Library Wars: Love & War Vol. 1 (VIZ Media)

The Library Defence Force faces off against the censorship of the evil Media Betterment Committee in this mash-up of shojo manga and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

200 pgs., B & W; $9.99

(W & A: Kiiro Yumi)
I really like libraries and I really like kick-ass female heroes—if only there were some way for me to combine those interests!
Hiro Arikawa must have been reading my mind because her novel series Library War (Toshokan Sensō) centers on a young woman training to become a member of the Library Defense Force, a semi-military organization which protects reading materials from both government censorship and private vandalism. The series has been adapted to several other formats, including anime, radio and two manga series, and one of the manga series is now available in English as Library Wars: Love & War, written and illustrated by Kiiro Yumi and published by VIZ Media.
There are two parallel storylines in Library Wars: one reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and the other a fairly typical shojo manga love story. The action takes place in Japan in the indefinite near future after passage of the Media Betterment Act, which allows censorship of all media, including books, for the “common good.” This censorship is enforced through the Media Betterment Committee (MBC), which is empowered to seize and destroy materials considered offensive, and they go about this task with the gusto of the droogs in Clockwork Orange coupled with the self-righteousness of Fredric Wertham (whose Seduction of the Innocent set off a national panic about the corrupting effects of comics on the juvenile mind).
The Library Defense Force (LDF) operates in opposition to the MBC, defending libraries and books from the MBC’s attempts to destroy them. Working for the LDF is a dangerous job—in fact more dangerous than serving in the police or armed forces—but some people regard it as a calling. One such individual is our heroine Iku Kasahara who was impressed as a young girl when an LDF member saved her, and a storybook she wanted to buy, from the clutches of the MBC. Now she’s training to join the LDF, an undertaking which involves both military training (marching with rifles, wilderness survival, martial arts) and knowledge of library organization (apparently the Japanese Dewey Decimal system is fearsome to master).
Kasahara, a former track star and the only female LDF recruit, is a bit of a tomboy but not too much so to keep her from developing a crush on her trainer Atsushi Dojo. He’s your basic shojo dreamboat except for being noticeably shorter than Kasahara, something which is commented on repeatedly. The love story is secondary to the civil liberties theme in the first volume and the characters seems to spend most of their time in training or actually doing battle so people (for instance, guys) who don’t normally read shojo titles might want to give Library Wars a try. And librarians should definitely check it out—after all, how often do people in their profession feature as the heroes and heroines of a manga series?
I wasn’t aware of the Library Wars universe until picking up this volume but I’m definitely eager to see more of it. The social satire is right on target (the justifications the Media Betterment Committee gives for their actions is not that different from the excuses given by people who want to censor books or other media here in the U.S.) and I think Kasahara is the first shojo heroine I’ve ever been able to identify with (athlete, civil libertarian, fierce warrior—what’s not to like?). The art, done in a sort of moderate shojo style which not as girly as in the typical shojo series, is a perfect fit for both the character of Kasahara and the martial aspects of the story.
Library Wars: Love & War Vol. 1 is rated T+ for older teens and adults. Extras in the volume include messages from Kiiro Yumi and Hiro Arikawa and a page of translation notes. | Sarah Boslaugh

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