I like reading books; who doesn’t? After all, you’re reading a review for a manga title so you must be curious see what we have in store. Today we have a manga from Kodansha Comics: Mitsu Izumi’s Magus of the Library. Is it good?
According to the official description from Kodansha Comics:
In the small village of Amun lives a poor boy named Theo. Theo adores books, but because of his pointed ears and impoverished life, he isn’t allowed to use the village library. As he endures the prejudice and hatred of the village, he dreams of going where such things don’t exist: Aftzaak, City of Books. But one day, Theo chances to meet a Kafna—a librarian who works for the great library of Aftzaak—and his life changes forever …
The Initial Reaction
I didn’t know anything about Magus of the Library coming into it, but I was reasonably excited to give it a try. I like fantasy, this one sort of reminding me in style of Magi at times, and libraries can make for good settings and backdrops in manga, like Library Wars. Reading this book for the first time, I was a bit pulled in multiple directions by it.
On one hand, it has pacing issues and it can be really wordy. Like, VERY wordy. Exposition dump after exposition dump whether it be important for the story or not. It can also be a tad weak in some characterization areas as well. But then, on the other hand, it pulls me in with a really interesting world; a nice, self-contained tale that invokes magic and wonder; and beautiful artwork. I wanted more from it by the end, for good and for ill.
Magus of the Library is based off a novel called Kafna of the Wind according to the opening. From reading the book you very much get that impression with how things are written. This is a very dialogue-heavy, exposition-driven type of series with long sequences of characters explaining the minutiae of how the library system works to how book repairs are done. Sometimes this is good for world-building and establishing our characters and setting, but then it also comes at a price of really dragging the pace of the manga to a frustrating grind. It often feels like the manga doesn’t trust the readers to understand things through visual storytelling as often as it should.
It’s a shame since as a whole, the opening volume for Magus of the Library is fairly enjoyable. Its setup is familiar in many series with an outsider being discouraged and looked down upon by others for being poor and being of two different races. He loves to read, his sister sacrificing almost all things in order to get him an education. Then one day, strangers from a different, far-off land wander in and change his life forever. It’s typical, clichéd, but it’s engaging to read due to its presentation, an endearing main lead, the Kafna (our librarians), and the mission for which they showed up.
I also rather like how the first volume is essentially a prologue. It’s four chapters long and it’s all about building up our main character, this world, and the people in it. It hints at many things to come that could shape the world as they know it, but vaguely enough to leave us with a sense of mystery. Our lead is very well-established and I do like how his name is left unsaid until the very end, showing that he finally found his inner strength and knows who he is within. The slower approach works here, though the story does end up feeling a touch drawn out.
Character-wise it’s perfectly fine for early on. Our lead is developed well enough for the audience to gain enough sympathy for them, seeing their awful plight and their struggles to read and learn in a town that doesn’t give a toss for him. He has a very earnest, determined drive to him in trying to learn, especially given his sister’s situation. Outside of that he’s a hodgepodge of many tropes from other fantasy series, but it’s a solid foundation and backstory to start, especially since the rest of the series will be focused on him in the present.
The rest of the cast are characterized enough to understand them, but that’s it. The Kafna (Nanako, Sedona, Anzu, and Pipiri) are all fun characters who help introduce us to the concept of the main library and their jobs. They’re each distinct in their own ways and bring both an elegance and sense of levity to the prologue. Ossei is just really kind of a jerk until the plot decides he needs to have some likable traits. Sakiya is our lead’s friend who helps sneaks him into the library… she’s only in about four scenes. The lead’s sister is barely around despite this emotional attachment he has to her to where she only appears halfway through the book. It does feel like the character work is a little under-cooked here, but again, maybe there will be more going on as our series moves into the main dish.
The writing left me with a lot of mixed thoughts. Like I mentioned, the story puts a lot of focus into its world building and establishing things. I understand it’s best to get a lot of this out of the way, but with how front-loaded things are in this prologue it really drags the pacing and excitement of the series down a lot. The dialogue ends up getting very clunky and stilted at points to where it just doesn’t feel believable or even engaging. But the writing also does come together at times, especially during the climax where things pick up. All that buildup and explaining of things really pays off, leading to a gorgeous, thrilling sequence where the Kafna save the day. It just feels in the end like if a few monologues were cut or moments were spaced out better, things would have worked out more in the writing.
Artistically speaking this is a gorgeous manga. The level of detail on every little thing within the panels really brings this world to life. The locations, the objects, the character, and the lovely monster designs bring about a setting that just feels so real. The layouts are constructed well and while the dialogue does go overboard it never becomes troublesome to follow along with what is happening within the tale. The characters are very expressive from their faces to their body language, adding to the level of personality and energy teeming in the art. Now that we’re out of the small town by the end of the first volume I look forward to seeing what else the creator will be able to depict and draw next.
Is It Good?
Magus of the Library Vol. 1 is a flawed but intriguing and at times engaging start to a new series. Acting as a prologue, it allows readers to dip themselves gently into its characters and setting while also laying the groundwork for what they’ll be expecting. It tends to struggle in its pacing and writing at times, leaning too much into words rather than visuals. However, Magus of the Library is a lovely experience that’ll suck you in like any good book should be able to.