Libraries have often appeared on the silver screen, whether in the form of stereotypes like the spinster librarian, Mary, in It’s A Wonderful Life and the glimpse of a librarian in Jennifer’s Body. Streaming shows have had their share of librarians too, like the unnamed librarian in the second episode of The Queen’s Gambit, or the value of the library emphasized in the first season of My Brilliant Friend. In the past year, I’ve come across a number of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) librarians in Western animated and anime series. I’d like to review some of the ones I know of at the present in order to shed some light on these characters.
Western animation does not have a good track record when it comes to BIPOC librarians. Shows such as Zevo-3 and The Simpsons feature librarians, but both are White. The female-coded librarian named Turtle Princess in Adventure Time and a male librarian named Mr. Snellson in Mysticons are voiced by White men. DC Super Hero Girls has Kimberly D. Brooks, a Black American actress who famously voiced Jasper in the Steven Universe series, voice a White female librarian, rather than have her voice a Black female librarian as a character. There are almost no BIPOC female librarians in Western animated series like the White young female librarian in Hilda, who is given a name in the show’s most recent season. Even Mira, the protagonist of the children’s animation, Mira, Royal Detective, based on late 19th century India, who sings about libraries with the people of Jalpur, is only a librarian for one episode, serving at the pleasure of the queen as a royal detective for the rest of this series. However, one series showcases BIPOC male librarians unlike any other: Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, a remake of the 1980s series, She-Ra: Princess of Power.
In the season 2 finale, Princess Glimmer and her friend, Adora, travel deep to the magical woods to find their brown-skinned friend, Bow, who has gone “missing.” They find a library and believe they need to “rescue” him. They discover that Bow is there visiting his two dads, George, and Lance, claiming he is on break from a boarding school, when he is actually fighting in a war against the show’s villains. As it turns out, George and Lance run the library, which serves as a residence and a museum. It is beautiful in its own right even if it has vines growing on the outside. You could call it a hybrid between an archives, a museum, and a library. In any case, George and Lance call themselves historians, like Bow’s brothers, but they are librarians who have collected books as part of their research on the planet’s first settlers. Both are enthralled when they learn that Adora, who can transform into a warrior-princess named She-Ra, can read the ancient and dead language of the first settlers. Later, a battle with a creature, accidentally released by Adora, destroys part of the library, and Bow is forced to reveal who he is to his shocked dads. After they embrace him and his friends, these librarians help the protagonists by giving them information to help with their quest to find out more about the planet’s past.
George and Lance later attend the coronation of Glimmer in the show’s fourth season. The library is revisited by Bow and Glimmer in the show’s fifth, and final, season. Sadly, the library has been abandoned and trashed. George and Lance leave a note for Bow, telling him where they went into hiding with a riddle. Bow and Glimmer find George and Lance in the ruins of a former castle, who tell them about writings they discovered about an ancient rebellion against the planet’s first settlers. They play a recording that details a fail-safe that could destroy the superweapon in the center of the planet. Bow and Glimmer share this information with their friends, helping them defeat the villainous Horde Prime later in the season. In the end, the value of libraries, librarians, and conducting detailed research is emphasized in the episode.
In contrast to Western animation, anime series feature various librarians, almost all of whom are women, at least from the series I’ve seen so far. Some like Hisami Hishishii in R.O.D the TV, Fumi Manjōme in Aoi Hana, Chiyo Tsukudate in Strawberry Panic!, or Azusa Aoi in Whispered Words are students behind the circulation desk, while others engage in more wide-ranging duties. For instance, Anne and Grea, two friends who love each other, in Manaria Friends close up the school library, shelve books, and play a game of hide-and-seek within the library. Similarly, Yamada, the protagonist of B Gata H Kei, fails to seduce her male friend, Kosuda, in the library, on multiple occasions, embarrassing herself over and over again. Apart from the unnamed librarians in Cardcaptor Sakura who help the protagonists Sakura, Sayoran, and Tomoyo, find a book in the local public library, which is literally flying away from them, there are three librarians who stand out. They are: Doctor Oldham in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Myne in Ascendance of a Bookworm, and Lilith in Yamibou.
The first of these examples, in the series Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, is Oldham, a middle-aged man living in Gargantia, an interconnected fleet of ships that travels across the world, which is completely covered by water. He is a medical doctor, considered a sage and wise man by those in the fleet. He lives atop a spire, perhaps a nod to the idea of an “ivory tower.” Anyway, Amy brings Ledo, a soldier who crashed on the planet by accident, to his dwelling, which has a degraded library filled with books and not much else, so he can learn more about the Gargantian society. While the library seems to be a book depository, Oldham does inform Ledo about the social organization in Gargantia and laughs at him for his absurd ideas about society. As such, he fulfills the role of a librarian as an Information Provider, even though he is not called a librarian and does not call himself a librarian. He later appears in an original video animation where he helps at a library on another part of the fleet, aiding others in looking through records there with Bebel, Amy’s brother.
The second example is Myne in Ascendance of a Bookworm. Unlike any of the characters previously described in this post, she is the anime’s main protagonist. In fact, before she took on her form as a sickly, but highly intelligent, young child, she was a book-loving librarian, killed, ironically, by a stack of books. To her horror, she lives in a medieval town in an era before the printing press or public libraries, and she makes it her life mission to become a librarian. This was made clear in one episode where a priest, angry at her for threatening his position in the society’s elite, purposely wrecks the church library to stop her from coming to an important festival. Upon seeing this, she declares that the priest should be executed for this “crime.” Luckily, she calms down, re-organizing the library using the principles of the Nippon Decimal Classification System, after rejecting her own proposal to organize the library based on her own ideas. The latter system is the Japanese version of the Dewey Decimal System. Myne is gleeful to organize everything inside the library itself. Even more than this, the episode features PSAs from Myne about this system and the role of Melvil Dewey. Later, Myne even argues the importance of giving away books for free rather than for profit, angering Benno, who is the sponsor at her guild. It is unique that a character would have a song about re-organizing books, even while the library is portrayed as a book depository, with other materials not mentioned. She is the most positive depiction of a librarian in anime I’ve seen to date.
The third example is Lilith in Yamibou, a caretaker of the Great Library, a repository containing thousands of books that contain all the book-worlds of the universe. For most of the series, she travels with Hazuki, her crush, looking for Eve, who is another caretaker of the library. You could say that Lilith is doing her librarian duties by making sure that worlds within the books are secure, meaning they are a key part of the series. While she, like Oldham, is not identified as a librarian in the series, the official site of the visual novel that the anime is based on calls her a library administrator at the “center of the library world,” and says that she “manages all the books in the library.” The same is stated on the anime’s official website when translated into English. Unlike Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet and Ascendance of a Bookworm, the mechanics for the world’s shifting is “an interdimensional library,” with each of the books representative of another reality and the “home base” of Lilith, as pointed out by the Anime News Network. It turns out she is a “reluctant cosmic librarian,” as Eve, the real librarian and administrator of the Great Library, vanished years before into a “world of books.”
While Western animation series do not, generally, have BIPOC librarians, there are various BIPOC librarians of note in anime series, specifically in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Ascendance of a Bookworm, and Yamibou. Although these are not all of the examples of BIPOC librarians in animated series, there is the possibility for upcoming series to include libraries as settings for characters and BIPOC librarians as characters themselves. After all, with Clara Rhone, a Black woman who runs a library, appearing in the series Welcome to the Wayne, there is hope yet for Western animation series. The same can be said for anime as Myne will be making a reappearance in the third season of Ascendance of a Bookworm.
© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.
This is post is reprinted from my guest post on March 24 on Reel Librarians.
- “Clara Rhone,” Welcome to the Wayne wiki, 25 Mar. 2019.
- Harding, Daryl. “3rd Season of Ascendance Of A Bookworm TV Anime Announced,” Crunchyroll, 12 Jul. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely. “10 of the most beautiful libraries in animated series,” Libraries in Popular Culture, 23 Nov. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely. “A library atop a spire: Dr. Oldham and the Gargantia anime series,” Libraries in Popular Culture, 11 Aug. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely, “A Mysterious Librarian is the Breakout Star of Netflix’s Hilda,” Libraries in Popular Culture, 22 Sept. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely. “From love confessions to smooches: Love in the library part 3,” Libraries in Popular Culture, 19 Jan. 2021.
- Hermann, Burkely. “Lacking ‘proper, consistent representation’: Librarians in popular culture,” Libraries in Popular Culture, 17 Nov. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely. “Libraries, librarians, and pop culture reviews,” Libraries in Popular Culture, 10 Oct. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely. “Little witches, comedy, and love in the library,” Libraries in Popular Culture, 23 Oct. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely. “Myne the ‘bookworm’ librarian and the Nippon Decimal Classification System,” Libraries in Popular Culture, 29 Aug. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely. “Read or…die?: Paper masters, embers of the British empire, and books galore,” Libraries in Popular Culture, 16 Sept. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely, “The Mysterious Librarian in Netflix’s Hilda Finally Gets a Name,” Libraries in Popular Culture, 8 Jan. 2021.
- Hermann, Burkely, “These Animated Shows Defy Library Stereotypes,” Libraries in Popular Culture, 12 Aug. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely. “Unrealistic “miracles” and helpful librarians in Cardcaptor Sakura,” Libraries in Popular Culture, 2 Feb. 2021.
- Høgset, Stig and Tim Jones, “Review: Ascendance of a Bookworm (seasons 1 and 2),” H.E.M. Anime Reviews, n.d.
- Kelly, Hillary. “My Brilliant Friend Recap: Growing Pains,” Vulture, 28 Nov. 2018.
- Lemus, Jean-Karlo and Monique Thomas, “This Week in Anime: What The Hell is Going On in Yamibou?,” Anime News Network, 5 Nov. 2020.
- Loveridge, Lynzee. “The List: 6 Trailblazing Shojo “Deconstructions” You Should Be Watching,” Anime News Network, 29 Sept. 2012.
- Martin, Theron. “Review: Yamibo–Sub.DVD – Darkness, the Hat, and the Travelers of the Books: Complete Collection,” Anime News Network, 5 Jun. 2016.
- “Return to the Fright Zone,” She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Wiki, 23 Sept. 2020.
- “Reunion,” She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Wiki, 30 Nov. 2020.
- Sherman, Jennifer. “Crunchyroll Adds Yamibo Anime to Catalog,” Anime News Network, 3 Dec. 2020.
- Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “3 favorite Christmas movies starring reel librarians,” Reel Librarians, 23 Dec. 2020.
- Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Paranormal research in ‘Jennifer’s Body’ (2009),” Reel Librarians, 28 Oct. 2020.
- “The Coronation,” She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Wiki, 15 Sept. 2020.
- “The Library,” She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Wiki, 29 Jul. 2020.
- “Yami,” Yami, hat, and book traveler official website, 28 Oct. 2005 (in Japanese).
- “Yami, Hat, and Book Traveler,” Animax, 8 Mar. 2007 (in Japanese).
16 replies on “BIPOC librarians in animated series: She-Ra to Yamibou”
[…] fathers of one of the protagonists, Bow, and are historical researchers, historians to be exact, clearly having a life outside of curating their library. As for Myne, she has wide interests and desires in this […]
[…] was also a related post on BIPOC librarians in animated series (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and Yamibou), a guest post on Reel Librarians, rehashed shows I […]
[…] Burkely. “BIPOC librarians in animated series: She-Ra to Yamibou,” Pop Culture Library Review, 26 Mar. […]
[…] own ways. Apart from these characters, one character shines through. She has become one of the best depictions of librarians in fiction, especially in animation for some time. Her name is Kaisa. She is a […]
[…] the books, she is able to make sure the books are more ordered than elsewhere they were before. She even had a PSA on the role of Melvil Dewey, argues later about the importance of giving away books for free […]
[…] in Aoi Hana / Sweet Blue Flowers, Anne in Manaria Friends, Grea in Manaria Friends, Lilith in Yamibou, Iku Kasahara in Library War, Asako Shibasaki in Library War, Fumio Murakumi in Girl Friend Beta, […]
[…] it shares some similarities with the school libraries in Classroom of the Elite, Bloom Into You, Whispered Words, Girl Friend Beta, and even the one in Strawberry Panic!, to name a few. But, it is unique in and […]
[…] secret library known as Stanza in Welcome to the Wayne and the huge library at the center of Yamibou, which allows people to access worlds. I have further explained on this blog how libraries are […]
[…] in Yamibou is the library’s guardian. She is the third creator of worlds. She is also a lesbian […]
[…] of these characters is Doctor Oldham in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. He was voiced by Hideyuki Umezu in the Japanese original, while the English dubbed voice was […]
[…] is more to say about librarians of color beyond those I wrote about back in September 2021. Currently, I have 92 librarians of color listed on my “List of fictional librarians”. […]
[…] librarians in animation” I could think of off hand. Then in March 2021, I wrote about them in a guest post for Reel Librarians. Since then, I’ve written about Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne, Black librarians in […]
[…] All in all, there is no doubt that her character, as I described it in July of last year, steals the show. This is amazing considering that Clara’s voice actor, Foy, is well-known for film, TV, Broadway, and musical roles, but this is her first animated role! She does a great job in that respect. However, her character is likely “drawn and conceptualized by White people” as I theorized in a previous post. Even so, the library she manages is a place of knowledge, and is meticulously organized. She is more than a librarian too, meaning that her portrayal passes the Librarian Portrayal Test or LPT, and has a daughter, Goodness, who helps her, while she remains the chief librarian. She gets plaudits from me for not being a scary woman, which is too common in Western animation, sad to say. Her role gives me “hope yet for Western animation series” as I put it in March 2021. […]
[…] brings me to the characters themselves. Yamada in B Gata H Kei is the protagonist of this anime. She a 15-year-old high school student who declares she will have […]
[…] are various characters who are not student librarians, like Lilith in Yamibou, who is voiced by Sanae Kobayashi, an unnamed librarian in a Little Witch Academia episode […]
[…] the library operated by George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, two gay Black men who are the fathers of Bow, is imposing in its own way. The fandom page simply […]