Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 11

By Kiiro Yumi, based on the novel by Hiro Arikawa. Released in Japan as “Toshokan Sensou: Love & War” by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Viz.

While there are an unlimited amount of things that you can do when you write a shoujo manga, it has to be said that when a typical reader thinks of one, they tend to think of a basic ‘type’. Kids in high school, girl likes guy, guy eventually likes girl, will they get together, etc. Violence, if any, tends to be emotional brutality or done for comedic purposes. (I recall I Hate You More Than Anyone having to include a ‘note: genuine shoujo manga’ remark after one of its typical over the top gags.) Library Wars runs in LaLa, a magazine which has a large number of these sorts of shoujo manga. So it’s startling to see a full-scale military assault, with blood, casualties and a shaking up of our main cast, with a couple of people seemingly written out of the series.


This is not to say that the series subtitled Love & War is entirely devoid of love this time around. It’s just driven or inspired by the aftermath of the Ibaraki Art Exhibit. Things start off bad with one of the library team’s men getting his arm sniped so he can’t shoot, and get worse when a desperate frontal assault by the enemy means that Iku is forced to shoot them. No one is killed in that particular attack, but it still leaves her a complete wreck – and she’s not the only one, as Dojo points out. The battles we’ve seen before were not like this. It doesn’t even end there, as once everything settles down, a lone man coming in to destroy the exhibit finds himself stopped by Genda… who he them shoots multiple times through the chest.

Amongst this, we have the love. Iku has finally realized her feelings for Dojo are love, much to the satisfaction of Shibazaki, who has known this for ages. Shibazaki and Tezuka get into a brief fight over what his brother was planning, and how much she knew about it (it also has an excellent point about when to reveal info that could potentially devastate the troops – the answer is not before a major battle). Even Genda and his estranged lover have a sort of reconciliation at his hospital bed. There are warm fuzzies here to be found if you so desire.

But mostly what I take away from this volume is what it means to be a soldier, and how trying to defend your beliefs can lead to the use of force. The opinions given here are biased towards the library soldiers, of course – they’re our heroes. The ‘nonviolence’ protestors are papers tigers for the most part, serving mostly to get Iku really, really angry. As we reach the end of this volume (which finishes adapting the 3rd novel), you sense there’s a major shakeup in the works. Commander Inamine is forced to resign, and I get the feeling that the implication of Genda’s 2-rank promotion is that he won’t be back either. I’m not sure where this battle-filled shoujo manga is going, but this was one of its most gripping volumes. Readers who thought it started slow may want to give this a try.

Library Wars: Love & War Volume 5

By Kiiro Yumi, based on the novel by Hiro Arikawa. Released in Japan as “Toshokan Sensou: Love & War” by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Viz.

It can sometimes be difficult in reviews of this title not to get political. I try not to let my own views come out too much on this blog, but sometimes you read things like Love & War 5 and it becomes impossible not to take sides. In fact, part of the reason for this is that the government forces in the manga are such cartoon bad guys. While I appreciate the fact that we’re showing a dystopian future where the ruling party violently censures its own citizens, the sheer malice of everything can sometimes lead one to think that subtlety is completely out the window. I hope in future volumes we see, if not a balanced argument (hard to do when you’re making a point like this), at least a bone or two thrown in that direction.

This volume starts with the wrapup of Iku’s parents coming to visit from the previous volume. It’s the weak point of the volume, and nothing happens here that we couldn’t have predicted after reading the start. Iku’s father clearly is aware of her real occupation, and just as clearly is not going to let on that he knows. Luckily, the next arc is another serious one, this time focusing on Komaki, Dojo’s smiling friend who’s the sensible, advice-giving character (male side). We are introduced to Marie, a girl who knew Komaki from when he was in high school and she elementary school. She is now both a high-school student and deaf, and the choice of books that he offers her to cheer up, along with her feelings for him (and his repressed feelings for her) end up causing big problems.

The romance itself reads a little awkwardly – Japan loves its February/May romances far more than the West, and so we have another girl in love with someone 10 years older than she is. It’s handled fairly reasonably here, though, and I was amused at Iku’s shoujo romance guessing of Marie’s feelings actually being right on the money. We don’t genuinely get into Komaki’s head here, but it’s made clear from flashbacks and what he goes through under torture what his feelings for Marie are. But strong point of the arc is with Iku and Dojo, though, as always. Dojo insists that she not get Marie involved, because Komaki wouldn’t want her caught up in this. Which is true, but also leads to an analysis of what it’s like to be on the other side of that equation. After the situation is resolved, Iku is rather upset to realize that if she and Dojo were in the same situation, he too would have demanded she not be told, and that he suffer alone rather than ‘hurt’ her.

This chapter, by the way, does have the funniest gag of the volume, regarding the excuse Iku uses when she leaves the library to go get Marie. Her blunt reply to Dojo had me in stitches.

There’;s two side stories here as well, the first involving grumpy Tezuka and Iku’s efforts to take a picture of him smiling for her friends who crush on him (and failing miserably), and the second regarding a fancy dress party where Iku and Dojo are being bodyguards. She catches a suspect, but ruins her bodyguard-type suit in the process, so the household staff (who are very grateful, and also clearly want to play ‘dress up’) but her in a gorgeous ballgown and send her back out there. Iku, being your standard shoujo tomboy, has no idea how gorgeous she is, and finds the whole thing very awkward. Dojo, meanwhile, is poleaxed at her looks, and also now having to deal with other men hitting on her.

There’s no real plot advancement here, as is typical in an open-ended shoujo manga that will clearly end with a declaration of love, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. As always, we get politically-tinged action and repressed romance in a nice little package. (Oh yes, and check out that picture on the back cover – rrowr!)

Library Wars: Love & War Volume 4

By Kiiro Yumi, based on the novel by Hiro Arikawa. Released in Japan as “Toshokan Sensou: Love & War” by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Viz.

We left off last time with a cliffhanger, as the government had outfoxed our heroes and set up a bluff so that they could kidnap the library director… and also Iku, who was assigned to guard him by Dojo, to keep her out of harm’s way. Aheh. If only Dojo knew he was in a romance manga, he’s know how much he was tempting fate by doing that. Iku, meanwhile, handles herself quite well, not only remembering her primary mission is to protect the Director (her hot-headedness is in control for once), but also managing to get a clue to the library forces when a hostage call is made by the enemy. It works particularly well as we know Iku can be a flake at times – so for a second there, we wonder if she just lost it. But no, as Shibazaki said, the simpleton was being smart, telling everyone where they were subtly. And what’s more, the director shows once more that he’s no slouch either, giving them another clue.

So now the forces come to the rescue, and for once everything goes completely smoothly. Again, you see that the training that Iku has been getting, aggravating as it’s been to her, is working. She’s cool in a crisis, and also quick to spot things, such as Dojo’s hand at the window giving her a 3 count. Dojo, of course, is suffering beautifully, saying that it’s no good to regret stupid decisions he made while still beating himself up over it. We get a short flashback to the start of the manga, where young Iku was rescued at the bookstore by an impulsive young library agent. This was, of course, Dojo, something that’s been obvious since Chapter 1, but we finally see not only his face but the consequences that arose from that on his end – he was severely punished for abusing his authority, *and* had to suffer through Iku joining the forces because of what he did, but not recognizing him. Possibly if he got on top of a pedestal she might get it.

Nevertheless, after successfully rescuing Iku and the director, and managing to stop Iku being shot at the last minute, he at least knows he has to set right what he screwed up. His hug, and telling Iku that she did great and he’s proud of her, is the big emotional high point of the manga. Sadly, the manga chapters were not laid out with volumes in mind, so we still have half a volume to go. What follows isn’t bad, by any means, but it’s sort of a letdown after the first half. Iku is given a party to celebrate her quick thinking and safe return, and we discover that she’s a horrible lightweight when it comes to drinking. A more serious arc is next, with the long-awaited arrival of Iku’s parents, who think she’s simply a normal librarian and not part of the combat forces. There’s some melancholy here, as Iku is clearly the product of a strict, somewhat repressive upbringing, and she’s convinced that she can never be good enough for them. Meanwhile, her father at least seems to have figured out what she’s hiding from them, but decides not to bring it up, implying there’s repressed feelings on both sides. After the gripping action drama with big emotions, this small family section tones everything down, and lets us see a vulnerable Iku.

Volume 4 just hit the NYT bestseller list, so I’m apparently not the only one enjoying it. It has a strong heroine, the usual shoujo cliche romance, and a nice backstory of censorship fights that can either guide the plot or remain in the background however the writer sees fit. It’s good, solid shoujo from your friends at Hakusensha and Viz.