Toshokan Senso (Library Wars)
Before all else, I should note that this is a DNF for me. (Did Not Finish) My wife, on the other hand, not only finished, but promptly put the sequel on hold at the library. For some, this is probably all you need to know. For the rest, I will explain. I will refrain from going into too much detail for two reasons. First, this is exactly the sort of book that Haikasoru would translate and publish, since it would no doubt subsidize a couple of more obscure productions. Second, I imagine that certain spin-offs are out in the wild with, at the very least, fan subs available. There may be commercial translations as well; I haven’t looked. Regardless, for those who are interested, I’m pretty sure there’s some English out there.
Some background: Arikawa Hiro is a primarily a writer of mysteries, light romance, and other books allegedly aimed for the female market, or so says the Japanese Wikipedia. As far as I can tell, Toshokan Senso is her first foray into science fiction, though it appears to have comprised a great deal of her recent output. The first volume of Toshokan Senso was published in early 2006; by 2008, the four-volume series won itself a Seiun Award. Manga adaptations followed, then an anime series and live action movie. For whatever reason, Arikawa managed to create a major franchise that attracts both SF types and the shojo manga demographic. (Shojo manga are the romance comics aimed at adolescent girls.) Whatever else I thought about the book, I have to give Japan credit for not pigeonholing its genre authors.
In Arikawa’s Japan, conservative government types have promulgated the Media Improvement Laws, granting broad and arbitrary censorship powers to the Media Improvement Committee. These laws passed with a minimum of public fuss, both because they were cloaked in the usual “protect the childrens” rhetoric and because the Japanese public rarely makes a fuss about anything. Sharp-eyed activists saw the way the wind was blowing and responded with a series of measures granting the library system extraordinary responsibilities to protect free speech. Within a few years, conflict between the two got out of hand and both sides militarized. The heroes of the series are members of library special forces teams, equally adept at blowing crap up and using the Dewey Decimal System.
This is more strangely plausible than one might think. In fact, Japan-based readers probably have little trouble imaging something this bizarre going down with the current Prime Minister running the show. (In fact, we should probably just silence the author now, before the ruling party gets any more good ideas.) Weird as it may seem, the plot setup had nothing to do with me putting the book down. To be honest, I am sorely tempted to put the anime on in the background, just to see what Arikawa does with it all.
So why did I stop? Three reasons. First, and smallest, is the writing quality. My Japanese isn’t good enough to notice the subtleties, but I can tell some differences in prose. Toshokan Senso was a weird mash up of high school girl and legalese, neither of which felt natural to me. (My wife had similar complaints.) I have little patience for teen speak in English, and even less in Japanese. Second, and considerably bigger, is the lengthy training sequence that starts the book. I don’t know how this happened, but kids going to school has quietly moved into #3 on my list of hated tropes. (Long time readers will know that time travel and psionics occupy the top spots.) For whatever reason, possibly related to grad school burnout, I really don’t want to read about adolescents going to school. This is rather irrational and eliminates various popular novels, but I make no apologies. 100 pages of education is about 80 too many.
Third, largest, and perhaps least forgivable in this enlightened age, Toshokan Senso failed to hold my interest because it is a romance. Rather than science fiction with romantic trappings, it’s an unabashed shojo manga that just happens to be vaguely science fictional. This is why my wife ate it up, despite some obvious flaws, and my interest died like a fly ball on the warning track of literature. She has little use for SF, and I couldn’t care less about love. Certain of my friends are fans of both and will probably love the series, but I just couldn’t hack it.
To be totally fair to the book, I probably would have finished it in English. I’m curious enough about big titles in Japan, and intrigued enough by the library army that part of me wants to power through the annoyances and finish the book. In Japanese though, it’s just a bit too much. My reading time has been cut in half since winter and I don’t have time for books that are merely intriguing, all the more so when they take three times as long as English novels. Still, I wanted to highlight this, both because of Arikawa’s popularity and because it’s something non-Japanese speakers can probably dabble in.