Today's manga review is of the series Library Wars: Love and War, a manga based off of a novel series by author Hiro Arikawa and adapted for manga by Kiiro Yumi (click for Wikipedia article). I got this series through my college library's interlibrary loan system and while I normally make it a point not to read things that haven't been fully scanlated or translated, the fact that it was about libraries was temptation enough to convince me to read it.
The basic premise is as follows: The year is 2019, and the Japanese government has imposed strict censorship nation-wide. An evil bureaucratic organization known as the Media Betterment Committee (MBC) seeks to purge all materials that are deemed harmful and disruptive to the public order. Libraries have become the last bastions of knowledge and intellectual freedom - though they are protected under the Library Law, they frequently clash with MBC forces. The story begins with Iku Kasahara, a young woman who is aspiring to become part of the Library Defense Force, a paramilitary organization that protects libraries and their contents from the MBC. Besides her idealistic desire to protect the right to knowledge, Iku's dream to become a member of the LDF stems from a past experience where a mysterious LDF agent defended her in a bookstore during a MBC raid. With this mysterious LDF agent as her idol (nicknamed by Iku as "her prince,") the manga follows Iku through her experiences in the LDF as she defends books and free knowledge in the name of liberty, justice, and all that is moral and good in the world!
So, okay, not really the most original plot in the world. The whole "mysterious-stranger-from-my-past-being-the-motivator-behind-my-actions" thing has really been run into the ground, and I was never a fan of it, in any manga I've read so far. Also, as Blackbird and Starfish so astutely pointed out, both the Library Defense Force and the Media Betterment Committee are government-sponsored organizations. So why are two government-sponsored agencies fighting against each other? I dunno. You would think that would make the government go, "Huh. Maybe we should change the laws so we don't have thousands of tax-payer dollars wasted on two government branches fighting each other." You would bet your britches that if the FBI and the CIA engaged in military warfare, there would be some major repercussions in Congress...but whatever.
Despite some glaring plot holes, shoujo manga isn't really known for the well-developed plots anyway - it's the characters that you get attached to.
The problem that I have with Library Wars is that while I enjoy all the male characters in the ensemble cast, I unfortunately do NOT like Iku Kasahara. She is the lead role, the protagonist, the catalyst, and the most important player in this manga...but I really DISLIKE her. She's loud, she's impulsive, she's not the sharpest tool in the box, she's always making mistakes, and I can already tell she's going to be the emotionally stunted type who doesn't know how to deal with emotions besides anger and happiness. She's supposed to come off as someone who "thinks with her heart rather than her head" but in her line of work, as a member of an active paramilitary organization, that is A BAD THING. In combat, you need someone who can think with a cool head and doesn't overreact all the time. It would be different if Iku Kasahara wanted to be a teacher or something, but in a military context, her incompetence could have real, irreversible damage, like-oh-I-don't-know, someone getting killed for example?
What really gets me is that the author tries to portray Iku Kasahara as a strong female character, but in reality, she's supported and coddled by all the characters (ahem, men) around her. Every time she makes a mistake, she gets depressed and goes through an unnecessarily angsty period of self-flagellation. Iku always needs someone external (usually one of the love interests) to say something to her or help her recover. To me, that doesn't signify character growth - just the opposite, in fact. It means that the character isn't strong enough to decide on her own what she should do.
You would think that with such a negative review, I would hate Library Wars. But...I don't. If the premise were about something besides libraries, I wouldn't like it as much. But because it is about libraries, I find myself overlooking a lot of my complaints (hence the disclaimer). As far as shoujo manga goes, it does the job admirably and more. There's a whole bevy of potential male suitors to ogle over, there's a lot of fun action, and it's a straightforward story about good versus evil and a young girl falling in love.
YOUR CHOICE IN MEN
The Dark and Brooding One
The Blonde One
The Spiky-Haired One
It doesn't pretend to be a serious work of literature or depth, and while it does follow the shoujo manga formula, it does so with a fairly interesting cast of characters (Iku Kasahara aside) and occasionally tries to throw in some superficial commentary about censorship and the importance of free knowledge. While my review may not sound like it, I did enjoy reading it - at least, what I've read so far. This may not be anything new for the shoujo manga world, but by golly, it's entertaining.
Credits to mangafox for providing the scanlations and images!