Library Wars (Japan: 2013): Tales of war, stacks and romance

Library Wars is one of those Japanese pop phenomena that appears in all formats in rapid succession. It started its life as a light novel series, then a manga, then an animated TV series, then an anime feature film two years ago, followed by the live action film that I am reviewing today. If the process goes on, there will be a live action 10 part drama, followed by a live action film of that drama, followed by another TV series. I guess we do something similar here in the USA with comic book heroes and Star Wars, but we really don’t have the habit or process in place to release the same story in various formats so swiftly. When this rapid fire process happens in Japan, it usually means that we are dealing with a product aimed at younger audiences, and in this case, younger female audiences. With that in mind, I will review the Library Wars live action movie with a bit of caution. Not being Japanese, a teenager, or a woman of any sort, I’m not the target market. Is this a movie worth watching?

Sure. But probably only if you have a movie review blog and thought that it would be a good idea to expand your current workload by ordering a bunch of DVDs that aren’t available in the US. Otherwise, you might find it easier to skip it and watch the movies aimed at young women in your own country. I found it interesting enough to comment on.

The basic setting of the movie is a low level civil war in 2019 Japan between the Media Betterment Committee (MBC) and the Library Defense Force (LDF). It isn’t exactly a dystopian future Japan. Society hasn’t broken down and all institutions appear to be functioning. In 1989 according to the back story, Japan passed a broad set of censorship laws but didn’t alter the status of libraries. Local libraries banded together to prevent MBC raids on public libraries. The MBC is also held in check by a wealthy industrialist who holds secret evidence about the history of the MBC that I am assuming blackmails their leadership into playing by the rules of engagement.

And rules there are. The civil war is very orderly. A model of efficiency. After a massacre at a library in 1989, everyone seems to have settled in for a violent but very focused conflict. The LDF only defends libraries and doesn’t get involved in protecting book stores or preventing other forms of censorship. The MBC only raids libraries with proper documentation that discloses not only the time but also the duration of the raid. For example in one scene, if the LDF can hold out for one hour between 9:00pm and 10:00pm at night, MBC forces withdraw. There appears to be a curfew for fire fights. LDF members don’t shoot to kill because that would get the police involved in investigations.

While the civil war in Libary Wars is over the very important issue of freedom to exchange ideas, the conflict is really at its source about inconsistent legislation that no one is powerful enough to change. The LDF supporters can’t muster support to overturn the censorship laws while the MBCs can’t change the legislation that protects the libraries as those have been enshrined as basic rights. Since no one can change anything, everyone seems content with managing the status quo. It actually is how I would imagine civil wars unfolding in Japan, and probably no place else.

After 30 years of fighting, the LDF hasn’t figured out that a few high-caliber rifles and grenades would tear right through the armor shield walls that the MBCs put up in every fight. LDF forces continue to shoot bullets at those walls that will just bounce right off. It’s insane! I mean, civil wars are generally insane, especially from the perspective of those not caught up in them, but this one is particularly maddening to watch. And very, very funny as well the more I think about it.

Obviously, this civil war stasis can’t continue forever and the basic plot development involves the death of the billionaire who has been keeping those secret files and serial killer who was caught with banned books that he had checked out of a library. The balance of power has shifted a little and we follow events as the rules of engagement change while everyone seeks a new equilibrium. Well we would follow that story, but unfortunately, the story needs characters and those characters need to fall in love.

What we mainly follow are the struggles of new recruit Iku (Nana Eikura) as she goes through basic training and searches for her ‘Prince,’ an LDF officer who once rescued a book for her from the MBC. She isn’t a very good fighter, but somehow she winds up on the elite Library Task Force as the first female soldier. She’s likable enough and not nearly as incompetent as her colleagues assert, but she does have a lot to learn about efficiency, the limits of idealism and how to finish a job even if it means killing someone. She is paired with Dojo (Jun’ichi Okada), her superior officer and drill instructor. For the most part, they fight, but they are cute together and it’s no surprise that they will have a romance together if the series continues.

Overall, I liked the story, but not enough to rave about it. I might give a copy to my local library, however. It isn’t often that one gets to see librarians on film fighting for your rights, machine guns in tow. Library Wars is spot on in its sentiment that librarians are often protectors of freedom to read. The movie does shower some attention on the librarian as a heroic career choice. I don’t know if I would go that far, but it certainly is an honorable profession.

** of Five

IMDB: Library Wars

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