Toshokan Sensou: Strength Admist Hardship: A Clash of Ideals?

I have got to have a badge like that. It’s just so…badass.

I have finished (finally!) the gun-totin’ librarian war opus heartfelt romantic wartime drama epic criticism of censorship I DON’T KNOW that is Toshokan Sensou. The conclusion was suitably packed with all the things I had enjoyed about the series (see struck-out comments above), and while I don’t think Toshokan Sensou will stand as a “classic” of censorship critiques a la Transfer K505 (you were one degree Kelvin off, Production I.G.! One degree!),. I do think it is far more enjoyable and honestly entertaining than my time spent reading Ray Bradbury’s seminal work on the subject and getting clubbed on the head with CENSORSHIP IS BAD morality (I had the same problem reading All Quiet on the Western Front; that book had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face, which is exactly what it was going for, but by page 50 I was like “I get it, okay, you can stop now”), but I think that it’s more enjoyable because I have inverse taste. I’m supposed to be looking down on anime, pandering, escapist, filthy trash that it is, from the “lofty heights” of literature, foreign film, or, barring that, good ol’ homemade American comic books, but somehow, I don’t think it works that way. Which is pretty much exactly what Toshokan Sensou (or at least Iku’s brilliant speech in the middle of episode 12) was all about.

The most interesting part I found in the final sequence–at least from the standpoint of entering highly philosophical and possibly bullshitting mode–was the admission from the mysterious man from the Media Committee that the Media Com. doesn’t have an ideal like the Library Task Force does. The Media Com. fights, instead, for its own sense of pride, and because everyone there is there simply because of personal connections, and, at the end of the day, simply to earn a living wage and survive. The Library Force, on the other hand, has a sort of idealism about it–they’re not fighting because it’s the only way they can eke out an existence, they’re fighting because they believe they are right. I already addressed the problems with their ideals, which are best answered by Voltaire in his legendary quote “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death your right to say it!” (Candide, by the way, is awesome), but their ideals are extremely good ideals to have. What this means for the battle between censorship and freedom of expression, however, is that one side (the pro-expression, Library Force side) has a vision and a cause to fight for; more often than not, people arguing for censorship, or banning books, or burning books, seem to be doing it simply to protect their honor, or the honor of someone or something else.

It’s not always the case, and never across the board for people who call for censorship of material. But when things like, say, a few children’s librarians throwing a hissy fit over the use of the word “scrotum” on page 1 of The Higher Power of Lucky, it’s more like they’re offended that such a dirty and naughty word such as “scrotum” showed up in their Newbery-Award winning book, tainting what should have been a good book with its anatomical cooties (I read the book; I would have taken them more seriously if they had thrown a fit about Lucky dropping her pants and relieving herself in the middle of the Arizona desert, which was probably too far into the book for them to notice or even read, having thrown the book at the wall already). Of course, in that case, the “honor” they’re defending is more like another ideal, in this case what they think children’s literature should be–and the Library Force’s response to this would most likely be “do you really have the right to say what it should be?

And that, in a nutshell, is what Toshokan Sensou was all about–no one has the right to say what is “good” and “bad” literature, or art, or music, or TV, or anime (I’m pretty sure that line, and the subsequent montage of otaku-ish anime series in an otherwise un-otaku series, were thrown in there as otaku-bait, but it was glorious nonetheless to hear a librarian admit anime had value as expression), because there is no objective way to determine what is “good” or “bad”. I, for instance, wholly support the presence of a cute and possibly otaku-bait girl in a given anime series (so long as the series doesn’t rely overly much on the cute girl to carry the ratings, and is something I would like to see anyway); there are many out there (who shall remain nameless, but you know who you are) who would argue quite the opposite: that cute and possibly otaku-bait girls are ruining anime as we know it. Neither side is right or wrong, but both sides (and all the ones in between) have the right to have entertainment that appeals to them, and I fervently hope they find it. I can’t deny them non-cute-girl-containing anime, any more than they can deny me cute-girl-containing anime.

Final thoughts on Toshokan Sensou: even though it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting going in, it still pretty much lived up to the only expectation I really held for it: “pure awesome”. Toshokan Sensou was all those crossed out genres/topics/themes/whatever that I crossed out at the beginning of the post–it handled all of them equally well, and while none really took center stage and stole the limelight, I’d much rather a series that had a bit of something for everyone to enjoy than a one-sided series that was just miltiary drama or just romantic drama or just deep thoughts on censorship. The end result for all three is weakened by the lack of focus, but I have respect for Arikawa Hiro (and the adaption staff at Production I.G.) now, since she balanced all three and didn’t let one drop in favor of the other. The end result is something that can attract a wide audience, and hopefully ones who came for one element will get enjoyment out of another.

That, and I now want my own Kanto Library Task Force uniform to wear to work. It’ll make me look like a security guard, yes, but it would be the best thing ever. Maybe I could add epaulettes…

5 Responses to “Toshokan Sensou: Strength Admist Hardship: A Clash of Ideals?”

  1. 1 issa-sa 27 July 2008 at 2:51 am

    There are series that do one thing absolutely well but people will bitch about “why wasn’t there more focus on this other aspect?”, and there are series balances what it offers well enough (but as usual with humans, let the bitching ensue…) in which Toshokan Sensou falls under. The variety of what the show offers is really something to be appreciated, and that overall is probably its strongest aspect.

    Oh and if you don’t manage to get a Library Task Force uniform, I’d recommend this instead:

  2. 2 The Animanachronism 27 July 2008 at 7:09 am

    Neither side is right or wrong

    This, I think, is where we part company: I think one of the sides is right, or at least righter, but that we won’t be conclusively finding out which side it is any time soon.

  3. 3 OGT 27 July 2008 at 8:59 am

    @issa-sa: I would really rather it have focused on the “satire” bits than anything else, but I can’t really hold that against it when it accomplishes everything it tries with skill, and doesn’t let the ball drop for any of them. I try not to criticize a series for what it isn’t when what it isn’t isn’t something it was trying to achieve in the first place.
    @Animanachronism: I don’t think anyone knows which side is right(er); in my experience, I find no difference in what I enjoy in older vs. newer anime (I have seen much more newer material, of course, but that’s mostly due to availability), which leads me to think that the core of what makes anime “anime” hasn’t gone anywhere, despite the naysayers–it’s just changed. The outcome I a hoping for is for both sides to be pleased with how things worked out. If we wind up in anime future bizarro land where every series has all the emotional weight and force of one of those squeaky toy hammers, that’s when I’ll probably lose interest. I don’t see that happening though–after all, said hammers provided the model for the Goldion Hammer.
    And it’s not like we haven’t had this problem before–one only needs read ANN’s “Buried Garbage” column or listen to AWO review bad anime to realize that everything was not necessarily better in the olden days, and today’s situation is similar to that or the late 70s/80s, except replace “cute girls” with “super robots”.

  4. 4 Daryl Surat 28 July 2008 at 9:11 am

    For the record, my non-cute-girl-containing anime IS, in fact, being denied of me precisely BECAUSE “super robots” got replaced/supplemented with “cute girls.” Fortunately for me, Duke Togo is still cleaning up the airwaves for the next 9 months.

    Hopefully Cobra and Z Mazinger will follow suit as they and their kind continue to be slowly rationed out, presumably one or two series at a time, long enough to sustain my life support for my remaining two years of life. If not, then perhaps like the tree in Lum the Forever I can survive on the memories alone, but know that once this current supply line is broken, it is on.

  5. 5 cuchlann 28 July 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Interestingly, Bradbury says Fahrenheit 451 isn’t about censorship. That is, at least, he didn’t have the idea in mind when he wrote the book. Instead, it’s supposed to be about how people are willing to give up their own freedoms in exchange for supposed safety — which gives the book greater meaning right now in our current climate.

    Do I think it’s not about censorship? No. It does both.

    Also, hurray for finishing the series! Fwoo fwoo!

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I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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July 2008

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