2018’s Magus of the Library, Volume 1 is the first tankōbon in Mitsu Izumi’s secondary-universe fantasy manga series, Toshokan no Daimajutsushi in the original Japanese. Magus has been serialized in Good! Afternoon since November 2017. The English translation appeared in 2019.
Although he is but a young boy and impoverished at that, Theo provides his village with a valuable service. Being not merely from the slums but of mixed-heritage as well, the half-Haupi boy is a person at whom all may sneer, all may bully, without consequence.
Theo is relentlessly upbeat. Nevertheless, one aspect of his lowly status weighs on him. Children from the slums may not use the town library.
Most slum dwellers are illiterate. Thanks to the sacrifices of his hard-working sister, Theo can read. Theo is an avid reader1, someone who values books enough to be trusted with them. However, books are a status symbol and the town librarian is a rich man who sees books in terms of value. When the librarian looks at Theo, all he sees is scum to be kept as far as possible from the precious tomes.
The local library is a subsidiary of the Great Library, subject to periodic inspection by the Great Library’s kafna (as the elite librarians are known). Seodona’s party of kafna arrive with a singular purpose in mind: locating, and assessing a grimoire.
Seodona’s attention is drawn to the bookish young Theo when he takes it on himself to protect a book Seodona carelessly left unattended outdoors. Sympathetic to his plight, Seodona could afford to simply provide the boy with alms he needs to care for his malnourished sister’s medical needs. Instead, Seodona offers guidance and a trade. Perhaps the habits she is determined to instill in the boy will lead him to a better life.
The arrogant librarian does Theo a tremendous favour by allowing his greed and pride to overwhelm his duty to the Great Library. Recognizing the worn grimoire as a treasure, he secretly purchased the book from its discoverer before the kafna arrived. Grimoires are dangerous and damaged grimoires particularly so. This grimoire, for example, sets fire to the library with the librarian in it.
Time for Theo to win the grudging toleration of his bigoted neighbors by racing into a burning building! Perhaps he can save the librarian. Or perhaps he will burn to death alongside his persecutor.
Is there no prejudice that cannot be overcome through extraordinary acts of heroism? I cannot understand why more people of despised categories do not immediately seek out risky but noble actions to endear themselves to the hordes of close-minded bigots around them.
The librarian, against all expectations, turns out to be able to admit error. Having confiscated a book loaned to Theo by Seodona because the librarian assumed Theo stole it from the library, the librarian realizes the book isn’t a library book at all. Rather grumpily, he privately resolves to make amends to Theo. Other events intervene.
Readers will note on the cover that this manga is “based on Kafna of the Wind by Sophie Schwimm.” This does not mean the manga was adopted from a pre-existing book. It signifies that at some point in the future, Theo’s story will be deemed important enough in-universe to be written down. Yes, this is a bit of a spoiler, as it means the hero of a multivolume manga probably won’t die in volume one.
While the artist’s figures are merely competent, her depictions of inanimate objects are beautiful. Books of course get loving illustrations, but so do landscapes and clothes.
Readers who have mused about how much they’d like another2 fantasy manga that features commentary about the history and technology of book binding need look no further than this volume. While it is clear that the novel’s remit covers more than books themselves, books are very important to the tale the author spins.
Precisely what the story will be is unclear, as this volume is simply an introduction to the setting and protagonist. I will be picking up more volumes to see what happens to Theo.
1: A minor mystery: this manga shows the opening sequence of an adventure of which Theo is particularly fond, The Adventures of Shagrazzat. The adventures may be inspired by Sinbad; in-universe, the stories are deliberately spread by the Great Library because they approve of the story’s theme of friendship overcoming racial differences.
(My spellcheck thought Shagrazzat might be a typo for Scheherazade, which does suit the theme of the importance of stories, but the Shagrazzat character is nothing like Scheherazade.)
The scene involves a young person who is determined to have adventures eluding the best efforts of his adult minders, in order to board a ship. I could swear I’ve read a manga that had a scene very much like that, a young prince trying to escape a palace to have exciting adventures. In fact, initially, I thought I’d read this specific manga already. Does this scene ring a bell with anyone?