Library Wars: Love & War Volume 3

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.

How ironic that today is the day that I review the new volume of Library Wars, considering that today is also when Japan passed their Youth Ordinance Bill. It’s all very well trying to protect books from being destroyed by the government, but clearly the government knows the key is to ensure that controversial books never get commissioned in the first place, or that those already out don’t get a reprint. I wonder if anyone in the government reads Library Wars, and is quietly talking with the editors of LaLa about ‘ending it soon’, given its anti-censorship stance?

Meanwhile, back in the actual manga itself, we see that Dojo is having a very hard time of it. It’s hard enough that the new girl in his troop is turning out to be exactly like he was a few years earlier (something lampshaded constantly), but even worse, he’s starting to fall for her. This is rough considering that she goes on about how her prince protected her from the evil government forces when she was younger, and the fact that this was Dojo doesn’t really seem to matter as she’s not aware of that. So what’s a guy to do? Well, he *is* in a manga. That’s right, it’s time to overcompensate by being a complete jerk to her. And as we know, there’s no job worth doing that isn’t worth overdoing, so he goes above and beyond the call. To the point where his fellow officers immediately call him on it.

None of this matters to Iku, who merely notes that Dojo is more friustrating than ever, and spends much of the volume having her emotions battered back and forth. It’s not helping that an article on the library forces came out with her picture, meaning her parents may see that she’s not a quiet little librarian after all. Then the worst news – Dojo assigns her to guard duty rather than having her fight with the rest of the troops to retrieve a bequest of documents left to the library by a museum. He doesn’t think she’s good enough.

Now, Library Wars, even if it weren’t based on an already-extant series of novels, is not the most surprising manga in the world. We know, of course, that Dojo assigns her away from combat in order to protect her, as is immediately noted by both Komaki, who bluntly tells Dojo if he keeps being influenced by his feelings for Iku he should transfer her to another unit, and by Shibasaki, who points out to the hard-of-head Iku why Dojo might be doing this. None of that matters, of course, as the cliffhanger shows that the government had a backup plan, and have kidnapped the director of the library… along with Iku, who was guarding him. Whoops. Nice one, Dojo.

The manga does a good job of balancing light and dark moments. I particularly liked the brief shot of Iku learning how to push the director around in a wheelchair, using poor Shibasaki as a guinea pig. This is contrasted with the director’s memories of years ago, where we see government forces shoot his wife dead right in front of him, then shoot him (this led to the loss of his leg). The battle for the bequested materials is likewise very serious, with Dojo running into crossfire to rescue a soldier who’d been shot in the leg. Of course, this is still a shoujo romance – it’s noted that had Iku been there, she would have been faster in combat, as well as lighter to pick up should she have been injured.

The contrast between thrilling drama and shoujo comedy can be frustrating at times, particularly when you’d like Dojo and Iku to stop butting heads and get back to protecting books. But there’s still a lot of drama here to love, and what with it ending on a cliffhanger the wait for the next volume will be even longer.

Library Wars: Love & War Volume 2

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.

Usually when I review a new volume of a series I’ve already covered, I go back and read my last couple of reviews to make sure I don’t accidentally repeat myself. This was especially amusing for me as my review of Volume 1 of Love & War went on about how the series was not about the romance between Iku and Dojo, but about their futuristic world of censorship and military intrigue.

Ahahahaha. Sorry, I spoke too soon. Not that it’s a bad thing. This is a great, light and easy read, filled with lots of blushing looks and people insisting that their love is merely tremendous respect. But yes, I had forgotten why this series was created. It’s not to tell Library Wars all over again. One can assume fans of this series would be reading the light novels for that. It’s to tell the story filtered through the pages of LaLa magazine, which also features vampire romance, reverse harems, Class Presidents dressed as Maids, and whatever Natsume’s Book of Friends is. When you read a shoujo magazine, you want shoujo.

We do certainly get enough of it here. Not only is Iku dealing with the fact that Dojo seems to show a special interest in her, and why it makes her heart beat so fast, but now Tezuka, who was demanding Iku be discharged from the Library Forces only a chapter or so ago, is asking her out! What’s a girl to do? Luckily, Iku is in the classic mold of Hakusensha heroines, which means that she’s strong like an ox but idiotic in terms of love matters, so she doesn’t really have to do much except get progressively more frustrated that she can’t figure out what these guys want. She’s perfect for Dojo, really, who is doing the exact same thing, insisting that he’s only interested in her development as a soldier.

This is not to say that there is no political intrigue in this volume. In fact, I was surprised at how serious it got. Ripping stories from today’s headlines (despite apparently taking place at least 30 years in the future), the government is up in arms about a serial killer being caught who had a number of ‘questionable books’ in his bedroom. Naturally, the evil books made him kill people, so it’s time to ban them. Our heroes aren’t having any of that, though. We get our first big raid with Iku on the job, and she performs exactly as you’d expect – disobeying orders and going off on her own, but saving the day. (If this weren’t a fictional shoujo manga, she’d never have even made the squadron, but hey, I don’t want realism in my Library Wars.) We also get to see their big boss, the head librarian, stand up to the police and insist on the privacy of their borrowers. The manga definitely takes a stand against censorship full force.

I also can’t believe I haven’t mentioned Asako, Iku’s roommate, who spends this entire volume being amazing. She figures out who’s been stealing library books, she works out that the giant raid is just a fakeout, *and* she tries hard to get Iku and Dojo closer together. Even for ‘best friend of the heroine’ characters, she goes above and beyond. And she’s hot, too.

My favorite moment in the manga was one that combined the simmering romance with the intrigue, as Iku is enraged to discover that even among Library Forces, there are those who still think censoring ‘the bad titles’ is OK. She gets ready to go mouth off, but is stopped by Dojo, who once again reams her out for her uncontrollable temper. But then, continuing his growth from Volume 1, we see him note that her honesty and sense of justice are her strength. It’s a great line, and exactly what she needed to hear. When these two get together as a couple, they’ll be awesome.

Not that I expect that to happen anytime soon. The series is up to Volume 6 in Japan, and is still running monthly in LaLa. Assuming there is a romantic resolution, it probably won’t happen till the final chapters. Still, this remains a great read, combining frustrating romance with nice action scenes. The heroine may annoy some readers, in that her temper and inability to do things a soldier has to do can rankle, but that’s why she has Dojo there to make her shape up. Recommended.

Library Wars: Love & War Volume 1

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.

A lot of the titles coming out here these days are part of what I term ‘franchise’ titles. They’re based off of either a novel or a game. Then comes the manga, then the anime, then games based off the anime, then a 2nd manga… you know what I mean. Sometimes the influence can even go in the other direction. The anime ‘Durarara!!’ had a minor anime-only character who the novel’s author liked, so he wrote her into a later book.

Library Wars is a light novel series that ASCII Media Works released in their Dengeki Bunko line (where it won a Seiun Award, the Japanese equivalent of a Hugo). You’d expect that the manga would be released as a guy’s title in one of their media manga magazines, such as Dengeki Daioh. And you’d be right: there was a manga that ran in Dengeki Daioh for 2 volumes, called Library Wars: Spitfire!. It’s more of a guy’s take on the book. However, they also decided to cultivate a female audience by licensing a shoujo version of the series, to be put in Hakusensha’s LaLa, home of Vampire Knight and Ouran High School Host Club. This one is 4 volumes and counting, and still running today.

I’m reviewing Love & War, of course. And it’s excellent. I have not read the original novel that this is based on, though I imagine that early chapters are quite similar. But it’s well-paced, well-plotted, and with likeable yet flawed characters. The premise is that in the near future, Japan is attempting to censor anything considered offensive. To defend against these new laws, librarians have banded together to form a Defense Force, protecting books and saving them from the government. Given Japan is currently arguing about bans on ‘non-existent youth’ and sexualized art, this is not exactly an unimaginable premise.

Our heroine, Iku, is a spunky yet dense sort, who rushes ahead without thinking. Her immediate superior, Dojo, treats her like crap (something she notes over and over again). And we later meet another recruit who is perfect in every way, and treats Iku like crap as well. What makes this different from, say, Black Bird or Hit Gimmick? Well, for one, the premise, while serious, allows for more comedic situations. I know it’s a bit hypocritical, but I find jerk guys in shoujo far more tolerable if they’re funny. Second, the girl is strong and fights back. I had mentioned this in my review of Portrait of M&N;, but watching meek and shy girls get abused is far less fun then watching loud and violent girls get abused.

However, most importantly, the characters learn and change almost immediately. This is partly due to the fact that the plot is not seeing Iku and Dojo hook up, but rather seeing Iku become a good librarian soldier. Towards that end, we totally understand Dojo’s utter frustration with her, as she starts off as a horrible soldier, refusing orders and not thinking anything through. In the last chapter, though, we see her get humiliated enough to buckle down and try hard, and it shows.

Dojo too changes. It’s not mentioned in this volume, but it would appear that he notices that he’s been too hard on her in the first couple of chapters, not so much trying to correct her mistakes as crushing her spirits. Once she’s actually in the Defense Force, he’s much easier to deal with, offering just as much help and praise as critique. And her partner Tezuka, who is the ‘ideal soldier’ and wonders what on Earth Iku is even doing there, clearly needs to learn a few lessons about teamwork, as Dojo explains to him at the end.

There is a bit of romance here, but it’s actually secondary for once. Iku has a crush on her fantasy prince who rescued a book for her when she was younger. It’s pretty clear that was Dojo, and he blushes every time he thinks of it. She also starts to open up to him once he stops being the hardass drill sergeant, and I suspect her roommate from training will be playing matchmaker a bit. They’re a cute couple that don’t overwhelm the premise.

Really, this is simply an excellent first volume. Balancing character, futuristic plot, comedy (love that bear), and romance, it’s a perfect new series for Viz’s Shojo Beat line. Highly recommended, can’t wait for more.