The Library Freedom Act:
Libraries have the freedom to acquire their collections.
Libraries have the freedom to circulate materials in their collections.
Libraries guarantee the privacy of their patrons.
Libraries oppose any type of censorship.
When libraries are imperilled, librarians will join together to secure their freedom.
In the future proposed by Library Wars, the Japanese government passes strict censorship laws, enforced by a military group (the Media Betterment Committee), who are authorised to remove books from libraries and book shops by force. The Library Defence Force is a paramilitary group committed to defending libraries from the laws, and Iku Kasahara is the first woman to attempt to join it.
Library Wars and I have A History together; I comfort-read and re-read the middle volumes of this series over and over while I was doing my Librarianship degree. When I was unemployed, it was one of the two series I kept on my pull-list at my local comic book shop, because I didn't want to let it go. When I was in the middle of Coursework Hell— and I can't believe I'm admitting to this—the Library Freedom Act brought a tear to my eye. I spent a lot (... a lot) of time shrieking about this series on Twitter. But for all of that, I haven't read the first volume of the series since about 2009. I remembered that I'd been mostly meh about the series until the end volume three, but I couldn't for the life of me remember why. Diversiverse and Banned Books Week seemed like a really good opportunity to fix that.
So, Library Wars: Love and War is the adaptation of Toshokan Senso, a light novel series by Hiro Arikawa. There's at least four novels, three movies and an anime series, and I've holding off on all of them until the manga is finished so that I don't accidentally spoil myself. (No, that makes no sense to me, either.) On the plus side, I'm looking forward to being able to compare and contrast the focus of each adaptation when I've worked through them all! In a story with so many different elements (censorship, the militarisation of libraries, the interpersonal relationships, the conflicting ideas of how best to handle such strict censorship and the levels of betrayal that come with that), it seems really unlikely that all of them would choose to focus on the same aspects of the story.
The manga chooses to focus on the relationship angle, with some bonus amazing shoujo manga tropes. Iku Kasahara's inspiration to join the Defence Force was a man who rescued her and her favourite book from a Media Betterment Committee raid... Who she has forgotten the face of! She has a (super-unprofessional) love-hate-respect relationship with her commanding officer! She is not necessarily good at her job, but she tries really hard! She's the first woman to join the Defence Force rather than be a non-combatant! All tropes that I have been known to love and want to see explored. There's just something about the execution of them here that rubs me up completely the wrong way, which meant that I spent most of this volume reading it through my fingers and wincing.
The thing is, Kasahara spends a lot of this volume messing up, usually in ways that mean other people have to deal with the consequences. She is good enough at her job to spot someone stealing library stock and apprehend them, but not enough to secure them (which leads to her supervisor being hurt.). She can identify an imminent raid on a bookshop, giving her an opportunity to claim all of the books for the library and follow in her hero's footsteps (but she wasn't paying attention to all of the lessons explaining that this cost the library money and is out of their jurisdiction)... It goes on. There's a lot of charm in the way her misadventures go down - Kasahara is fearless and courageous - but it still pains me to watch.
But for as much as I bitch and moan about this volume, there's this weird, guilty familiarity to Kasahara and her actions. She so eager to help, so desperate to be good at her job even when she can't make the logical leap to what she needs to do to be better at it. Once she knows what she needs to do (whether it's something as simple as "Attempting to push someone's wheelchair is not helpful, so don't” or as convoluted as "Put the effort into learning the damn shelving system!”) Kasahara does it! And she is horrifically embarrassed that she didn't think things through or work out how to be better herself! Which means that Kasahara feels familiar. She feels like a lot of the ladies I know, myself included, who stumble a little as they go into their professional careers, who mess up. Part of the reason I cringe as I read this volume is because I have been there. I have had people sit me down and tell me (correctly) that the solution to my problems is putting the effort in instead of relying on others to do it for me, I have been the one who hasn't known anything about basic principles behind my job, I have been the one who has struggled with catching up to where I want to be. I think that's why I have such a knee-jerk NOPE reaction to this volume. It has some serious, genuine flaws, but I wasn't prepared for that rush of "Oh god I have been there."
The circumstances might be different—my library training did not involving attempting to punch a bear at any point!—but I think there's a lot here that I recognised emotionally. I may not have enjoyed it as much as I enjoy the later volumes, but I can see the foundation here that leads to all the stuff I like about those later volumes. The relationships are here—Shibazaki as Kasahara's friend and voice of reason, Dojo as a source of antagonism and support in equal measure—and I know that's where the series is going to get me in a couple of volumes. It's just strange, coming from volume fourteen, which had me in tears, back to this.
It's an interesting contrast. I don't know if I can honestly say that I recommend this volume, but I'm glad that I reread it at last.