Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sub.DVD - TV Series
In the fictitious Seika Era, the Media Betterment Act has imposed harsh censorship laws on Japan. In retaliation, the libraries of the nation banded together and formed their own private security militia, the Library Forces, dedicated to allowing all books and art to exist for the people who want them. Iku Kasahara is a new member of the Library Forces, passionate about her work and the first woman to be a part of the elite Special Forces as she follows her dream of becoming like the man who helped her save a book when she was a teenager.
Discotek continues its trend of bringing shoujo series some of us feared would never see a legal US release to DVD with Library War, a twelve episode (plus one special) TV series from 2008. The story adapts Hiro Arikawa's five volume light novel series, which manga readers may be familiar with via Viz's release of the Library Wars: Love & War shoujo series. If you do know the story from Kiiro Yumi's manga, the TV show might come as a bit of a surprise – it's generally a bit more serious and has distinctly less romance focus than the manga adaptation. Since the novels have not, as of this writing, had a legal release in English, I can't speak to which is more accurate, but if the focus on fluff in the manga struck you as not what the story was meant to be about, the TV show is likely to be more to your taste.
The story takes place in 2019, during the fictitious Seika Era. In this future time, censorship has been sanctioned by the government in the form of the Media Betterment Act, which allows any potentially offensive materials, be they art or books, to be seized and burned. The Media Betterment Forces regularly raid libraries, art museums, and bookstores in search of “dangerous” or “subversive” works and people's freedom to choose what they want to read or watch has been greatly infringed upon. Obviously this did not go unopposed, and so libraries militarized, and a law was passed to allow them to defend any and all books and art. Their militia is known as the Library Force, basically a private army that engages with the MBF to protect the written word. It's a social civil war, essentially. Into this comes twenty-two year old Iku Kasahara, a new member of the LF with boundless enthusiasm. When Iku was in high school, the MBF tried to take a book from her in a bookshop, and a young LF soldier defended her and got the book back. Ever since then Iku has chased after her “prince,” joining the defense division of the Library Forces and quickly being conscripted into the more elite Special Forces, which handles more dangerous missions. She's the first woman to ever join the Special Forces, but that is nicely understated – it doesn't really matter to Iku; she's just there to do her job.
It's these little touches that help Library War to be more than just a Farenheit 451 knock-off. While there is clear evidence that Ray Bradbury's classic science fiction novel inspired this story, as well as some interesting parallels to John Steinbeck's The Moon is Down, at its core Library War is about the people working against censorship rather than the censorship itself. There are some explanations of why a couple of items are censored, but for the most part, the bigger issue is that someone has the right to declare anything “immoral” and seize it with no other real reason. The idea that there are some people who believe this and some who don't makes up the reasons for fighting, and we do see most of the characters as real people with their own issues. Even Instructor Komaki, who gets the least development during the actual series, is the focus of the extra thirteenth episode, giving him more of a personality than he had in the rest of the show. (It's also worth mentioning that this is one of the few “extra episodes” of my experience that actually adds to the story – no goofy hot springs fanservice for Library War!) With Iku, who can be a little annoying and tends to be a watering pot, crying a fair amount, this means exploring her family history a bit and understanding that she's defying her family to do this job. For Dojo, the male lead and romantic interest, we need to understand how he sees Iku; we also get the feeling that he's trying very hard to talk himself out of his budding feelings for her, which makes a bit more sense than the rosier view of their relationship the manga takes. The only character whose motivations never feel fully explained is Iku's roommate Shibasaki, but given her information network, that may be deliberate.
As I said above, there are some similarities to literature in the story, which is quite likely deliberate. In episode six Iku and Komaki have to rescue what appears to be a Japanese translation of Fahrenheit 451 and there are repeated references to book burning (plus one actual scene), which not only is a central issue in Bradbury's novel, but also may remind some viewers of the lead up to World War Two. This is furthered by the events of episodes ten and eleven, which appear to reference 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibition in Germany, which was meant as a counterpoint to the so-called “cleansing” of German culture. Interestingly even as the story makes this comparison, it also takes the chance to introduce us to one of the MBF soldiers and to make it clear that he's as much a person as any of the heroes, with his own motivations and reasons that may not align with his work, which hearkens back to John Steinbeck's 1942 novel The Moon is Down, itself a banned and reviled book when it was initially published. These references strengthen the story, making it easy to see real-world comparisons that feel just as, if not more, relevant today.
Unfortunately the animation and art for Library War aren't as good as the story. The character designs are by neither the mangaka of Love & War nor the original illustrator of the novel (Sukumo Adabana), but instead are very bland and generic, occasionally causing difficult telling characters apart. Thick black outlines are sometimes used to blend mediocre CG with the characters, and characters' heights are consistently changing. (Given that Dojo's lack of height when compared to Iku is a fairly big point, this is a real problem.) Bodies often appear to taper off at the knees, making lower legs look too thin to support the rest of the body, and the chamomile, symbol of the Library Forces, often looks more like an ox-eye daisy. It also feels a bit like the show set itself up for failure with Iku's uniform skort (a skirt in front and shorts in the back), which proves very difficult for them to animate.
Issues aside, Discotek's bare-bones release (just two discs and clean opening and ending for extras) of Library War is a welcome addition. The story, with its focus on the mission of the Library Forces rather than Iku and Dojo's romance, is an interesting one with some strong parallels to other works and there's enough realism in some of the characters – Iku's dad acts like most fathers I know and Tezuka's conflicted relationship with his brother feels believable – to make this a good watch and possibly more appealing to those who dismissed Library Wars: Love & War as too fluffy. It's always worth thinking about it when someone says you can't read or watch something because they don't like it, and Library War makes you do just that.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : C-
Art : C
Music : C+
+ Makes some thoughtful points, characters are largely believable. More focus on the business of the LF than the manga version. Extra episode actually adds.
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