What’s it about? In order to secure her family’s economic future, Kuze Tsugumi’s father plans to marry her off to a “new money” man she’s never met. But after her younger brother’s nearly killed by a cursed tome, Tsugumi develops the ability to see the “auras” of other such books—making her a valuable recruit for the Imperial Library Intelligence Asset Management Bureau, a.k.a Fukurou, the organization tasked with handling the cursed tomes.
CONTENT WARNING: Suicide; self-harm.
Hello, it is I, Resident Defender of Otome VN Adaptations, back again for another season! And it looks like we just might have another worthwhile one on our hands. While Libra didn’t charm me as thoroughly as winter’s DamePri or fall’s Code: Realize, it’s built atop a fascinating premise and stars a female protagonist trying to find her own path. That’s a solid recipe for a good series—the question is if Libra can effectively cook it.
This episode is mostly setup, hurrying to establish the world and premise so that Tsugumi can join Fukurou (“The Owls”). As a result, events escalate very quickly, a lot of information gets thrown at the viewer via exposition or internal monologue, and there isn’t a ton of time to establish the cast’s personalities or relationships. It’s a functional premiere, but also a rushed one.
Thankfully, both the world and premise established here are rad as hell. The story takes place in what looks like Taisho-era Japan and centers around a secret organization tasked with hunting down “cursed tomes”: handwritten books that have been imbued with their writers’ emotions, effectively causing them to possess their readers. In this premiere, that leads to two readers trying to kill themselves, and Libra doesn’t shy away from depicting this in fairly graphic (albeit stylized) imagery.
It’s great groundwork to build a story on, particularly if you’re a bibliophile like me and love the concept of literalizing the power that fiction can have over both readers and writers. Tsugumi specifically talks about how books can connect people to a range of experiences and emotions they wouldn’t normally have in their day-to-day lives, and I’d love to see the series dig into that more from both a negative and positive angle.
As much as I adore the central premise, I am worried about how well Libra is going to execute it. Production-wise, the series’ art design uses a washed-out color palette reminiscent of old photographs and faded illustrations, which is either going to feel like a neat aesthetic for a historical fantasy about old books or really bland and boring, depending on your tastes (I’m somewhere in the middle, myself).
The direction and animation are functional but unremarkable beyond a few nice angles (see above and below) and some unintentionally hilarious dramatic!! zooms onto Tsugumi’s shocked face. It’s not a terrible production, but it’s not a memorable one either.
(Also, the ending is a bunch of pin-up shots of the guys in various states of undress. There’s no fanservice in the episode itself and I’m pretty sure they’re all adults, but if you have a zero-tolerance policy for sexualized characters, best to skip the ending altogether.)
My two biggest concerns, though, deal with the tone and the characters. Libra is a Serious Show with a lot of Serious People talking Seriously. It has neither a sense of humor nor a campy self-awareness about its drama. It’s interesting, but thus far lacking in charm.
A successful otome VN adaptation has to endear the audience to its cast, particularly the love interests, and that’s frequently accomplished through their quirks or more sympathetic, innocuous flaws. Libra‘s self-serious tone makes that very difficult to do. So far, the two guys we met are just blandly polite pretty-boys. They’re not predatory, at least, but they’re also completely interchangeable. I’m 100 times more interested in Shiori, and even that has more to do with her character design than any standout writing.
Tsugumi isn’t much better here, but there is some great potential for her character to grow. She spends the first half the episode quietly accepting her fate, blaming herself for things that aren’t her fault, and mostly just standing around looking surprised.
It got to the point where I was straight-up yelling at her to do something already… and I think she heard me? At the end of the episode, she decides to join Fukurou, not for any grand goals about justice or peace, but simply because she’s tired of sitting around doing nothing and wants to “change herself.”
Visual novels are, at their core, about choice—about how the decisions you make can affect the world in ways both grand and intimate. Depending on how they’re written, they have the potential to encourage empowerment or promote passivity, depending on if your character takes action or simply responds to the actions taken by others. Tsugumi’s decision to join the bureau and exercise more agency suggests that Libra leans more towards the former, and that bodes very well for the series’ overall potential.
Ultimately, I’ve left this premiere feeling cautiously optimistic. I am extremely into Libra‘s premise, as it sets itself up to have a structure that can be both “monster-of-the-week” and build towards solving the larger mystery of the cursed tomes. That format should give Tsugumi ample time to develop as an individual and build relationships with the people around her, which should hopefully lead to more interesting interactions than what we got this week. Bonus points if Libra finds its sense of humor along the way, too.
Whatever the case, I’ll stick around for a couple episodes to see how the story develops. Libra has some excellent pieces. Here’s hoping it can put them all together.