In 2019 Japan, freedom of expression and thought are under attack. The government has created an armed force to censor printed material. Only libraries are immune to the brutal Media Betterment Committee. Following the 1999 vigilante attack on a Hino library, libraries have created their own paramilitary force to defend and protect both libraries and the people who wish to use them.
Iku Kasahara (Nana Eikura) has wanted to join the Library Defence Force since a member of the organisation came to her aid against the Media Betterment Committee, saving a much anticipated new book for her. Her passion for freedom of expression and fearlessness are not enough to pull her through recruitment however, especially when she has a tendency to doze off during lectures. Training proves to be even more difficult for her under the command of drill instructor Atsushi Dojo (Junichi Okada), who is harder on her than on the other recruits.
Library Wars is an entertaining film that will keep you engaged throughout, but for unexpected reasons. The distinctive narrative elements that should have pulled together to make Library Wars compelling were over-shadowed here by more generic ones. Based on Hiro Arikawa’s series of young adult novels, Library Wars is lighter than the trailer suggests. While the film is marketed as an action movie with a philosophical bent and a bit of romance, it’s closer to a romantic comedy with a lashing of action and a dash of anti-censorship ideals.
The plot-line, which is so fascinating and relevant in this age of technology where everyone seems to be either on the side of extreme censorship or extreme media tolerance, is relegated to being a vehicle for the exploration of characters and their relationships. What could have been a gritty and unflinching look at the nature of freedom of expression and governmental control being rationalised as protection for citizens is rendered much simpler. The Media Betterment Committee is reduced to the faceless enemy, without the nuances that a story like this demands.
Despite the ethics being set in black and white without shades of grey, Library Wars is well worth watching. As an action/romantic comedy it works. All of the characters are brilliantly realised and have wonderful chemistry together. Kasahara and Dojo in particular. Their relationship is not something that happens all at once for them, or for us. Initially, they are genuinely at odds with one another, and it comes through to the audience as well. Until they begin to warm to each other, it’s hard to envision them as a couple. Afterwards, it’s hard not to.
The action picks up in the second half of the movie, balancing out the romantic plot and keeping the film at a fast pace. The combat scenes are starkly reminiscent of war zones. It brings a sense of urgency and desperation to the plight of the Library Defence Force.
Once your expectations of the film are adjusted, Library Wars is a fun movie with some brilliant performances. The characters are wonderfully drawn and emotionally compelling and the action keeps the film from becoming too saccharine.