Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Anime Review: Library War

I noticed recently that there are quite a few noitaminA titles I haven't seen yet so I'm going through and rewatching a few which I haven't seen in years and trying out the rest and this title was first up on my list since it's been at least five years since I saw it. In fact I remember watching it pretty clearly just for the fact that I somehow managed to marathon it in two days even though this was back when I had only an hour and a half of computer time each day (I have an idea of how I pulled it off but I'm still rather impressed at my high schooler self). Also, there was a movie for the series that came out in 2012 and fansubs hit the internet earlier this year and I'm going to be reviewing that along with the tv series here since it's a clear continuation of the story and, unless I miss my mark, is also where the original novel series ended. It certainly feels like a good, solid ending, the tv series one wasn't bad at all but where that felt more like the story had been thematically concluded the movie gave the actual story/plot an ending as well.

Library War (Toshokan Sensou)

Summary: The year is 2019 and Kasahara is the latest recruit in the Kanto Library Defense Force which is exactly what it sounds like, a military force created by the libraries to fight against the censorship happy Media Betterment Committee who aren't afraid to use guns and underhanded tactics to scare the public and the libraries into giving up their rights to freedom of expression. Kasahara was inspired by a member of the Library Corps who helped her out in high school and hopes to meet him again someday, but for the moment she first has to improve her own performance so she doesn't get kicked out! 

The Good: I had forgotten just how much I like Kasahara and Shibusaki (her roommate whose in the information division) because they are really awesome characters. Kasahara starts out as the typical rookie, a bit cocky, doesn't quite understand everything they've gotten into, prone to punching bears in the face (wait what) but she really grows over the course of the story and matures into a much more level-headed young woman. She never loses some of her rash thinking but you can really tell that she's grown up with her quick thinking and how she disobeys her orders far less. Shibusaki is also a really interesting character, she deals with information and plays a role that's rarely on the side of good and when it is, is usually done by a male character. She's not a spy or femme fatale or a seductress, just someone who is very good at manipulating people (even when they're well-aware of her intentions) and putting together the pieces she gets, all of which is also done without the "oh but are they really good or are they actually evil???" tropes that seem to get attached to characters who usually deal in information. In this story there are clear good and bad guys, something I would complain about until I look at recent US politics* and while there area some characters that toe the line I never felt like it was for shock or drama and that it really fit with the story.

The Bad: Oddly enough out of the five main cast members it's Dojo, whose arguably the second most important character in the series, who gets the least amount of character development. Kasahara and her fellow new trainee Tezuka both grow and deal with their own problems, Shibusaki and Komaki are more established but do change some (although Komaki has arguably the least amount of screen time) but Dojo just doesn't really change and he really needs to. I think the idea was "the growth Kasahara is going through is the growth Dojo already had (therefore he doesn't need to keep growing)" but considering how often he loses his cool around her and such, yeah I'm to disagree there. I'm sure that some people will make the argument that those moments are meant to be more comedic and not a reflection of his character as a whole, I'm going to again disagree and say that it felt like lazy writing.

The Production Values: I was a little sad when I realized that the character designs had changed very very slightly for the movie since one thing I really liked about the anime designs was how Kasahara looks like a sturdy, somewhere between stocky and built, tall young woman but in the movie it looked like she had lost some muscle in an attempt by the animators to look prettier. However, considering I watched both versions practically back to back I imagine that most people won't notice, or care, about such little differences. Other than those little nitpicky details there isn't much to say about how the series looks and sounds, the ending song is really catchy however and I was surprised to find that I still remembered some of the lyrics after so many years.

I'm giving this whole series a 3.5 out of 5 for being something that I really did enjoy, not quite as much as when I first saw it although I expected that, and something i would totally buy if I could in the US. However it's not licensed (bootleg version of the series at my local second-hand store notwithstanding) and given how many years it's been since the series was created I don't ever see it getting licensed. Same for the original novels, I seem to recall hearing that they were rather technical as well (explaining why I could never find that much translated or summarized online), and considering that the series and movie covered all four volumes there's no real need either. There is also a manga adaptation of the books (well two, we never got the one volume shonen adaptation) which is being released by Viz. I've noticed that my local library has some of the volumes so I plan to check it out soon, however I noticed on Viz's website that volume 10 (the latest one out here) seems to cover the material episode 10 does so while I probably will buy the manga someday (since that's the only way I can support the series) it looks like this might end up being a rather long series.

*the whole story makes more sense when you realize it's a metaphor for federal vs state rights, the national government putting out new censorship laws for the "betterment" of the people and the local governments/library branches going "hell no". This section of the wikipedia article shows the real-life inspiration for the story and anime/manga fans who follow the news will probably remember hearing about the Youth Ordinance Bill a few years back.