Hugh David on an as-yet untranslated anime classic
How does a book series become massively successful in Japan, win awards, become a multi-media franchise, and NOT get licensed for Western release? The series is Toshokan Senso aka Library War, and it’s one of the most enjoyable SF franchises not yet officially translated.
The original novel published by ASCII Media Works (home to the likes of Kino’s Journey and Shakugan no Shana) was the 2006 brainchild of author Hiro Arikawa, and also marked her first collaboration with artist Sukumo Adabana. The two went on to work on the subsequent entries in the franchise as well as two further novels. With a total of four books to the series, and two spin-offs, it has sold well over two million copies in Japan. Set in an alternate 2019, 30 years after the passing of a draconian Media Improvement Bill, it takes place in a future inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (which makes a cameo appearance as a “Book of Prophecy”).
The inspirations to the author – the statement on freedom of expression in the Japanese constitution, and the Japan Library Association’s Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries, are here augmented with additional provisions as represented by the fictional legislation of the Media Betterment Act, and its enforcers, the Media Betterment Committee. Many libraries have been demolished and there is a government censorship crusade against the “wrong” sort of books. Flashbacks to the censorship raids of earlier years show gunmen and SWAT teams confiscating horror DVDs from cowering fanboys. Anime and manga fans often feel like they are at the sharp end of censorship campaigns, and Library War inflates this sense of persecution to satirical extremes.
The lead character is lanky tomboy Iku Kasahara, who joins the Library Defence Force, the militarised wing of the public libraries across Japan. She acts on the inspiration of a young officer who saved her from arrest as a teenager when she tried to buy the final volume of her favourite fairy tale and MBC agents tried to confiscate the book. Her motivation is always taken seriously but is also the motor for much of the comedy that occurs throughout the franchise, as she recites the tale of her “prince” to all at the Kanto Library Base, but remains blind to the fact that everyone else can see – she already has found him, he just won’t own up to the fact.
The two manga adaptations that debuted in 2007 approach the source novels differently, one for boys and one for girls. The latter is available in English from VIZ Media, and is an excellent introduction by artist/adapter Kiiro Yumi to the franchise as a whole, within the demands of shojo manga. The following year, the anime series debuted in Fuji TV’s late-night Noitamina slot, home to such excellent shows as Honey & Clover, Paradise Kiss, Eden of the East and Kids on the Slope. Made by Production IG, it has all the hallmarks of their previous adaptations – Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit – but with a lightness of touch that allows the show to keep its romantic comedy spirit without skimping on the action and suspense.
Capping off the successful transition to other media, the books won the Seiun Award for Japanese Long Fiction at the 46th Annual Japan Science Fiction Convention. Now a final animated feature from IG, Library War: Wings of a Revolution, with the TV cast and crews still in place, can be bought on Japanese Blu-ray with English subtitles, and caps off the animated franchise by adapting the fourth and final of the light novels. This year, a live-action film also debuted in Japan, starring the requisite idol and an actor familiar to westerners (Kill Bill’s Chiaki Kuriyama, perfectly cast as Kasahara’s roommate and best friend Shibasaki), alongside a star cast. Helmed by Princess Blade/Gantz director Shinsuke Sato, it seems likely this will become available in the West long before the anime ever does, which would be a shame, as the anime ranks as one of Production IG’s finest.