Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Final Thoughts: Armed Librarians - The Book of Bantorra

I watched only three shows from the Fall 2009 anime line-up and out of all those three, Armed Librarians - The Book of Bantorra surprised me the most. Here's why.

Hamyuts reveals that her true power is being able to force book eaters like Ruruta to eat any book she chooses. This special ability of hers enables her to enter Ruruta's world at will as well as summon anyone who has been turned into a book to her aid. Thus, Noloty, Casma, Vizac, Feekie, and Volken all appear to help Hamyuts complete her final mission and defeat Ninieu.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Ruruta tries to convince the telepathic Mirepoc to help him. But after everything that he has done to her comrades and the whole world, Mirepoc finds it hard to trust him. While she wavers in her resolve, Chacoly appears in Ruruta's world and sends her soul transference magic to Mirepoc, giving the latter the ability to move people. This, combined with Mirepoc's telepathy, helps Mirepoc break the sleeping spell that Ruruta has placed on the entire world and channel everyone's desire to save the world. This "power of the world" gather in the knife in Ruruta's hand -- the ultimate weapon to kill Ninieu.

Perhaps knowing that her doom is at hand, Ninieu renews her attack. While the armed librarians fight off the Beasts of the Final Chapter both in the real world and Ruruta's world, Hamyuts summons more of her fallen comrades. A suddenly young Ireia Kitty makes an appearance as well as the ant master, Mokkania. Then Ninieu casts another spell that would have caused a huge explosion and destroy a vital part of the world. However, Enlike uses his lightning magic to negate the spell. This small triumph leads both Matt and Hamyuts to realize that no matter the odds or their differences of opinions, in the end, one thing remains: they are all armed librarians.

With the power of the world upon him, Ruruta advances. The armed librarians provide cover for him while Hamyuts herself risks bleeding to death in order to break the protective barrier around Ninieu. As Hamyuts falls to her death, Ruruta makes it through the final stretch and stabs Ninieu, killing her and in the process ending the destruction of the world. In the next instant, Ruruta wakes up and finds Ninieu as she was before. She still says she cannot forgive him but adds that she will sing for him. While Ninieu's song fills both worlds, Hamyuts dies in Volken's arms, saying with characteristic irony that she is happy. In the real world, the remaining armed librarians celebrate their victory with tears and laughter as Matt muses that he would have wanted to hold Hamyuts in his arms one last time. Hamyuts and Ruruta's body both disappear. The fallen armed librarians in Ruruta's world also disappear.

Years pass and Mirepoc narrates that after the near-catastrophe caused by Ruruta, the armed librarians was disbanded and Bantorra Library was abandoned. All the armed librarians were tried but only one man was punished with the death penalty: Mattalast Ballory. But he disappeared before his sentence could be executed. He reappears many years later to tell an older Mirepoc that he is trying to make amends for all his past deeds by making sure that the stories of everyone whose books he helped destroy in the past become part of his own book.


I had a really bad first impression about Armed Librarians. In fact, I almost dropped it after the first six episodes or so and continued to harbor that feeling until I experienced a change of heart at around Episode 20.
The premise of the series is interesting enough but once you see it, it's hard to get into. It's not because the series pretends to be deep that it is inaccessible. On the contrary, the dominant themes of religion and nihilism are not thoroughly explored. It's inaccessible in that, while each episode is able to entertain to some extent, it's also frustrating because of the lackluster storytelling and slapdash character development. Add to that the generally poor production values, Armed Librarians does not have a lot to draw viewers in and keep them glued to the storyline. 
For a show that is basically a series of loosely connected standalone stories, Armed Librarians is an obvious loser in the continuity department. The way the whole story is told is a little like connecting the dots. In fact, I think that's basically what the writers did: drop hints all over the place and then, when they realize that the story has to end because the studio is running over the budget, they start randomly connecting these earlier hints, never mind if it felt a lot like pulling plot bunnies from a hat or a hammer from space. In short, it all feels like everything is constructed as an afterthought. Not that the story isn't compelling, especially in the later seven episodes, when the overarching plot finally takes shape, but by then people would have already dropped the show entirely, leaving only the most patient of viewers to see the whole thing through. I'll be honest and say that I'm glad I'm one of the latter. Armed Librarians has its good moments, majority of which are concentrated in the last few episodes.
That said, my real pet peeve about this anime is the names of the characters. They are difficult to recall, hard to pronounce and impossible to spell. Maybe the writer wanted to emphasize the foreignness of these characters, how they're all from different backgrounds and that they live in a world different from ours. But come on, names like Hamyuts and Mirepoc are just gratuitous and self-indulgent. Then again, in all fairness, I hate fantasy stories partly because of how regular names are purposely given radical spellings to make them seem more exotic.
As if the ridiculous names weren't enough, the series makes poor use of its large cast. While some get their background unreasonably fleshed out and others are suddenly thrown into the limelight for no reason other than to set them up to be killed, the rest are only shamelessly put there as fodder for the series' many subplots. In the end, I couldn't get emotionally invested in any of the characters, which in turn makes it hard for me to relate and actually care when characters die. Because character deaths are abound in Armed Librarians; that's the only thing the writers don't mince around with. I get the feeling though that they wanted us to feel something when these characters pass away. I say it's an unreasonable expectation on their part and I feel insulted, now that I think about it. I've said it before, the only character I actually care about is Hamyuts, whose kickass awesomeness I partly attribute to the talent of her voice actress, Romi Paku.
The music of Armed Librarians, while not bad, is not something to rave about either. Some tracks provide the correct tone for the more subtly dramatic moments but the rest are either jarring or completely inappropriate. The opening and ending themes are not exceptionally good.
IN SUM -- Armed Librarians is a sub-par anime that fails to meet its own expectations as well as the viewers'. But it does have its redeeming quality: it can be a very entertaining series when it is of the mind to be, which it is...most of the time.