Thursday, January 25, 2018

Collection Review: Library Wars

Library Wars is an impressive series. In terms of genre, it is sort of dystopian (though not even vaguely as dark as, say, Brave New World). The national government has okayed censorship while local governments have passed laws against censorship. Libraries have subsequently established their own police forces to protect against national raids.

The series' heroine, Kasahara, is a new recruit, a corporal. Since this is a shojo manga, she is naturally smitten with her commanding officer, who is equally, if gruffly, smitten with her (one of the more unique aspects is that she is taller than he is; he is 5'6" and she is at least 5'8").

The stories center on Kasahara as she comes to terms with her job, her parents, her idealism, her future, and her boss, Atsushi Dojo. Kasahara is an endearing character; as the heroine of a coming-of-age tale, she attracts the readers' sympathy, occasional irritation, and optimism.

However, to a large extent, the context is what makes the series (and anime) work. That is, the politics actually make sense.

The teen books I encountered in my youth tended to be simplistic: good, noble characters versus bad, corrupt characters. Library Wars isn't that easily disentangled. There are spies and dissenters (some malevolent; some well-meaning), appeasers and mavericks within every group. In addition, there are outlying parties, such as the Future of the Library group, which opposes censorship but wants to centralize; it uses the supposed radical leanings of the Library Forces to argue in favor of its position (extreme action is considered a major faux pas by Kasahara's group, the Library Forces, precisely because it would give the Future of the Library group more power).

Spy-master Asako Shibazaki is a complex
character--as clever and as ruthless
as she appears yet more than both those
attributes as well.
There's a great deal of military action (moreso in the anime), but the bulk of the conflict rests on political tension. Book 8, for example, ends a two-month inquiry of the heroine by a group of appeasers within the library; they are trying to use her hot-hotheadedness to get her to (falsely) admit to censoring books that favor censorship (she hates censorship so much, she even burns books!). She manages to keep her cool, one of the witnesses voluntarily disappears, and the inquiry is ended. It is so much more fascinating than if every volume was about the monolithically evil bad guys versus the monolithically wonderful good guys.

Of course, there's a romance. Like all good romances, it is the romance of equals (despite the difference in rank). Kasahara and Dojo are more like each other than either will admit. And they are ready and able to rescue each other when the plot demands. Kasahara is reckless yet intelligent, clever, and loyal. Dojo's adoration is understandable. Her admiration for his discipline and dedication is likewise understandable.

In fact, all the characters make an impact from stern and stolid Tezuka to wily mastermind Asako. All in all, an excellent series.