Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jul 4th 2011
Library Wars: Love & War
In the near future, a censorship movement led by the government has led to an unusual civil war. Libraries across the nation have formed militias in order to protect books and ensure the right to freedom of information. Iku Kasahara is a solider with the Library Forces, but her parents are concerned about her safety and have come to visit her base. Can Iku pass herself off as a legitimate librarian and convince her folks that she's only doing clerical work? Later, a more serious problem arises when superior officer Komaki is forcibly taken away by government troops under suspicion of abusing a deaf teenage girl—Komaki's next-door neighbor since childhood. The charges are completely false, of course, but Iku and her crew must confirm the truth and secure Komaki's release, while at the same time protecting the fragile bonds of friendship between him and the girl.
Like a book that's shelved in the wrong section, Library Wars: Love and War continues to feel strangely out of place, with its combination of military-themed action and young adult romance. But leave a book shelved in the wrong section long enough, and everyone just gets used to it being that way. That's the situation with the series' fifth volume, where Iku's emotional ups and downs with commanding officer Dojo, while also trying to defend basic intellectual freedoms, have become the steady beat of the story. To keep that rhythm from becoming too repetitive, this volume throws in a plotline focusing on some side characters. Certainly it freshens up the atmosphere a bit, but the end result still falls a few notches short of greatness.
Before enigmatic Komaki goes and saves his childhood friend, though, there's the issue of Iku trying to impress her parents. Her father's positive response to her line of work (while keeping a certain secret from mom) provides a heartwarming conclusion to this lighthearted arc; if anything, Kiiro Yumi does a more convincing job telling stories about family bonds rather than romantic connections. But romance remains a part of this series' obligations to its target demographic, and so we see Dojo's usual act of being mean to Iku one moment and being sweet to her the next. Unfortunately, their relationship still refuses to evolve anywhere beyond this never-ending rollercoaster.
For true romantic developments, one must look to the story arc concerning Komaki and newly introduced character Marie, who just so happens to have harbored a crush on him since childhood. For those who follow the storyline all the way through, there's plenty to like about Marie: her strength of character despite a disability, the steadfastness of her feelings toward Komaki, and the emphatic way she takes center stage at the climax. But those same elements also stray into the realm of cliché at times: Marie's deafness feels like a contrived ploy for sympathy, her level of devotion (sometimes even narrated in melodramatic first person) borders on ridiculous, and a moony fairytale ending dilutes the action-adventure excitement of just moments before. So goes the challenge of trying to bring unlikely genres together.
The Komaki arc ends a little early, though, leaving the remaining 20 or so pages of the book to be stuffed with filler chapters about how the male officers in Iku's life are so stern on the outside, but so nice on the inside. Which is exactly how they've been in all the previous installments and adds nothing new to the series.
Like the story itself, the artwork can seem stilted and out of place at times. Certain aspects of Library Wars' military theme are outside of Kiiro Yumi's artistic comfort zone: for example, there are a number of characters past their twenties, and Yumi's attempts to age them by slapping some wrinkles on their faces works poorly. (The younger folks, at least, are attractive if somewhat bland.) Action scenes also fail to measure up; the rescue of Komaki gets most of its excitement from the characters' behind-the-scenes machinations and what they say in the heat of the moment rather than any eye-catching maneuvers. But, as one might expect in mainstream shojo, the art is at its best during expressions of pure emotion, often making excellent use of borderless panels and double-page spreads where time comes to a standstill. Even more impressive is how these sequences avoid the confusion that they usually lead to—even the most free-flowing display of sparkles and bubbles has a logical structure that guides the eye forward.
It isn't just the art that brings emotion across, though; the dialogue plays a key role in that as well. Despite the simple language—don't expect any high-scoring vocabulary or fancy turns of phrase—the characters express themselves well, running the gamut from kindness to anger to longing and sometimes even cracking a few comedy lines. Still, Marie tops everyone else with her impassioned outburst at the height of the Komaki incident. From a translation standpoint, the script is adapted very clearly, and even dreamy internal monologues rarely need a second look-through. Really, the only problem with the writing is the occasional cheeseball romantic line—there are only so many ways Iku can whimper about her feelings toward Dojo before it gets tiresome.
Library Wars: Love and War takes a new turn in this volume by focusing on an unlikely relationship between two side characters. It's a welcome change of pace from the usual Iku-and-Dojo ping-pong act, but still falls short of being a romantic masterpiece. Maybe the problem is that it tries too hard to be a masterpiece: the idea that a childhood friend and next-door neighbor can hold onto an unrequited love for ten years is inspiring stuff, but simply too good to be true. A couple of other well-meaning but clichéd elements ultimately turn this installment of Library Wars into something more like Library Fairytales. Hey, nobody said bringing disparate genres together would be easy. Despite another valiant attempt by this series, there's still a lot of room to improve.
Overall : C
Story : C+
Art : C
+ Introduces a new character who ends up being an inspiring heroine. Visual pacing continues to flow effortlessly.
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