Well, I went into this series with no expectations, virtually blind, only led on by a seemingly interesting concept mixing military conflict and...libraries? There have been more bizarre matches made in anime heaven, but many of them are destined to fail. So, would Library Wars pass the test and avoid the trap of not actually developing (or even following) its own setting?
In a word, yes. The creators dreamed up a world that isn't a million miles from reality in some instances (the idea of censorship), and mixed it with some...odd happenings, such as libraries having their own Defense Force to combat the military excursions of the Media Cleansing committee. As expected from an anime that essentially remains slice-of-life, the setting is a vehicle for the characters to a large extent, but the story certainly isn't neglected, and there are some surprisingly deep moments and comments throughout. One that stands out is Komaki's reflective comment that books for children are often targeted for heavy censorship, as 'adults can no longer see the absurdities of the world in which we live'.
The general story thread follows Iku Kasahara as a cadet in the Kanto Library Defense Force, a feisty lady who wants to protect books from censorship, making them available for all. The plot largely tracks Kasahara's interactions with other characters as she tries to climb the ranks, against a backdrop of various incidents that are thrown up (very unfairly in most cases) against the Library Forces. I found the situations to be pretty entertaining in all, and although some were fairly 'standard' as it were, they were often varied and executed well - I can only applaud Library Wars for not boring me at any stage.
The tone of Library Wars was one that I found increasingly endearing as it went on - a slice-of-life series that managed to successfully balance outright comedic moments (chibi faces an' all) with the more serious ramifications of the military backdrop. It could've been done very poorly, or shied away from, but the writers did a good job of carefully weighing them against each other. I would've liked to see more expansion on the political side of things, and further exposition on the overall world scenario. On the whole, the world concept was very unique, handled well and whilst it hardly tackled many issues head-on, it'd be too much to expect a slice-of-life anime to go too overboard on the deep philosophical debates.
Surprisingly, very good. The animation itself seemed detailed enough, and although I'm no real judge, I was impressed by it - I didn't expect such quality going in. That said, had I known that Production I.G was the same studio that animated Ghost in the Shell: SAC and The Sky Crawlers, then perhaps I wouldn't have been quite as clueless. At any rate, in a series with a fair bit of action and therefore potential pitfalls for lazy animation and corner-cutting, the movement was fluid and smooth.
However, where Library Wars most impressed me was the presentation of the environments. The stills were clean and the backdrops were lush and varied - it certainly felt like a summery anime at times, with a warmth that helped bring the story and characters to life. The characters themselves were well-designed and distinguishable despite the standard uniforms of the Library Force, with a crispness to their appearance without seemingly overly sharp. I have absolutely no complaints here, and the high-production values are evident.
Library Wars is unremarkable in terms of the soundtrack - this is certainly no Baccano!, and isn't especially musically-orientated. The standard gentle piano rhythms complimented emotional scenes nicely, but the soundtrack generally set calmly in the background, taking no particular risks and not grabbing my eye. Sound effects were similar, crisp and bright, but nothing outstanding. It had a few good moments, but overall the ambient music allowed the seiyu to do their job without interruption.
...which they did, and well. I'm still hopelessly naive on voice actors, but the entire cast performed admirably and both Komaki and Kasahara stood out to me as characters who were correctly matched in terms of their VAs, bring a vivacity and realistic portrayal to the table.
I cared about these characters a lot more than I probably should have done. It's not a psychological thriller designed to draw you in, and nobody commits unspeakable sins to make you despise them, and yet...this group of closely-knit Library Defense Officers were designed with empathy in mind, I feel. The cast generally interact believably throughout and their actions reflect this, whether in personal conversation or in the middle of a raging firefight. That said, they all develop considerably as the series goes on - you almost feel like you know them personally by the end. This, in my view, is what designing good characters is all about, and why I remain pure sucker for an excellent slice-of-life series.
Kasahara and her instructor, Dojo (I know) form the main 'generic romantic pairing', although this is handled tastefully throughout and developed genuinely well. Both characters have considerable flaws, but they remain likeable and it's nice to see how their relationship alters over the course of the series. It's not hamfisted, and is quite elegantly done for the most part. Kasahara in particular I found to be a surprisingly empathetic protagonist with her bold sincerity and emotion, not something that I would've expected based off the first episode.
The supporting cast fill out their occasionally generic roles well - Komaki standing out as the 'smiling logician' of zen-like calm. I felt that more could've been done with Tezuka (and his brother), but ultimately the cast of characters was fun to watch and they almost felt like a little family by the end. D'awwwww. On a personal note, only Shibasaki particularly irritated me, but that's more due to her flippant attitude and occasionally manipulative intentions/actions than anything overtly annoying about her. Then again, I guess she is an 'informant'.
It's no big secret that I'm a massive fan of reading, and that's perhaps what drew me to Library Wars in the first place. I didn't get too much depth on that subject, but the series kept me hooked throughout and I wasn't bored for even a moment - comedy and drama were both there in abundance. With a strong cast of characters that stuck together admirably in strength for all 12 episodes, The overall score almost seems low given how much I enjoyed the series, but I think that reflects my view - the concept of the series was maximised within the constraints of the slice-of-life genre, and turning it into a mindf*ck series would've resulted in an entirely different tone.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, will watch it again, and would recommend it to anyone with a hankering for a slice-of-life show with a bit of uniqueness about it.