, who is essentially that princess-curled high school bully girl from every anime ever put onto a spaceship. She even does the Ojousama Laugh (TM). The back and forth between her and her beleaguered assistant is pure gold, and you also greatly enjoy it when she’s the one who rescues Lafier and it turns out they hate each other, because of course they do. Unlike most princess-curled anime girls, though, Sporr is also tactically clever, and you can tell her rank is not just for show. Speaking of ranks, I also enjoyed the scene near the end where Lafier has to go before a commission to see if she can be a full-fledged pilot. They enjoy making her twist in the wind a bit, magnifying every error she’s committed along the way before mercifully admitting that she did fine and passes. The amusement park was also a hoot, with the behavior of the robot animals possibly being the comedy high point.

As for Jinto and Lafier, they are still not quite a couple by the end of the book, but Jinto does admit he wants to spend the rest of his life by her side, and even after he’s made crew on her new spaceship, she still asks him to call her Lafier. You get the sense that for these two reserved kids, this may be as explicit as you get. They do continue to be awful at being on the lam, and it’s a relief that the comedy resistance fighters are still capable enough to take care of them. he local police force also helps. One of my favorite bits of characterization in the book was seeing Kyte, the military liaison who’s been a prick ever since he arrived on the scene, gradually loosening up, revealing backstory, becoming sympathetic… and then losing it and becoming a prick again when he sees Lafier in person. Sometimes your tragic backstory isn’t enough to redeem you. You have to actually put in the effort. He did not.

The epilogue of the book sees us jump forward three years, and I suspect Banner of the Stars will feature even more space battles than we’ve gotten already. Still, this final volume was excellent. If you can get past the tortured vocabulary, Crest of the Stars is a great space opera.

Crest of the Stars: A War Most Modest

By Hiroyuki Morioka and Toshihiro Ono. Released in Japan by Hayakawa Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Giuseppe di Martino.

When we left Jinto and Lafier, he was locked up in an evil Baron’s swank apartment along with the evil Baron’s sympathetic father. What follows for the next third or so of the book is a well-executed action movie, as we get escapes, chases, battles to the death, a clever use of propellant, and the two of them reunited and on their way once more. Unfortunately, it would appear that “drop Jinto off and continue on her merry way” is just not in the cards for Lafier, as the delay means that there’s now a huge war that they have to somehow get through. They’re able to evade pursuit in space, but that won’t last long, so they land on a planet that, it turns out, has just been captured by the enemy. Now they have to hide out, disguise the fact that Lafier is Abh, and try to get back off the planet and to safety. But they’re both smart kids. What could possibly go wrong?

It has to be said, the best reason to buy this volume is Jinto and Lafier’s pathetic attempt at being on the run. They are the worst wanted criminals ever, made even more silly when they hold up some joyriders and steal their car, then… hole up in the first inn they find for days at a time, thinking everyone will simply ignore them. This is very much played for laughs, though it’s more of a wry smile sort of laugh (that said, I was amused at Lafier trying subtly to convey to Jinto that she needed privacy to go to the bathroom, though I could have done without the author patting himself on the back in the afterword). By the time the resistance shows up to “kidnap” them, you’re ready to thank God that someone can save these idiot kids from themselves. Perhaps the crusty old cop who’s being forced to work with the planet’s new conquerors might help as well.

We get an origin story of the Abh here from Lafier, who’s rather matter-of-fact about it but it’s still pretty dark. There are also a few scenes away from our star couple, as we see the Empress of the Abh dealing with the human ambassadors “negotiating” with her, which goes about as well as you’d expect. You can see that the Abh are upset about Lafier’s supposed death, or at least as upset as Abh are allowed to get. And the war also seems to be coming towards them, though I suspect they won’t be so easily rescued. A lot of Japanese science-fiction has that old-fashioned space opera feel to it, and this is no exception. The Abh tend to be a fill-in for Japan at times, so it’s no surprise that they’re being shown as the good guys, but the author tries to make it clear how that appears to everyone else. It’s just the narrative sides with them.

Again, this is a good work of science fiction, and doesn’t feel like a light novel at all. It’s worth it as a real change of pace for those who are tired of isekai. Also, nice hat.