Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Library Wars: Love & War
With the passing of the Media Betterment Act, books have become heavily censored across the nation. Only the national library system, equipped with its own military force, can fight to keep books on the shelves. Book lover Iku Kasahara has been inspired to take up the cause, but her commanding officer Dojo has been hard on her ever since she joined the squad. Now Iku's greatest trial is upon her, as she and the commander of the entire Library Forces have been kidnapped by terrorists. Dojo and his team will do whatever it takes to rescue them—but how will Iku cope when her greatest skill is rushing blindly into battle? Then, an entirely different mission awaits Iku back at the base when her parents visit. Can she convince them that it's okay for their daughter to hold a job where she's often in mortal danger?
When it comes to genre crossovers, military action-adventure and shoujo romance are two subjects that most would not think of putting together. And those who do, may find that the story has trouble getting off the ground. Kiiro Yumi seems to have found that out with her adaptation of the Library Wars franchise, which has been through some rocky patches in its first few volumes. This series just can't seem to settle on one direction, constantly see-sawing between heart-pounding missions, contrived moments of tenderness, thought-provoking political statements, and theatrical displays of emotion. Volume 4, however, may be the turning point in getting this thematic mashup to work—a rescue mission, a parental visit, and a little downtime in between prove to be more enjoyable, and more coherent, than most of what's come before.
Chalk up some of that improvement to the characters finally living up to their potential—and the story paving the way for them to do so. Until now, Iku has been a ditzy head case whose passion for defending books outweighs her actual ability, and Dojo has been the mercurial commanding officer constantly trying to keep her in check. But the rescue mission brings out the best in both of them: Iku has a sudden outbreak of resourcefulness and on-the-fly thinking, while Dojo is able to channel his hard-nosed attitude into executing a very risky operation. So when Iku and Dojo reunite at the end of the arc—he having saved her life, she having ingeniously aided him—the chemistry between them is actually believable for once. A brief flashback about Dojo being Iku's mysterious "prince" from her high school days also helps to fill out his character, making him more multi-dimensional and approachable than the typical mean guy he started out as.
Iku and Dojo's relationship isn't the only aspect of the series to have improved, though. The arrival of Iku's parents in the second half has serious elements in addition to the superficial "Oh no, please hide the fact that I serve in the combat division!" comedy angle. By talking it out with her parents, Iku reveals that her passion for serving on the Library Defense Force is not just blind enthusiasm—there's also a desire to prove herself to her family, and (most interestingly) overcome the implicit sexism that colored her upbringing. Between this development of Iku's character, and the substance of the rescue mission, there's really only one wasted chapter out of five—the middle episode where Iku and friends have a drinking party in between missions. And even that one adds a little flourish to the budding Iku/Dojo relationship with a goofy but sweet ending scene.
Sweetness also happens to be Kiiro Yumi's artistic strength, as many of the most striking moments in this volume are the ones where the main couple are together. When the time comes for a meaningful glance or a reassuring hug, the panels open up and the impressionistic visuals come flooding in, tilting the series heavily toward the shoujo end of the scale. Yet Yumi's visual language also works just fine in combat situations—the pivotal moment of Dojo's rescue effort is a breathless, split-second sequence that is just as exciting as any gritty action thriller (if maybe less detailed). Ultimately it's only the lack of showy technique that keeps this series' artwork from crossing the barrier into greatness: the characters are conventional in design and have barely enough defining traits, and many of the pages skimp backgrounds, instead hoping that the story will speak for itself.
Of course, this can be a problem when the story speaks with an overly melodramatic voice. Many of the key character-building moments are hampered by cheesy dialogue, whether it be Iku's declarations of her Fighting Spirit or Dojo suddenly going all soft and sappy (the flashback scene is particularly loaded in that regard). Of course, it's the job of a translator to bring out the meaning as clearly as possible—and in this case the results are almost too effective, conveying all the vulnerable feelings and talking to one's self that would be better suited to high school fluff. Most of the other dialogue, though, is consistent with the tone of the series: day-to-day conversation, discussions of military protocol, and occasional comedic asides. The sound effects, of which there are many during action scenes, are reworked entirely in English, but the lettering blends nicely into the art and make this a highly readable translation.
Despite its provocative concept, Library Wars: Love and War is still a long way off from being a masterpiece. With this volume, however, there are definite signs of improvement, with the main characters adding new dimensions to their previously off-putting personalities and the storyline figuring out (at least for one mission) how to make the military action-adventure side and the romantic side come together. The later chapters, which also introduce the element of family, are more lighthearted in tone but still have something serious to say about our heroine's motivations.What this proves is that things like love and self-confidence are at their most convincing when allowed to develop naturally, rather than trying to force it out of a disjointed storyline. Library Wars is an odd mix of genres, to be sure, but it might still have a fighting chance.
Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : C
+ The rescue mission and the parental visit bring out new sides of the main characters, as well as building the romantic aspect.
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