Shoujo Goodness – Library Wars and Kaze Hikaru

I will concede that there are many shoujo series out there that are better executed than Library Wars, but I will always love this manga because I am a librarian and this manga is about paramilitary librarians falling in love. While some of the plot contrivances in Library Wars are a bit on the thin side, it still functions wonderfully for me as a cute fluffy read. The main story in this volume centers around the enigmatic Komaki and a young deaf girl who he picks out library books for. Komaki might be deluding himself that he’s only performing reader’s advisory services for an old family friend, but as Marie grows up she falls in love with him. Their relationship is totally innocent, but this doesn’t stop the Media Betterment Committee from making false accusations, kidnapping Komaki, and tying him up and torturing him. Because that’s what happens if you are accused of making insensitive book recommendations. With the eyes of a young girl in love herself, Iku clearly sees that Marie cares for Komaki and takes her along on a rescue mission, even though Dojo objects.

I do wish that Dojo would stop slapping Iku whenever she’s trying to strike out on her own to do her job. He usually does this just before she’s supposed to rush into danger, but it suggests an unhealthy relationship dynamic, which I don’t think the author is going for. Aside from foiling the Media Betterment Committee and dodging her parents, Iku does have a great moment where she gets a surprise makeover as part of her guard duty at a literary event and Dojo spends most of his time fending off other men. So nothing earth shattering in volume 5, this installment is pretty much exactly what the previous volumes delivered but it is good enough for me. I was amused that when Dojo was chiding Iku about her reference duties, he called it “referencing,” which I thought was a bizarre but charming way of referring to the classic reference interview.

I love the cover for this volume! Most of the previous volumes had daytime scenes, so it seemed like a nice change to feature the characters against a night time backdrop. I’m a little concerned about Kaze Hikaru. I’d been behind on this manga but then decided to read a good chunk of the most recent volumes. I hadn’t realized that there was a year between volumes 18 and 19. Now there are 28 or so volumes out in Japan and the series is still ongoing, and I’m wondering if we really will get the complete series out here. Kaze Hikaru isn’t a manga that clobbers the reader over the head with tortured vampire bishonen but it is exceedingly well-crafted, with plenty of historic charm and angsty cross-dressing.

As always, Kaze Hikaru blends historic details with the drama provided by the slowly developing relationship between Sei, disguised as a boy to enter the Shinsengumi and her mentor Okita who knows her true identity. This volume was a little more heavy on the historic politics front, as it detailed some of the maneuvering from the arrival of foreign ships outside Japan. Sei is on a mission to locate a mysterious geisha Captain Kondo fell for, as he is overcome with illness. Sei’s girlish good looks become a problem for her mission, as she heads into a confrontation with a man named Ukinosuke who appears to be a dissolute drunkard. Okita arrives just in time to help out, and Kondo is able to finally meet the woman he fell in love with. Ukinosuke is revealed to be an alias for a very important man, and Kondo’s devotion to his duty ends up influencing a critical decision from the shogun. Sei ends up comforting and supporting Okita for a change, when he thinks he’s been put aside by the captain. The volume concludes with a delightful stand-alone story where Sei and Okita confront the bad reputation of the Shinsengumi and meet a pioneer of photography in Japan.

I’m always amazed at how much story Watanabe is able to pack into one volume and the fact that even though the relationship between Sei and Okita is progressing at such a slow pace, I don’t feel impatient about the idea of the story of Kaze Hikaru needing to resolve anytime soon. I think I’ll start to get impatient if I have to wait a year for volume 20 though!

Review copy of Kaze Hikaru provided by the publisher.

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