Ken (Kenichi) “Buckaroo” Banno
I met Ken Banno in Texas, back when all us volunteers were going through our basic Marine training. He was just a small, Japanese guy when I first saw him. Yes, please don’t hate on me too much, I did not recognize him. In my defense, I never did follow surfer culture much. If he’d been a worlds famous singer I probably would have recognized him. But a surfer? It took me a while. Yes, I did know his public persona, and I fully recognized him on screen or holo, but no one expects a worlds famous Japanese celebrity surfer to show up in the middle of “Oh-My-God-Hot-and-Dry” Texas to go through Marine training. So yeah, it took me a while to recognize Buckaroo Banno walking around in our midst in the flesh. Go ahead. Sue me. I’m not perfect.
I never thought that Ken Banno would end up flying off my wing. He was a worlds famous surfer from New Japan. I was a nobody from Northern Minnesota. But life is strange and he was an amazing person to have on my wing. Kenichi Banno was his full name, and he was a rarity in Los Angeles before Yosemite fell on it. He was a full-blooded Japanese raised up in the California-Surfer-New-Japanese fusion culture that dominated the city and its surroundings. He could Hang Ten on the waves in the morning and attend dinner with the Empress at night. All that changed after Yosemite turned his home into a water-filled crater, of course. It’s why he volunteered to serve. Though he was never as militant about his service as many of us were. And that was a good thing for all of us.
I learned many strange and amazing things from Ken Banno over the years we fought together. The strangest was that he did not want to fight at all. He considered fighting to defend his home to be a loss of honor that he would have to redeem when his part of The War came to an end. He grew up in a culture that had foresworn war altogether, that taught that fighting was beyond the last choice of a rational and honorable man. But when the Empress called the survivors of her murdered city to set aside their honor and fight for the future, he was one who answered her call. He was one of their most famous citizens, and he became an example to all of them. Tens of thousands of New Japanese followed his example and volunteered to fight. It took him decades to overcome the shame he felt at having brought dishonor on so many of his people.
The Japanese Defense Force was not a fighting force. Yes, they could fight, and they defended Los Angeles from a great many threats before Yosemite, but true honor was found in deescalating a situation so that no fighting would be required to conclude it. Their units were painted with cute anime characters, or in parade colors that could not possibly be considered aggressive. They were cute and friendly, always seeking understanding and peace. For that was the height of honor in New Japan. Ken Banno trained with the JDF long before Yosemite, as many Japanese celebrities did to bolster JDF membership. His training was one of the reasons the Empress asked him, personally, to volunteer to fight in front of the public eye of all her people. He always sought to follow the JDF path, so when Charles started wearing business suits in the Hyades Cluster, Ken was very quick to echo him.
The Japanese Defense Force could not go to War. It was not in their cute and friendly nature, so Ken Banno and those who followed him volunteered to join the American military. Most followed their Japanese traditions of painting their weapons in cute colors. Ken often had some pretty anime pop idol, a smiling Pokemon, or some other utterly ridiculously cute and brightly colored thing painted on his fighter. And he usually based his fighter or weapons in bright pink or yellow, just to drive home the point that he was a warrior against his better nature. There was one thing in all that time that he demanded of the American military. Something it never would have considered if he had not spoken up. The American military kept the records of their Japanese volunteers sealed against all requests. Ken wanted his people to be able to return home without their deeds being known to all.
We really don’t know how many New Japanese fought in The War. The Los Angeles census was badly mangled when Yosemite turned the entire city into a crater. We know millions died, but millions more survived. Best estimates suggest that as many as several hundred thousand survivors took the opportunity to just disappear so they could volunteer to fight under false identities without bringing shame on their families. Ken Banno was not one of them. He accepted the dishonor of war in public, for all to see. And after War’s End, he spent decades traveling throughout known space, hunting down the scattered survivors. He tracked down those who lived in self-imposed exile, bringing them letters from home, and helping them come to terms with what they had done. Helping them live with it, and bringing them home again.
Ken Banno has never told us how many of his people he brought home after War’s End. It would be a loss of honor to advertise them. But we know hundreds of thousands slowly returned to Los Angeles after the Empress rebuilt it. Some admitted to having fought, and publicly surrendered a ceremonial weapon on the steps of her palace. Most returned with some story about sheltering in Texas, Dixie, or New England, and their friends, families, and neighbors pretended to believe them. It would be a loss of face and honor on both sides to question their stories. Ken Banno never surrendered a weapon. He never returned to his old life. He remains a Cowboy to this day, serving the Empress as her personal representative to our organization.
Kenichi Banno still paints his fighter in bright pink or yellow to this day, and he loves emblazoning various cute and cuddly characters where all can see them. Though the smart paint shifts to more suitable patterns if he is forced into a fight. The various tools he uses are similarly designed to look like anything but a weapon. His suits are... loud and proud. He’s gone through every pastel shade over the years. He’s done bell-bottoms and Miami Vice jackets. You name it. If it’s loud, and gets attention, he’s tried it. He wants everybody to see him coming so no one thinks he’s trying to sneak up on them. He walks up and tries to get people to agree to be peaceful. He doesn’t want to fight them. Anyone with a brain wouldn’t want to fight him. But in the end, there are always people who choose poorly, and Ken will deal with them if they give him no other choice.
Ken Banno is a perfect example of the stereotypical Cowboy who patrols the spacelanes as he travels from system to system. His active mission is to find Japanese ex-patriots, and his starship typically carries a dozen or more people that he’s found in his travels. His hope is to find a way to get them home, and if that fails, to at least help them build a better life, and that mission takes him throughout colonized space and beyond. He rarely stays in one place for more than a few days, and is constantly looking for new places to search through. And while he is moving through one colony after another, he is always on the lookout for people or places that need some peace kept. He doesn’t enforce laws. He keeps the peace. There is a difference, and he works very hard to stay on the peacekeeping side of the fence.
Ken “Buckaroo” Banno was a legend in his own mind. And his millions of fans, friends, and an extended family structure that encompassed nearly everyone with a drop of Japanese blood living within sight of Los Angeles. He was the golden child of Free Japan, the founder, the owner, and the chief advertising arm of Samurai Surfing. He was a successful businessman, a media personality, and he would have been elected in a landslide if he had ever run for political office. Some people would say he threw all of that away when he volunteered to serve in the military after the Shang attacked. But instead he became the one thing he had never wished to be. He became a hero to the people of Free Japan, a reminder of the proud and terrible forgotten history of military excellence carried in the lifeblood of Japan.
Ken Banno was one of the first twelve Cowboys. He fought at Earth, Alpha Centauri, Epsilon Reticuli, Serenity, and the Hyades Cluster just to name a few. He fought in battles great and small across Terran space, and he proved to be one of my best men. I do not believe he ever failed me. He may have been defeated at times, but it was never because he failed. He lived all the way through The War, you know. He never was killed all of the way in twenty years of unrelenting War. Then he came home and ran into my family. Even against them he did not fail. They did defeat him, though. That complicated matters greatly.