On Talking Comics episode #231, I talked briefly about a manga series from Viz that recently completed. Library Wars: Love & War, written and illustrated by Kiiro Yumi, is a manga series based off of Hiro Arikawa’s novels. The manga series, 15 volumes in all, depicts a world where books go beyond challenged. The federal government works to rid society of unsuitable books.
In Library Wars, the Library Freedom Act allows for libraries to protect books for public consumption despite the ban. The act is as follows:
Libraries have the freedom to acquire their collections.
Libraries have the freedom to circulate materials in their collections.
Libraries guarantee the privacy of their patrons.
Libraries oppose any type of censorship.
When libraries are imperiled, librarians will join together to secure their freedom.
The Library Freedom Act essentially allows for libraries to militarize to protect books. Librarians both work within the library as traditional librarians and as soldiers protecting the library from the Media Betterment Committee. In the series, Iku Kasahara is a young woman who joins the Library Forces as a soldier. Usually, women tend to work within the walls of the library as experts in books. Not Iku. As a young woman, the MBC threatened to remove a book from her possession. A man thwarted their efforts, and Iku dreamed of later meeting that man and protecting the rights to read for others.
The overall story of Library Wars is a great mixture of action and romance (of course Iku finds her “prince”), but it is the threat of censorship that runs strong through the series. What if our access to books was limited?
If you are in school or working for a school, you may be aware of Banned Books Week. Books are typically banned for three reasons:
- The material was considered sexually explicit
- The material contained offensive language
- The material was considered unsuitable to any age group
Banned books are those that have been removed from collections; challenged books have undergone a concerted effort for removal. The people who often call for banning of books are those who do not agree with the book in question. Their opinions attempt to influence the opinions of others. These people are statistically more likely to be parents.
Individuals are not the only ones who can ban books. In many countries, media is banned for one reason or another. Typically, it is to maintain control of a population for power. Journalists are censored, and internet access if severely limited. Repressive regimes will go to extreme lengths to maintain social control of their countries.
The Library Freedom Act of Library Wars is reminiscent of the Library Bill of Rights, a protection of the patrons of libraries. Libraries are in a unique position to present as much information as possible for the people to access. An informed public is far more important to society than a “protected” one.
In recent years, manga itself has been the target of censorship and regulation. Comic fans are familiar with the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation on Juvenile Delinquency (which had a great deal of influence on the self-censorship of comics in the 50s). Manga is deemed inappropriate by some because of the sexual content and nudity presented in the books. Japan as a country has very different social norms when it comes to sex and nudity, and publishers often do not censor the material when bringing it to an American audience. There have been cases where retailers have been prosecuted (and convicted) for selling manga. In one case, Texas v. Castillo, a retailer was convicted for selling explicit manga to an undercover police officer. This police officer found the manga in the Adults Only section of the store, which was clearly labeled as such. The crux of the argument was that comics were for kids, and presenting comics (manga) with explicit content targeted this group. The PROTECT Act, an anti-child pornography law, is used to prosecute manga with underage characters engaging in sex acts or presented as nude. People have been sentenced to prison for downloading and viewing manga with underage characters engaged in sexual acts. These cases have brought forth the question over the relationship between cartoon depictions of sexual acts and the very real, very harmful pornography of children.
Library Wars may come off as a silly concept to those who are hearing about the plot at first, but it truly tackles an important issue to comics and manga fans. The mediums have been challenged, and in some cases, banned. Fans and retailers have been prosecuted and arrested for reading and owning “questionable” material. Library Wars takes a real threat to the extreme to show just how important it is to protect all forms of media expression.
If you are interested in the topic of censorship, I encourage you to visit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s website. The CBLDF works to protect the rights of creators and fans to produce and consume media.