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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Library Wars Vol. 1 by Kiiro Yumi and Hiro Arikawa

Every time I attend a convention, I come back with a little something extra in my collections. For anime conventions, this usually means I leave with a lot of manga and candy. Such is the story of how I came into the possession of the first volume of Kiiro Yumi's Library Wars (thanks MegaCon!).  Unfortunately, the journey did not end with the desired result.  While the premise of Library Wars is an amusing one, the narrative and world lack any sense of continuity, leaving a story that feels both strained and nonsensical.  Library Wars is a prime example of what manga looks like when it goes horribly wrong.

Iku Kasahara is a soldier in training for the Library Forces who has always dreamed of becoming a member of the elite Library Defense Force.  In a world where the government actively seeks to
censor anything it deems "threatening" to the body politic, the Library Forces defend libraries, books, and bookstores from the government and its minions.  Kasahara desperately wants to be more than a librarian, and when she gets recruited into the Library Defense Forces, to the surprise of her classmates, she sets out to fulfill her lifelong goal.  But the Library Defense Forces are harder than she ever expected, including the fact that she must work with a classmate who has no respect for her and a superior who may very well be the man who changed her life in a bookstore when she was little.  She'll have to work hard to fit in, or risk flunking out for good.
The premise of Library Wars is silly enough to be interesting.  Who wouldn't love to live in a world where libraries are able to mobilized against the forces of censorship to make sure everyone can get access to new and exciting books?  What starts as an amusing concept, however, quickly falls apart as the holes in the narrative's logic are exposed.

For example, much of the first volume relies on the audience believing that the libraries actually have a reason for training people to be military-grade fighters who use high-powered rifles.  But there isn't a single instance in the book that justifies this level of militarization.  In fact, the use of weapons is utterly pointless.  When books are pulled from shelves in bookstores by censorship police, the Library Forces are legally able to acquire the books for the library without any fuss from the police.  Likewise, no battles ever take place, whether fist or gun fights.  It's never made clear that there is anything for the Library Forces to fear.  Yet the narrative constantly reminds us that there is a war on, despite no evidence in the imagery or the plot to prove this true.

These logical inconsistencies are further pronounced by the main character, who is one of the most incompetent people ever granted access to military-grade weaponry.  Kasahara doesn't pay attention in her classes, she is barely physically qualified to meet the standards of the Library Defense Forces, she is willfully ignorant, an incessant complainer, and unwilling respecting military authority.  She constantly bickers with her superiors, who treat her, rightly so, like a child, and only demonstrates her competence when subjected to embarrassing situations (ones which demonstrate to everyone that she's completely useless).

To make matters worse, her fellow recruit, Tezuka, is treated like a pariah, even though he is intelligent, physically capable, and otherwise a perfect candidate for the job.  Superiors tell him to lighten up or chastise him for looking down on Kasahara when she fails miserably (failures that demonstrate not that she is human, but that she is, again, incompetent).  Despite this, the Library Defense Forces expect to be taken seriously.  Why?  Because they're the Library Defense Forces and Yumi has told us over and over again that they are the elite super soldiers of the Library Forces.  What is actually being demonstrated, however, is a complete lack of narrative cohesion.  We're supposed to care about Kasahara, but I felt consistently put off by her character, let alone her presence in the Library Defense Forces.  Nothing about Kasahara made me want to root for her.  She is annoying, willfully incompetent (i.e., she has no personal, financial, or psychological circumstances which might put her at a disadvantage), and wholly uninteresting.  Her very presence, as such, unravels the logic of the world.

As much as I wanted to like Library Wars, I ended up finding it repulsive.  I'm willing to accept silly premises, because that's a staple of a lot of manga, but those premises have to at least be internally consistent.  Library Wars, however, makes no effort whatsoever to represent characters who are realistic, nor does it try to represent a world that makes sense.  Instead, Library Wars is a monumental failure.

If you're interested in checking out Library Wars for yourself, you can find it on Amazon or anywhere books are sold.

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  1. libraries! a force for good!

    or something. cute concept, but sounds like it totally crashed and burned. too bad. :(

  2. It crashed and burned something awful, sadly.