Mecha Samurai Empire isn’t just a cool collection of words, it’s also Peter Tieryas’ newest book! We were graciously sent a copy for review and having not read any of Tieryas’ previous works, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.
Mecha Samurai Empire is set within the same continuity of United States of Japan, taking place in an alternate history where the Axis powers are triumphant in WWII due to the development of Mecha tanks by Japan, instrumental in defeating the Allies and thus leading to their domination of the globe. The United States is divided in half between Germany and Japan, with Japan’s half being called the “USJ” or “United States of Japan”.
These walking mecha tanks are the heavy hitters of the Imperial army, piloted by highly skilled crews, spearheaded by the elite Pilots. Makoto Fujimoto, ‘Mac’ to his friends, is a misfit orphan who has always dreamed of becoming a Mecha Pilot, following in his deceased parent’s footsteps. However, Mac’s grades aren’t great and unless he gets his act together it will forever remain a pipedream.
The book follows Mac’s story, including a bunch of time-skips for the sake of expediency, as he journeys from high school and chases his dream of one day piloting a Mecha. The story itself is entertaining enough. Imagine Pacific Rim style Mechas fighting Nazis, throw in conspiracy theories and general disdain for the way the government does things and you’ve got the gist of things. My issue comes from the relationship between the Empire and the Nazis, which by all accounts is strained but never fully explained why.
If the situation is as tense as everyone says it is, why is there some kind of exchange-student program? There is constant talk of Imperial forces battling the Nazis despite their “peace”, and it doesn’t seem to really make sense. Perhaps I missed a key plot point or moment when this was all explained, it could have been included in one of the exposition dumps and I glazed over it, but somehow I just don’t think it was there at all.
From the moment I began reading I noticed that the sentence structure seemed really quite odd, everything is made up of short sentences and dictated almost as if part of Mac’s journal. Once I started envisioning the story as a journal-style perspective it didn’t seem to be as jarring or odd but I’m not entirely sure that was the author’s intent. This approach makes reconciling the time-skips a little easier, however, they often occur with a simple break of paragraph, rather than a chapter change. I can appreciate wanting to set the stage and then cut out what would essentially be filler material until the next cool plot point happens but they didn’t quite sit right with me.
Obviously, in a book titled Mecha Samurai Warrior, the Mechas are really quite important and so Tieryas does a great job of describing the Mechas themselves, it just feels like the rest of the story elements and settings get a little neglected. The book does contain a bunch of subtle hat tips and references, Kojima is one of the professors at BEMA for example, but these often feel a little forced. The Mechas are described as being similar in control to that of many portical games (the USJ universal computing device) and games development works closely with the military if not is outright owned by them. Again it’s not entirely clear, or at least it wasn’t to me…
It sounds like I’m slating the book, and in a way I kind of am, but it was an enjoyable read and as an alternate reality it’s exceedingly well done. We don’t get to know too much about the characters beyond Mac, which is a little disappointing, makes it fell like everyone else is just kind of there. The Mecha battles themselves also seem to be over a little too quickly but the fights that do occur are quite intricately detailed and enjoyable. Overall Mecha Samurai Warrior is a decent read, it’s enjoyable and entertaining but falls a little flat in some areas.