8.5 My Conquest is the Sea of Stars
It has been more than 10 years since I first read the novel from Mr. Tanaka Yoshiki (田中芳树). I was so inspired that I pledged to learn Japanese so I can read the original book. Although I never acquired the proficiency to read the original Japanese book, it is still a book I treasure dearly. It is a book that profoundly changed how I think. I recently watched the animation version. Like many old movies, the animation categorically reminded me how filming technologies have improved over the years; however, the epic is not tarnished by elapse of time.
Using a pseudo-historical narrative, Mr. Tanaka tells how a withering monarchy and a corrupted republic fought for the dominance in the galaxy. Two heroes in their own distinctive ways shaped the history: Yang Wen Li and Reinhart von Lohengramm. Besides being geniuses of the era, they share little in common. Born on opposing sides of the battlefield, Yang belonged to the republic which was crippled with parasitic politicians. He joined the military school so he can afford to study history but unwittingly became a successful general. He constantly conflicted between the grave hatred and the unshakable belief to protect the crumbling system.
On the other hand, Reinhart was born in a fallen aristocracy family. His father sold Reinhart’s sister in exchange for favour from the king. Losing her sister had been the most significant event that drove Reinhart to pursue power. Reinhart had grand ambition and thanks to his sister, he had the opportunities to prove his extraordinary abilities. At age 21, he became the admiral of Imperial Army, the youngest to assume this most prestigious post. Since he was not from the old aristocracy, he quickly mustered the loyalty from non-aristocrat born generals like Oberstein, Reuenthal and Mittermeyer who would later became the three Imperial Marshals of Reinhart’s new empire. Reinhart had a talent in strategic planning and preferred to create a favourable strategic environment in order to facilitate tactical manoeuvres. He fought in grand battles with the republics, squashed old revolting aristocrats and fought political tug of wars in the palace. Reinhart aimed at nothing short of dominating the entire universe.
Yang in contrary wanted little more than to become a historian. Ironically, because of his talent, he was frequently forced to face the Imperial army on the battlefield. His quick ascendance to stardom inevitably made the politicians anxious. He also attracted an unlikely army of generals: playboy Schönkorp and Poplin, defect Imperial general Merkatz and orphan Julian. This is definitely a livelier bunch than the Reinhart’s generals. Yang had to not only fight with outnumbered battleships but also with the vain and hypocritical politicians. Although the inefficient government made many wrong military decisions and even tried to kill Yang, Yang still held high ground to protect the ideology. For Yang, Democracy, however imperfect, was still worth protecting. He was eventually assassinated by fanatics of a terrorist religious cult: Terraism . Contrary to Reinhart’s ambition to conquer the galaxy, what Yang fretted the most was his pension.
The story criticised and questioned the merits of blind enthusiasm for democracy and prejudice against dictatorship. A dictatorship can be efficient and democracy can be disastrous. But the beauty of democracy is that people would acknowledge the responsibility and eventually learn from their own mistake. But is that true? Is the political system functioning efficiently? Heroes are what people looking for when they are in trouble. Heroes are also whom people blame when things go wrong.
Tanaka Yoshiki is the second biggest influential Japanese author when I was growing up, right next to Mr. Hayao Miyazaki. The rich and vivid characters in the story were often conflicted and complex. Their stories are thought provoking, inspiring and imaginative. It is a book that opened my eye to the complex, interesting domain of human nature, politics and value. A long but great book.