Magus of the Library, from publisher Kodansha Comics, is a relatively new series (only three volumes in Japan so far), which promises to show us why libraries and books are so important. Set in a fantasy world, it aims to both teach and entertain with a collection of quirky and lovable characters – but does it deliver? Let’s find out!
The story follows Theo, a child who lives in the slums of the small village of Amun. Theo loves books and wants nothing more than the freedom to read the books in the village’s library, but because of his pointed ears and poor family, he’s discriminated against and banned from the library. Theo dreams of leaving his hometown and travelling to Aftzaak, the City of Books, where he’s sure to be allowed access to their library.
When librarians from Aftzaak (who are known as ‘Kafna’) visit the city of Amun, Theo’s fate is about to change forever. One of the Kafna called Sedona quickly becomes friends with the young Theo, after he saves a book she’d brought with her from the rain. At first Theo can’t understand why anyone would treat him kindly, given the different blood that runs through him, but as his friendship with Sedona grows he begins to realise that the power of books and their stories can bring anyone together…
Magus of the Library is loosely an Arabian Nights story, with a world and characters that feel right at home in Aladdin (there’s even a flying carpet!), but it stands on its own very well. I’m not the biggest fan of stories like Aladdin or those set in deserts, but I can say wholeheartedly that I loved Magus of the Library.
Although the story’s setting should be a barren wasteland, the world is brimming with life. There are so many plants, trees and animals that the manga really feels alive. Mangaka Mitsu Izumi (7th Garden) has an eye for detail and manages to pack a lot into her panels without them feeling overcrowded. Characters have a wide variety of expressions, and it’s easy to see what they’re thinking or feeling without even reading the dialog. Perhaps what I liked most about Izumi’s art, however, was her decision to use a number of two-page spreads to capture the most impactful scenes as they’re absolutely beautiful and a feast for the eyes.
The story is based on a book called Kafna of the Wind by Sophie Schwimm, and although I couldn’t find out anything about the original work, I liked the direction this manga is taking. The tale being told is perfect for all ages, playing up the fantasy angle for younger readers while deftly showing older readers how meaningful literature is for children (or anyone actually).
The Kafna work hard to ensure that libraries, and therefore books, are easily accessible to all. They want everyone to experience the joy of a good book: that special story you can’t put down, that captivates you from start to finish. As a book lover myself, this is a message I can get behind. In a time where the future of our own libraries is uncertain, it’s a good reminder of their importance.
I think it’s also worth talking about how likable Theo is as a protagonist. Despite the awful treatment he goes through at the hands of the villagers, who view him as an outcast, he’s still a cheerful and loving boy. He’s hardworking, earnest and full of dreams. Although he also seems strangely mature for his age, I was shocked at the end of the book to discover that Theo’s supposed to be 6 years old as he both looks and acts at least 2-3 years older than that!
The end of this volume marks a fairly significant change in the story’s direction, so I’m looking forward to seeing where Volume 2 takes us when it’s released in September. Having said that, this first entry stands very well as a single story, so if you felt like you’d had your fill, it’d be okay to part ways here.
As previously mentioned, Magus of the Library comes to the West thanks to Kodansha Comics and has been translated by Stephen Kohler. The translation reads well and is problem-free. The book itself has been released in one of Kodansha’s bigger formats, matching the sizing of Complex Age and O Maidens in Your Savage Season.
Overall, I loved every second I spent with Magus of the Library. Theo is a likeable main character, with a passion for books as mighty as my own. The story itself is relatable to anyone who loves printed media, and younger readers will be captivated by the fantasy elements. This is certainly a series to keep a close eye on!
A free preview of Volume 1 can be read on Kodansha’s website here.