16 Jun, 2010

On the Shojo Beat: Library Wars and More!

By: Michelle Smith and Jennifer Dunbar

Jennifer and Michelle are back with another installment of On the Shojo Beat! Jennifer starts us off with a look at the second volume of Crown of Love, and also contributes a review of the penultimate volume of S.A (Special A). Michelle checks out the June debut title, Library Wars: Love & War, as well as the eleventh and final volume of The Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross.

Crown of Love, Vol. 2

By Yun Kouga
Viz, 191 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

Now that idol Rima Fujio has decided that she’s going to attempt to go to high school, it’s up to Hisayoshi Tajima to coach her through the information she’ll need to know to take the entrance exam. It’s harder than she thinks, and it’s an awkward situation. Hisayoshi’s obsession with Rima hasn’t gone away, but he seems to be trying to squelch it in order to be near her. After pushing her nearly to the breaking point, he manages to get her to where she needs to be in order to pass the test and make it into the high school’s entertainment program.

Rima’s former manager Ikeshiba’s goals remain in shadow. With former child star Akira Chidori’s career on an upswing, is he trying to replace Rima now that she’s in high school and her attention is split? Or is he just trying to push Rima even harder, so she goes that extra mile for him? He’s definitely trying to push Hisayoshi into a recording career, though how was it okay for him to put Hisayoshi in a commercial with Akira while Hisayoshi’s father still has control over his minor son?

Parents seem to be a big theme of this volume. Rima, driven and confident, seems to break when she discovers that her deadbeat mother has yet again moved without leaving any sort of contact information. Shingo says that he wants Ikeshiba’s daughter Manami for his wife, but his reasons for wanting to marry the girl seem more like he’s seeking a mother than a wife. Hisayoshi’s parents don’t physically show up, but they cast long shadows–when he learns of Rima’s mother’s disappearance, he reflects on how his mother is basically the opposite. Of the main characters in this volume, in fact, it’s only Akira who seems to have anything resembling a functional home life at all. She seems comfortable with her mother in the page and a half we see them in.

If that weren’t enough to tell a captivating story, the fact that Rima, Hisayoshi, and Akira are now classmates also brings added texture to the story. Instead of being typical school rivals, there seems to be an honest humanity about how these teenagers interact with one another and the outside world. It’s complicated, sweet at times, and altogether entrancing. The next volume can’t come soon enough.

Volume two of Crown of Love is available now.

–Reviewed by Jennifer Dunbar

The Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross, Vol. 11

By Arina Tanemura
VIZ, 192 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

When this series was wrapping up in Japan, I heard rumors about how it ended. Word was fans were peeved because, in the end, the heroine does not make a decision between the twin brothers for whom she has feelings. It turns out that this isn’t true, though author’s notes from Tanemura indicate that her original intention was for Haine to marry both boys and not just one. And yes, this is the kind of shojo that ends with a wedding.

As the conclusion approaches, all kinds of things happen that are probably supposed to be dramatic but just make me laugh. Haine confronts the twins’ grandfather about an archaic family tradition that establishes one as the heir and the other as mere stand-in, demonstrating her anger by ripping up a chair cushion. She then proceeds to talk down a gun-wielding friend by diagnosing his angst within three pages, gets shot anyway, narrates insipid dialogue like “Even if I’m mistaken… if what I make my mind up to do will lead to happiness then I can do it,” convinces gramps to acknowledge both twins, relays the good news to the boys, and then promptly collapses from her wound.

It’s all extremely silly, but there’s at least some enjoyment to be derived from watching all the clichés at play. Also, it seems that the art—though extravagantly toned as per usual—is a bit prettier in this volume. Perhaps Tanemura stepped it up a notch for the big finale.

Volume eleven of The Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 1

Story and Art by Kiiro Yumi, Original Concept by Hiro Arikawa
VIZ, 200 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

At some point in the near future, the national government of Japan passes the Media Betterment Act, which “seeks to exercise censorship over all media, including restricting offensive books.” Libraries are the only institutions able to oppose them, and so local governments build up armed forces to defend their libraries, which continue to preserve banned works in their collections and make them available to the people.

When Iku Kasahara was in her final year of high school, a member of the Library Forces intervened during a bookstore raid and prevented a beloved book from falling into the grasp of the Media Betterment Committee. The incident made a big impression on her and, after graduating from college, she enlists. As a new recruit, she must attend classes, complete grueling physical challenges, help out at the local library, and participate in woodsy training sessions.

While we see all of these scenarios play out in this introductory volume, the focus is really on Iku’s relationship with Dojo, her cranky commanding officer. To the reader, it is plainly obvious that he was the one who helped Iku in the bookstore that day, but Iku fails to connect him with her idealized prince. Because he pushes her harder than the other recruits—since he expects more of her—she thinks he hates her and is suspicious of his occasional kindness. For his part, Dojo is clearly smitten and impressed by Iku’s determination, even though her frequent intellectual lapses do try his patience.

Library Wars is a perfectly decent read, but it does have some issues. Firstly, the basic concept, as inherited by the series of light novels upon which the manga is based. If the national government has banned offensive books, why isn’t it going after the publishers of these books isntead of waiting until they’ve actually been printed to go confiscate them from bookstores? That doesn’t make much sense.

Secondly, the protagonist. I really appreciate that Iku is a physically coordinated heroine in her twenties, but wish that she wasn’t portrayed as such a scholastic ditz, forever sleeping in class and having to learn on the job what she was supposed to have learned in the classroom. I found myself sympathizing with Tezuka, her antagonistic fellow recruit, who is annoyed that such a slacker is able to achieve the same honor—a spot on an elite squad—that he was only able to attain through hard work.

Lastly, I am bothered by the inconsistency with which VIZ (presumably) has treated the characters’ ranks. Iku is first introduced as a Corporal, yet she is later identified as a Sergeant on a chart of characters and their positions and, indeed, the insignia on her uniform bears this out. Dojo, in turn, is called a Sergeant but according to the chart and his uniform, is actually a First Lieutenant. I know I shouldn’t let this sort of thing distract me from the story, but it’s a mistake that’s repeated so frequently I just couldn’t help it. Hopefully they’ll correct it for volume two.

I enjoyed Library Wars enough that I plan to continue with the series, though I doubt it’ll ever top my personal list of beloved books.

Volume one of Library Wars: Love & War is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

S.A (Special A), Vol. 16

By Maki Minami
Viz, 216 pp.
Rating: Teen

After a delightful fifteenth volume that focused on side characters rather than Hikari and Kei, volume sixteen of S.A is decidedly back to our main couple. That’s not the big problem with this volume. The big problem is Iori Tokiwa, the recently introduced rival for Hikari’s affections. Well. I say rival for her affections, but Hikari’s pretty oblivious to Iori’s attraction and considers him a friend. It’s as a friend that she agrees to be a model for him in a hairstyling competition, though of course Iori wants to use the competition as a way to drive a wedge between Hikari and Kei.

Which is silly, of course, given that this is the penultimate volume of this series. Iori bows out of the series around the middle of the volume. Given that he was only introduced in volume fourteen, I really wonder what the point of the character was. Perhaps he was there to give Hikari the nudge she needed to end Kei’s jealousy. Not only does she promise to remain Iori’s friend at the end of the compeition, but she also drops to one knee and proposes to Kei!

The reactions from friends and family on that one are overwhelming for the main couple and pretty funny to read. While Hikari didn’t mean “right now” when she did it, everyone else seems to think that they did. It calms down after Kei finally tells Hikari he won’t marry her until she beats him and becomes ranked number one. (This is S.A after all!)

Finishing out the volume is the beginning of a more serious storyline in which Hikari tries to break through to Kei’s gruff grandfather. There’s some real emotion in those pages, bringing the overall quality of this volume up. I hope that S.A continues this and works toward a truly satisfying closure. So far, so good.

Volume sixteen of S.A (Special A) will be available on July 6, 2010.

–Reviewed by Jennifer Dunbar

Review copies provided by the publisher.

2 Responses to "On the Shojo Beat: Library Wars and More!"

1 | Danielle Leigh

June 16th, 2010 at 9:08 am


Your critiques of library wars are probably well-founded but I love that franchise so at least I’ll point out that Iku *does* work hard — she’s entering the library defense force, and is *not* part of administration like her very, very smart roommate (in other words, Tezuka is an extraordinary recruit and she shouldn’t be judged by his standards). Tezuka’s kind of an up-tight ass but he’s supposed to grow on you over time (I worry that you like him more than Iku from the outset! Where you will be in two volumes from now I wonder???)

(I don’t understand why the ranks are out of whack…something must be going on there, I don’t think Viz editorial is particularly *lazy* so there must have been some reasoning for that).

Also, great point about going after publishers (re: censorship)….It made me think about the Howl censorship case in the 1950’s (U.S.) when they went after *both* the distributor and the publisher (who was basically the same person, the owner of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco).

2 | Michelle Smith

June 16th, 2010 at 10:48 am


You’re right that she does work hard in general, but she skimps on the things that don’t play to her strengths. I don’t necessarily like Tezuka, but just found it frustrating that here’s this strong heroine whose ignorance is making others have to cover for her.

I don’t actually know the Howl story.