December 2016, A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd, feature image

Review: A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd (DVD)

A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd was a short-run TV series from a few years back that was produced as part of a wider multimedia franchise that has its roots in the adult visual novel world. For the anime adaptation they’ve decided to sacrifice the adult content to explore the property as a slice of life drama with a magical twist. The end result proves interesting, if somewhat flawed.

Book worm Kyotaro attends the prestigious Shiomi Academy, one of Japan’s elite education centres designed to churn out the best of the best in the country. When not nerding out and reading books, he’s also prone to psychic premonitions which leads him to aiding fellow classmate Tsugumi and her having an accidental meeting with a speeding train. The story gets off to a predictably worn trope when Kakei saves Tusgumi while inadvertently copping a feel, which of course is soon forgotten as they patch up the misunderstanding.

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Terrible circumstantial meeting episode aside, the story follows Kyotaro’s adventures as the sole member of the Library Club, which gradually grows in size to include longtime friend Ikkei and an ensemble of girls with personalities similar to anyone familiar with harem anime. The group’s coalescence coincides with Tsugumi’s drive to create the Shiomi Happy Club, a project designed to foster goodwill amongst students. Behind all of this is the role of the infamous “Shepherd”, a reclusive force thought to mysteriously intervene in the lives of selected students for a variety of reasons. Thus the two elements run parallel for the most part, with the Shiomi Happy Project driving the surface level/slice of life events while the work of the Shepherd allows elements of the main cast to explore the supernatural layers of Shiomi Academy and Kyotaro’s psychic abilities.

A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd wears its visual novel heritage rather obviously from the get-go – characters are introduced with title cards, the main character seems more a vessel than a terribly developed character and the high school harem is loaded with the kind of queues that typify similar adaptations. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if there are engaging elements used as part of the transition – To Heart’s late-90s anime adaptation was slow-paced but interesting as a slice of life drama and Sakura Taisen (while more dating sim/strategy JPRG than visual novel) produced some excellent anime releases, at least as far as its OVAs and movies are concerned. A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd straddles the line between these extremes as it many ways borrow from them – To Heart was an adult visual novel/dating sim but removed the smut and relied on slice of life as the propellant; Sakura Taisen did a great job bringing in fantastical elements while exploring its cast.

The problem with A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd is that it doesn’t do either of them particularly well – the slice of life had the potential to become engaging and brought in some entertaining plot points, but didn’t explore this and the cast of characters aside from a few players beyond the surface. The fantastical elements had some interesting moments but ultimately failed to explore anything deeper.

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It’s difficult to say if it was the series length that ultimately caused this or if it’s just a result of the planning and execution of the adaptation. More time could well have provided more chance for deeper analysis, but it may be that the source material and any production scheduling/budget restricted what could be achieved. There are plenty of examples where the luxury of higher episode counts fails to result in a more engaging story, and conversely there many anime releases that do an excellent job crafting an engaging story over a 12-episode run. It’s disappointing as both elements have some really interesting potential in and of themselves, and there are small story arcs within the series where we can see this being executed well.

What should be acknowledged is that given the property’s premise as an adult game the amount of fan service is kept in check and the instances where there are definite sexual overtones (likely inspired from scenes on the game), they’ve played it a little on the nose which was a welcome surprise. If ever the property gets revisited in an animated format it would be nice to see if the production team can take this release’s strengths and amplify them to better explore some of its disparate elements.

The DVD release spreads the episodes across 2 discs, and the combination of modern production values and highly optimised MPEG2 encoding means this is a well put-together collection. There’s no dub present on the disc for those who prefer to listen to their anime in English and extras are limited to trailers and op/eds, the latter of which includes the original aired intro that was updated and replaced for the home release.

It’s not that this is a bad series – the production values were good, the writing was capable, performances were fine and the concepts were potentially very interesting. Whether reflective of the source material, a result of the episode count or due to a lack of direction, A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd comes across as a jack of all/master of none in its execution. Fans of the franchise’s multitude of releases will likely have a different take on it as they’ll have additional depth offered by the expanded universe, but as someone new to this one, it comes off as interesting but lacking in focus. If harem and slice of life anime tick your lists it’s definitely worth a look, otherwise this comes off somewhere in the middle.

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A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.