When I wrote about The Book of Bantorra over at the old Mecha Guignol, I called it the greatest love story ever put to anime. That was almost eight years ago, and I wasn’t sure how much it would hold up, so I picked up the Blu-Ray set for Christmas and rewatched it over the last few days of 2017.
My Top 30 list is a bit of a spoiler in this regard, but yeah, it holds up. If anything, my opinion of it has grown since that initial viewing, and that initial conclusion holds true. Bantorra’s by no means a conventional love story, since it tackles the subject very abstractly, but I stand by my words: it’s the best anime love story ever.
Funny enough, for an anime that’s all about the concept of love, we don’t get that much romantic love. The first story arc with Colio reaching into the past and meetcuteing with Calico through her Book is about as romantically conventional as we get in this series. Colio’s one of the Chuch’s Meats– people who have been kidnapped, brainwashed into thinking they’re less than human, and equipped with bombs inside their chests in order to become willing weapons of terror. While on a mission to kill Hamyuts, the closest the series gets to a main character, Colio happens across a piece of Calico’s book– the fossilized part of her soul that retains her life’s memories. Seeing Calico’s life story play out gives Colio a sense of purpose, and as more pieces are given to him by outside forces, he finds himself not only regaining a semblance of humanity, but he also finds himself falling in love with this girl who existed hundreds of years ago.
The catch is that Calico has the means to know that Colio is watching over her, and through knowing someone out there sympathizes with her plight, she too falls in love with her unseen caretaker from the future. While incapable of ever physically meeting, the two find purpose in their otherwise nihilistic experiences– their respective times will bring nothing but pain to them, but they find solace and happiness knowing someone existed at some point who truly cared. When Colio sacrifices himself to aid his former assassination target, their books are united and they finally have the love they’ve always sought.
It’s a classic story of romantic love knowing no boundaries taken to the logical extreme. If two people are meant to be, nothing can get in the way of their union– and in this case the very laws of time and space mean little in the face of love.
And that’s how the series begins, since all of this transpires over the course of the first four episodes.
Another case of romantic love is the festering relationship between Hamyuts and her number one subordinate, Mattalast. Their love is just as genuine as Colio and Calico’s, but to say their feelings fester is an apt description, as the actual details are downright repugnant.
Hamyuts may be the acting director of the Bantorra Library– the place where people’s Books are stored for safekeeping, but she’s a relative newcomer compared to most of the other characters. Many of the characters were raised within the Library, or worked with it or some other position in one of the world’s governments, before becoming a Librarian. Even Mattalast, who’s a roguish type who rarely plays by anyone’s rules, was an acolyte going through the ranks before becoming one of the Armed Librarians. Hamyuts met Mattalast at a bar when both were a bit younger, and one thing led to another and… Hamyuts wanted to see if Mattalast could kill her.
Hamyuts’ past involves her being trained and conditioned to kill the god who created the Library, and through that she’s developed something of a death wish. She knows she’s all but invincible in combat, and she lusts to find someone who can stand up to her who has the means to overcome her murderous nature. In the course of their own little meetcute, she sees in Mattalast the potential to be just that man, and she falls for him. Likewise, he sees in her someone who can more than keep up with him, and not only does he fall for her, he introduces her to the Library, where she quickly rockets through the ranks despite her less than moral nature. It was all a part of her plan to get access to the god she “wants” to kill, but in the process she finds the one man she ultimately doesn’t want to kill her. Given her self-destructive nature, to say that she wants someone to not be the force that stops her says it all.
That’s where their relationship festers. She loves Mattalast because he has the potential to kill her, yet she doesn’t want him to be that man. He’s the only person who allows Hamyuts to feel human, and for a brief period they’re able to pretend to be a normal couple, living together, cooking breakfast, and all the things normal people do together. Meanwhile, Mattalast is willing to go past what few moral barriers he possesses in order to follow Hamyuts on her quest. He learns the truth behind the Bantorra Library– that it created its enemy, the Church, in order to create special Books to feed to its founder god– and he’s willing to commit horrific acts in Hamyuts’ name.
Hamyuts and Mattalast are horrible (and horribly awesome) people, but they’re made for each other. No one else can understand their murderous idiosyncrasies, but they find some semblance of contentment with one another. Their actions may be judged by how things transpire in the series, but their love for one another is never questioned. And I’d like to think it’s that love that gives them their chance for redemption, but more on that later.
While that relationship is allowed to carry on despite its immoral implications, another blossoming and all too innocent relationship is squashed in the name of another form of love. Two young Librarians, Mirepoc and Volken, have risen through the ranks together and are shown to be quite fond of one another. They’re both among the more idealistic members of the Library– very much the sorts who wear their hearts on their sleeves, despite how much Mirepoc may try to hide behind a veneer of military professionalism. If given the time and the chance, they’d have likely grown into a genuinely loving couple, sharing ideals and bringing a much-needed moral stance to their roles in the Library.
The catch is that their devotion– their love— for their ideals ends up outweighing their desire to be together.
Standing up for one’s beliefs may not be something normally thought of as “love,” but isn’t it that sort of devotion no different from the devotion one holds towards a person? An idea may not be a physical reality, but it’s something that can be acted upon and cherished physically. Love usually entails doing seemingly irrational things to make the other party happy, safe, or what have you– that loyalty and care for that individual matters more than adhering to rules, people, or any other objects that may intervene. A strong belief in a concept, be it duty to country, a philosophy, or religion is essentially the same thing, and that devotion for their respective beliefs keeps Volken and Mirepoc from every consummating their feelings.
Volken can’t abide by the way Hamyuts and some of the other Librarians go about their duty. He feels that their tactics are ruthless and inhumane, as Hamyuts willfully destroys a boat filled with helpless Meats in order to cover up a few scraps of knowledge she doesn’t want revealed to others. Hamyuts proudly boasts of being “the best at mass murder,” and won’t have someone as “inexperienced” as Volken getting in the way of what she sees as the greater good. This leads Volken to effectively “betray” the Library in order to uncover the truth behind Hamyuts’ actions, and in the process he steals an artifact in the Library’s possession– a crime punishable with death.
Volken does all of this without giving anyone warning about his actions– even his closest friend, Mirepoc. While she refuses to accept that Volken is a traitor, she attempts to tough her way through his absence and his potential betrayal. She fails, and is all too aware that her feelings are getting in the way of her performance.
Had Mirepoc’s devotion to Volken been as strong as her devotion to her duty as a Librarian, she’d have run off as well. Maybe she could have done something to help Volken clear his name, or at the very least found a way to talk him down and have him seek forgiveness for his actions. Instead, her feelings for her duty win out, and she willfully drinks from another artifact that removes all memories of a chosen subject. She chooses to have Volken wiped from her memory, allowing her to continue her duty as an Armed Librarian. This is likely a moment of weakness for her, and her feelings for Volken were stronger than her devotion, but she allowed the later to outweigh the former in her rational mind and took action.
This leads to Volken’s ultimate demise. He returns to the Library, armed with information that he believes will topple Hamyuts from her position as Acting Director. Few within the Library stand up for Volken, and while Mirepoc is one of those people, her feelings for him are gone. Had she greeted him with the same warmth as before his “betrayal,” you have to wonder if events would have unfolded as they did. Volken runs away again, this time with the woman Hamyuts was attempting to kill in the aforementioned slaughter of Meats aboard the boat in the first episode. His love for the Library is so great that he’s willing to give up his personal chance for redemption in order to save what he sees as the greater good.
He’s rewarded with the truth. When she realizes Volken’s damning evidence is nothing compared to the actual damning truth, Hamyuts reveals almost everything to him. His devotion is to something that doesn’t actually exist, as the Library serves the interests of a dormant god-like being rather than the noble deed of protecting books. Volken loves a lie, and dies by Hamyuts’ hands with this knowledge on his mind.
Mirepoc and Volken both suffer because of their devotion to their respective duties– which is to say it almost seems like they’re punished for placing ideals over actual people.
I think that’s getting at the heart of Bantorra’s ideas on love, but more on that with the second half.
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