In 2019, a group called the Media Betterment Committee has taken book banning to the ultimate extreme; they destroy books and other media with questionable content using military force without care for the harm they cause in order to protect the people from negative influence. But fear not book lovers. In the face of this disaster, the library organized their own military force to protect freedom of expression. Enter our heroine. When Iku Kasahara was in high school, she came face-to-face with the Media Betterment Committee at a bookstore as they began a raid. Iku refused to give up a long sought after book and got in an altercation with the men, but was rescued by a Library Force member whose face she cannot remember. Inspired by this man who protected freedom, her so-called “prince charming,” she made it her goal to follow in his foot steps and join the battle. Now 22-years-old, Iku becomes the first woman to become a Task Force member, a group of elite library defense personnel.
Toshokan Sensou, or Library Wars, is a mix of military drama and action, romance, and even a wedge of comedy as Iku struggles her way up in the Library Force in the shadow of her mysterious “prince,” butts heads with her tough yet protective superior, Lt. Doujou, and discovers the true difficulties of being on the force. Although the library created their military force in response to the actions of the Media Betterment Committee, many people do not believe they should respond with more violence. As a result, Iku and her comrades face not only head on opposition from the Committee but also from different factions within the library system.
This series was originally a book series written by Hiro Arikawa, who paints an intricate and thoughtful world that, while different from ours, is within possibilities. It’s hard to imagine a time in which a disagreement over freedom of expression and censorship escalates to armed conflict and military librarians, yet Arikawa tells her tale with the complications and subtleties of reality that suddenly, the plot of Library Wars doesn’t seem so out there. After all, people can get pretty extreme about content, going so far as to ban and burn books. Therefore, Iku’s story becomes a window for us to look through and think, “What if…”
As for Iku, the concept of her situation is intriguing since she is supposed to be the first female member on an elite force, but I have mixed feelings about the execution (speaking strictly about the anime). She is an interesting mix. Iku excels in the more athletic portion of her training and job (strength, speed, etc.) yet she is no genius when it comes to her academics. Nobody wants a perfect protagonist, but Iku is constantly put down for her lack of academic skills by her comrades and it is made clear she is ignorant about things concerning her job that she should know at her level, which I found grating at times.
In addition, while she is supposed to be good at the physical portion of being a Library Task Force member, other characters from her unit make comments several times throughout the series about her usefulness in battle being the lowest on the force. Of course, this isn’t so different from how other main characters like Naruto are perceived by their group; they’re the underdog, but they have heart and potential. Iku is also shown to have courage and strength that the other members admire, and she isn’t stupid as she makes quick decisions that, while reckless, often lead to a good outcome.
As for the romance, admittedly, I had mixed feelings about that as well. Iku dreams of a prince charming, but not so that he can save her again; she wants to be a rescuer like him because he inspired her. However, I felt that Iku had to be protected a number of times, more so than the male characters around her, and this made her character feel a little less competent than her male counterparts. While this and other things weren’t my favorite, what I did like was that her love interest, although more skilled than her now, is shown to have been very similar to Iku in regards to her recklessness and was laughed at for making some of the same mistakes when he was younger. This not only shows Iku’s potential, but shortens the gap a bit between them.
Iku isn’t the only female character making a mark in this story; her roommate and friend, Shibaki, may not wield a gun, but the power she demonstrates through information is nothing to laugh at. Shibaki works as an Intelligence Officer in the library and more than once gives Iku and her combat group information that helps them take control of a difficult situation. She balances out Iku by providing the series with a female character who possesses the same strength of will as her combat friend Iku, but uses knowledge as her power. So, while I somewhat wish Iku weren’t belittled as an idiot, Shibaki stands out as the intelligence genius of the show. She also has the ambition to become the first female Library base commander in history.
It may not be perfect, but Library Wars gives viewers an intelligent story with complexity and mixes genres so many people can find something to like. I enjoyed watching Iku give her best and fight for freedom of expression in this alternative world. Maybe if I’m lucky, the original book series will be published in English some day.