Thursday, June 23, 2011

Library Wars: Love & War Volume 5

By Kiiro Yumi, based on the novel by Hiro Arikawa. Released in Japan as "Toshokan Sensou: Love & War" by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Viz.

It can sometimes be difficult in reviews of this title not to get political. I try not to let my own views come out too much on this blog, but sometimes you read things like Love & War 5 and it becomes impossible not to take sides. In fact, part of the reason for this is that the government forces in the manga are such cartoon bad guys. While I appreciate the fact that we're showing a dystopian future where the ruling party violently censures its own citizens, the sheer malice of everything can sometimes lead one to think that subtlety is completely out the window. I hope in future volumes we see, if not a balanced argument (hard to do when you're making a point like this), at least a bone or two thrown in that direction.

This volume starts with the wrapup of Iku's parents coming to visit from the previous volume. It's the weak point of the volume, and nothing happens here that we couldn't have predicted after reading the start. Iku's father clearly is aware of her real occupation, and just as clearly is not going to let on that he knows. Luckily, the next arc is another serious one, this time focusing on Komaki, Dojo's smiling friend who's the sensible, advice-giving character (male side). We are introduced to Marie, a girl who knew Komaki from when he was in high school and she elementary school. She is now both a high-school student and deaf, and the choice of books that he offers her to cheer up, along with her feelings for him (and his repressed feelings for her) end up causing big problems.

The romance itself reads a little awkwardly - Japan loves its February/May romances far more than the West, and so we have another girl in love with someone 10 years older than she is. It's handled fairly reasonably here, though, and I was amused at Iku's shoujo romance guessing of Marie's feelings actually being right on the money. We don't genuinely get into Komaki's head here, but it's made clear from flashbacks and what he goes through under torture what his feelings for Marie are. But strong point of the arc is with Iku and Dojo, though, as always. Dojo insists that she not get Marie involved, because Komaki wouldn't want her caught up in this. Which is true, but also leads to an analysis of what it's like to be on the other side of that equation. After the situation is resolved, Iku is rather upset to realize that if she and Dojo were in the same situation, he too would have demanded she not be told, and that he suffer alone rather than 'hurt' her.

This chapter, by the way, does have the funniest gag of the volume, regarding the excuse Iku uses when she leaves the library to go get Marie. Her blunt reply to Dojo had me in stitches.

There';s two side stories here as well, the first involving grumpy Tezuka and Iku's efforts to take a picture of him smiling for her friends who crush on him (and failing miserably), and the second regarding a fancy dress party where Iku and Dojo are being bodyguards. She catches a suspect, but ruins her bodyguard-type suit in the process, so the household staff (who are very grateful, and also clearly want to play 'dress up') but her in a gorgeous ballgown and send her back out there. Iku, being your standard shoujo tomboy, has no idea how gorgeous she is, and finds the whole thing very awkward. Dojo, meanwhile, is poleaxed at her looks, and also now having to deal with other men hitting on her.

There's no real plot advancement here, as is typical in an open-ended shoujo manga that will clearly end with a declaration of love, but that doesn't mean it's not fun. As always, we get politically-tinged action and repressed romance in a nice little package. (Oh yes, and check out that picture on the back cover - rrowr!)

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