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Tanaka Yoshiki

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1952-    ) Japanese author of Space Opera, and Heroic Fantasy, initially as by Yutaka Rinoie, subsequently adopting a writing name that was pronounced the same as his birth name, albeit utilizing different characters. While studying for his bachelor's degree in Japanese literature at Gakushūin University, Tokyo, his first published story "Kansenchin no Satsujin" ["Murder at the Hanquan Pavilion"] (1972 Gakushūin Daigaku Hojinkai Zasshi) was a mystery set in China's Tang dynasty, indicating an early interest in period settings and the beginnings of a parallel career in straightforward historicals and historical fantasies. He went on to earn a doctorate, also in literature, with a 1985 thesis on the Japanese author Rohan Kōda (1867-1947).

"Midori no Sōgen ni ..." ["In a Green Meadow ..."] (1978; in anth 1998) as by Yutaka Rinoie, his first sf work of note, focuses on the fourth scientific expedition to an Earthlike colony world orbiting Capella, and the mysteries surrounding the loss of contact with the three previous missions. It won a prize from Gen'eijo, a relatively short-lived literary magazine that similarly anointed a young Kaoru Kurimoto. Like Kurimoto, Tanaka's subsequent career has been bogglingly prolific, with multiple strands of mysteries, historicals, fantasies and sf, as well as several "managed" works in which he takes an overseer's credit on Shared-World anthologies or translations of Chinese classical texts.

Tanaka's abortive "Ginga no Chess Game" ["Galactic Chess Game"] was left without a publisher after the bankruptcy of Gen'eijo, but was soon picked up as an original novel by Tokuma Shoten, and reworked into Reimeiki ["Dawn"] (1982), the first volume of his series Ginga Eiyū Densetsu ["Legend of the Galactic Heroes"; vt "Heldensagen von Kosmosinsel" in some materials]. A sweeping saga of space War in the thirty-sixth century between a Prussian-influenced Galactic Empire and a melting-pot alliance of free planets, it soon gained accolades for its intricate Politics, and its recurring engagement with the concept that good men may fight on both sides of a conflict. Its main protagonists, a brash, hotheaded nobleman and his sworn enemy, a calm, rational historian, are admirals with contrasting styles and attitudes, each ably in command of vast fleets of lovingly detailed Spaceships, sleek and modernist, but requiring tactical deployment not unlike the battleships of the nineteenth century (see Hornblower in Space). There are many incidences of the repurposing of History in SF, as Tanaka draws inspirations from campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars and many other military events. After the ending of its main storyline in 1987, the series won a Seiun Award for Best Japanese Novel.

The novels swiftly spun off into other media, including not only a Manga version Ogon no Tsubasa ["Golden Wings"] (graph 1986-1984) by Katsumi Michihara that switched the sexes of some characters, but also an Anime series largely sold on subscription straight-to-video. Some episodes were screened in cinemas for publicity purposes, but otherwise the anime series (1988-1999 including several sub-serials) largely passed the mainstream by, instead becoming a fond and oft-referenced topic in Japanese Fandom. The worldbuilding in the anime series was often disappointingly rooted in the real world, with a few half-hearted hover-cars and similar easy fixes, but retained much of the cast-of-thousands approach of Tanaka's battles, as baroque noblemen on the bridges of ponderous battleships bark commands to their engineers, and tactical manoeuvres are executed to a soundtrack soaked in classical music – as part of the cost-cutting limitations of a straight-to-video animated series, the producers elected to score many sequences with works by Mahler, Wagner, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Mussorgsky, and many others.

Tanaka applied similar historical repurposing to the Fantasy genre with Arslan Senki ["The Heroic Legend of Arslan"], a series that began with Ōto Enjō ["The Royal Capital Ablaze"] (1986). On the surface, the story seems little removed from many Anglophone high-fantasy epics of the period, with the titular disinherited prince slowly assembling a stereotypical adventuring party (see Role Playing Game), intent on winning his fortune and, ultimately, regaining his kingdom from his enemies. The names are a hodge-podge of exotic, occidental creations; whereas the map is plainly based on real-world Persia, Arslan's kingdom is pointedly named "Parusu" in Japanese, while the invaders hail from "Lusitania", a thinly disguised Rome. However, far from exhibiting shoddy worldbuilding, Tanaka's prose is revealed as a pointed and laboured evocation of his original inspiration, the Iranian prose romance Amir Arsalan-e Namdar (ca. 1880, trans Rudolf Gelpke as Liebe und Abenteuer des Amir Arsalan 1965) by Mirza Mohammad Ali Naqib-al-mamalek, which is similarly off-hand and inexact in its nomenclature, and itself treats the Middle East as an Orientalist Ruritania, populated by such garbled players as Petros Shah of Farang ("King Peter of the Europeans"). Much as J R R Tolkien faithfully imitated the dead-ends and contradictions of a Mythology transcribed from a non-existent language, Tanaka's Arslan stories incarnate the mode of a picaresque bardic tradition, in which proper nouns are plucked from a seemingly random list of nonsensical Others (see Postmodernism and SF).

Arslan Senki is an intriguing palimpsest of modern Japanese media, with its reception strongly steered by the selection of Yoshitaka Amano as a cover artist, turning many of its published volumes into a gallery of Art Nouveau-influenced heroes and tableaux. Amano's imagery was itself co-opted in the disappointing Anime movie Arslan Senki (1991; trans as Heroic Legend of Arslan; vt Heroic Legend of Arislan UK), and several sequels that slumped into straight-to-video obscurity, as well as a 13-volume Manga adaptation by Chisato Nakamura, Arslan Senki (graph November 1991-September 1996 Asuka Fantasy DX). A second manga adaptation, Arslan Senki (graph August 2013-current Shōnen Magazine) was commissioned from Hiromu Arakawa in an impressive moment of publishing synergy, ensuring that one of the best-known sf authors would now be shepherded back into the sight of a new generation of readers through illustrations by one of the most popular comics artists, with Arakawa's art-style unsurprisingly redolent of her own Hagane no Renkinjutsu-shi (graph August 2001-June 2010 Monthly Shōnen Gangan; trans as Fullmetal Alchemist 2005-2011). It is this new manga version that has formed the basis of a second anime adaptation, this time for Television, Arslan Senki (2015).

Tanaka's Sōryūden series [literally "Endragonning"; English vt on Japanese covers "Super Dragon Brothers"; vt in Anglophone anime trans as "Legend of the Four Kings"; vt "Legend of the Dragon Kings"] reconceives the four mythical dragon-rulers of the cardinal directions in Chinese mythology, as Shapeshifters who have adopted human form and contend with a rival group of Secret Masters for control of the world. The first four novels were adapted into another anime series, the origin in translation of the variant English-language titles listed above. As with other adaptations of Tanaka's work, the shift into the animated medium came seemingly accompanied by a pulpy dismissal of Tanaka's deeper themes, in favor of broad adventure and lacklustre imagery. However, as was common in anime in the late twentieth century, the rationale for even putting such shows into production was merely to whip up interest in the original novels; the anime versions are hence less serious adaptations than they are attempts to evoke the experience of reading the novels.

Dwarfed by the size and scope of his larger serials, Tanaka's standalone sf works include Nanatoshi Monogatari ["Story of Seven Cities"] (1990), later opened up as a Shared World, a tale of a Ruined Earth in the aftermath of a chain of Disasters including a shift in the Earth's axis. With peace restored but a lunar Keep of vital Technology beyond the reach of Earthbound humanity for as long as a defensive skynet remains operational, the seven titular city-states enter a complex series of alliances and conflicts over mastery of what little remains of Old Earth, soon devolving into medieval intrigues. Similarly inventive, and similarly sharecropped for other authors, was his Red Hot Dragoon trilogy, beginning with Wakusei Zion no Kaze ["The Winds of Planet Zion"] (1988), in which Overpopulation is supposedly solved through the dismantling of the planet Jupiter and its reassembly into fifteen Earth-like planets (see Counter-Earth). However, this merely elevates Earthbound politics and resource conflicts to an interplanetary level, both in Tanaka's original trilogy, and in a number of Sequels by Other Hands, most notably Issui Ogawa's Rainbow Planet (2002).

Other oddities in Tanaka's output include King Kong (2005), a tardy Tie to the original 1933 film, published to coincide with the Japanese release of the Peter Jackson remake, and Balto-kai no Fukushū ["Vengeance on the Baltic Sea"] (2001), a historical adventure set in the days of the Hanseatic League. His detective serial, Yakushiji Ryōko no Kaiki Jikenbo ["The Strange Case Files of Ryōko Yakushiji"] is not listed in the Checklist below: chronicling all his non-sf work, including several essay collections on Chinese history and politics, would require an entry fully twice this size.

Although Tanaka is a well-known figure in Japanese sf, he arguably has a greater impact and standing in popular historical fiction, where his many works serve as gateways for teenage readers into entire genres and periods. Several of Tanaka's minor works seem conceived as a pastiche not only of Victorian and Edwardian fiction (see Sherlock Holmes; Steampunk), but also of the Japanese adoption of such Western modes in the work of authors such as Shunrō Oshikawa and Jūza Unno. Apfelland Monogatari ["Apfelland Story"] (December 1989-April 1990 SF Adventure) derives its name from that of the middle-European Ruritania where much of the action takes place, in an alternate 1905 in which spies and secret agents duel over access to a Weapon that might change the course of the approaching World War One. Asides in Tanaka's afterword allude directly to Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and to The Mad King (fixup 1926) by Edgar Rice Burroughs, along with his personal interest in a "Ruritanian" mode of story-telling, implying that the story's teenage protagonists and literary allusions are intended to lure Young Adult readers into trying the classics. Similarly, Tanaka's Victorian Horror Adventures series, so titled in English even in its Japanese form, beginning with Gesshoku-jima no Mamono ["The Devils of the Eclipsed Island"] (2007), interweaves such real-life figures as Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen with the fictional adventures of Crimean war veteran Edmund Needham, a "retired" soldier permanently dragged out of his somnolent day-job in a London lending library to investigate new and supernatural mysteries.

Tanaka's nonfiction output often engages with such connections, as found in his book-length discussion of Japanese Anglophilia, Igirisu-byō no Susume ["The Progress of the English Disease"] (2001), and Shomotsu no Mori de Tsumazuide ["Stumbling in a Forest of Books"] (2002), a lively account of his life as a reader, leavened with interviews and profiles of many of the still-living authors he admires. [JonC]

Yoshiki Tanaka

born Amakusa-shi, Japan: 22 October 1952

works (selected)


Ginga Eiyū Densetsu

Arslan Senki

  • Ōto Enjō ["The Royal Capital Ablaze"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1986) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Ōji Futari ["The Two Princes"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1987) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Rakujitsu Hika ["The Sunset Elegy"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1987) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Kanketsu Kōro ["The Highway of Sweat and Blood"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1988) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Seima Koei ["Silhouette of a Conquering Steed"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1989) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Fūjin Ranbu ["Dust in the Wild Dance"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1989) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Ōto Dakkan ["The Royal Capital Regained"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1990) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Kamen Heidan ["The Masked Battalion"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1991) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Seiki Ruten ["The Banners Fluttering"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1992) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Yō'un Gunko ["Dark Clouds Gather"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1999) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Magun Shūrai ["The Evil Army Advances"] (Tokyo: Kappa Novels, 2005) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Ankoku Shinden ["The Temple of Darkness"] (Tokyo: Kappa Novels, 2006) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Ja'Ō Sairin ["The Return of the Snake King"] (Tokyo: Kappa Novels, 2008) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Tenmei Chidō ["Heaven Resounds, Earth Quakes"] (Tokyo: Kappa Novels, 2014) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Senki Futō ["Banners Unrequited"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 2016) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]
  • Tengai Mugen ["Infinite Life"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 2018) [Arslan Senki: binding unknown/]


  • Shippū-hen ["Gale"] (Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 1988) [Tytania: binding unknown/]
  • Bōfū-hen ["Storm"] (Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 1989) [Tytania: binding unknown/]
  • Senpū-hen ["Hurricane"] (Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 1991) [Tytania: binding unknown/]

Red Hot Dragoon

  • Wakusei Zion no Kaze ["The Winds of Planet Zion"] (Tokyo: Fujimi Shobō, 1988) [Red Hot Dragoon: binding unknown/]
  • Wakusei Zion no Arashi ["The Storms of Planet Zion"] (Tokyo: Fujimi Shobō, 1990) [Red Hot Dragoon: binding unknown/]
  • Taiyō-kei no Kaze ["The Winds of the Solar System"] (Tokyo: Fujimi Shobō, 1993) [Red Hot Dragoon: binding unknown/]


  • Chō Nōryoku Shi Kyōdai ["Four Super-Powered Dragon Brothers"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1993) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]
  • Matenryō no Shi Kyōdai ["Four Brothers at the Magic Skyscraper"; vt "Dragon Brothers in Skyscraper" on cover] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1993) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]
  • Gyakushū no Shi Kyōdai ["Four Brothers Strike Back"; vt "Dragon Brothers Counterattack" on cover] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1994) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]
  • Shi Kyōdai Dasshutsukō ["Four Brothers Escape; vt "Dragon Brothers Escaping" on cover"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1994) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]
  • Shinkirō Toshi ["Mirage City"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1995) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]
  • Shichi no Yume ["Bloody Dream"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1995) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]
  • Ōdo no Dragon ["Dragon of the Yellow Earth"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1996) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]
  • Senkyō no Dragon ["Dragon of Fairyland"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1996) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]
  • Yōseiki no Dragon ["Dragon of the Phantom Century"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1998) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]
  • Dai Ei Teikoku Saigo no Hi ["Last Day of the British Empire"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1998) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]
  • Ginzuki Ō Denki ["Romance of the King of the Silver Moon"; vt "Silver Moon" on cover] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2000) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]
  • Ryū-Ō Fū'unroku ["Chronicle of the Unrest of the Dragon King"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2003) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]
  • Funka Retto ["Volcanic Archipelago"; vt "Volcanic Islands" on cover] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2007) [Sōryūden: binding unknown/]

Victorian Horror Adventures

  • Gesshoku-jima no Mamono ["The Devils of the Eclipsed Island"] (Tokyo: Rironsha, 2007) [Victorian Horror Adventures: binding unknown/]
  • Dokuro-jo no Hanayome ["The Bride of the Castle Skull"] (Tokyo: Sōgensha, 2011) [Victorian Horror Adventures: binding unknown/]

individual titles


previous versions of this entry

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