Reviewby Lissa Pattillo, Jun 9th 2010
Library Wars: Love & War
The Media Betterment Act (referred to as the MBA) is a federal government funded committee that dictates content it feels makes books unsuitable to read, sending its task force members out on sweeping raids of bookstores to confiscate the offending material (among other media it controls). Working against these ‘morale police’ is the Library Defence Force, a rival group that combines military skill with librarian know-how to defend the rights of people to read what they wish without censorship. Inspired by a rescuer of books when she was younger, the story's lead, Iku Kasahara, has made it her life mission to join the Library Task Force and be a hero to book-readers everywhere just as a mysterious man was for her on that life-inspiring day. Now she just needs to make it through the training regime and prove she's up to the task.
Despite being pretty easily grounded in reality, there's still some suspended belief required to get into the basic plot of Library Wars at first. The story takes place in a society where a government funded organization has stepped in to defend the mentality of its people by strictly regulating the content they consume. This includes raiding bookstores to collect any book deemed inappropriate, which ranges from sexual and violent in nature, to books containing certain phrases viewed as “problematic”. While the idea of censorship is something that almost any reader can relate to in some sense, the extent at which it is taken here is a little hard to imagine occurring as openly as it does. Still, one can't say it isn't interesting and the notion of taking the role of a librarian and turning it into a militant regime of smarts, strength and politics is certainly an interesting angle. Watch out for those late fines!
The bulk of the book follows Iku Kasahara through the initial duration of her training to be a member of the Library Forces. Her exceptional physical skill has risen her to top ranks of fellow female applicants and to average standing with the men, an impression feat in the ranks. Also there's never been a woman who has applied to be a part of the Library Task Force, a specialized group who balances the work of librarian with the defence skills of the military. Kasahara makes due in the story with the level of tomboyish spunk one would expect from her kind of archetype. Stubborn, a bit temperamental and dead-set on her goal based on an experience in her youth, Kasahara's dedication is evident even when her focus is not. While she can run a course or descend a wall with the best of them, her classroom attention span and detail-oriented work, such as shooting a gun, is sorely lacking. Not only does she have the issue of her own skills to overcome but also the stigma of being a woman. The story never goes so far as to feel sexist but the characters do make a point of noting how Kasahara's being female is some cause for her troubles keeping up.
During her training, Kasahara repeatedly butts heads with her higher-up commander, Atsushi Dojo. Skilled, strict and straight to the point, Dojo serves as both her worst critic and her guardian angel as he watches out for her. Dojo also seems prime to be revealed as the mysterious stranger from Kasahara's past, something that he reacts to at every mention. It almost seems too obvious but hopefully that means it won't be dragged out for much longer, already seeming like Kasahara has it figured out here. Physically, he's your average dark and handsome with a steely gaze manga-male, but in terms of height, he falls slightly below average. Kasahara repeatedly teases him for this (being a couple inches taller) but the story still never dwells on it, which is an interesting quirk. Being short isn't uncommon of course but in the fantasy world of manga, someone being short is usually a defining character trait. It's nice to see it's not treated as such here.
The tone of the series is predominantly light-hearted with attention to the humourous interaction between the characters. There's lots of fun banter that establishes the cast while also interweaving in the necessary information about the LTF. The chemistry between Kasahara and Dojo in particular is both sweet and worth a giggle or two while Tezuka, a hardworking prodigy and fellow new recruit, offers up a rival of sorts for the spirited heroine to overcome. The whole volume also moves along at a brisk but easy to follow pace, high on vigour and aided by an appealing art style that's grounded in shoujo-standards but still never too stereotypically-girly, allowing it to appeal to a wider range of readers. Coupled with Viz Media's adaptation work which reads smoothly with tidy font-work and you have a book that's easy to get swept away in.
The LTF training in this volume far outweighs the chance readers get to actually see it in action but there are still some glimpses. Marking out potential areas to be raided by the MBC is one of them and it gives Kasahara a chance to stretch her legs as a newly recruited Library Task Force member, for better or worse. In one of the book's final chapters, we see the new recruits charged with the task of running the library's lower stacks, which involves traversing the vast collection to get books by patron request. It's a good way for the volume to end, reminding readers about the book-centric aspect of their job and not the gun-toting, woods-trudging training that the rest of the volume dwells on.
This first volume of Library Wars: Love & War is a strong introduction to the series' plot and characters, boosting an interesting, if not slightly unnerving, concept and a fun cast of characters to bring it to life. The heart of the story is a close-up follow of said characters, focusing keenly on the lead trio of Kasahara, Dojo and Tezuka with a small but strong cast of supporting members. While these combination have proven a really fun stir pot of humour and energy, it'd still be nice to see more of the dramatic moments involving the work they do which really gives the story that extra something. Regardless, volume one is an overall satisfying introductory book that'll leave many readers eager for more.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : B+
+ A unique concept that turns a profession usually seen as stuffy into anything but and a cast of characters with lots of lively interaction
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