The Fall 2022 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Bibliophile Princess ?
Community score: 3.7
What is this?
Lady Elianna Bernstein comes from a family of readers – and that might be putting it lightly. All she, her father, and her older brother really want to do is retreat to their family estate and read, but during her debutante season at court, Eli is proposed to by Prince Christopher, the heir to the throne. She's not keen on the idea of marrying him, but he offers her access to the royal archives, a repository of rare tomes, and tells her that her social duties will be limited if she accepts. Eli decides that this is worth being his show fiancée, because why else would he propose to a girl better known as “the library ghost.” It turns out that Chris definitely has his reasons.
How was the first episode?
I know Bibliophile Princess is supposed to be a pseudo-regency romance, but after the first few minutes, I felt like I was watching something else entirely: a doctor's waiting room simulator.
Okay, that may seem strange, but hear me out. The first sign is the lighting. Every scene in Bibliophile Princess looks like it was lit with too-bright fluorescent lamps. Like the kind they stopped putting in schools because they discovered they are actively harmful to children. Everything is so bright that it's washed out and nothing has shadows, so what was presumably an attempt to make things look soft and feminine turns them outright assaulting.
You also spend an inordinate amount of time watching people reading passionlessly. I know Elianna's whole deal is that she loves books, that her family would rather read than eat, but that never comes across. She seems drawn to histories, but why? What excites her about them? We are never told. She just pulls a book off the shelf, sits down, reads it expressionlessly, and then pulls another one down when she's done. It looks more like she's just passing the time than actually enjoying herself, her affect as flat as a patient flicking through a magazine that's not actually that interesting until the doctor calls. Yes, I know I'm showing my age by talking about magazines in waiting rooms.
Everyone around her is blandly pleasant and vaguely helpful, with hair colors in place of personality, much like the staff at a doctor's office. Well, minus the hair color part. But the receptionists who hand you your forms, the assistant who calls your name, the nurse who takes your vitals—they do their jobs with an efficient kindness, without showing much of who they actually are. Being nice is part of their job. The men of Bibliophile Princess show about as much personality as those medical professionals do in a typical fleeting encounter, but as fictional constructs, I don't get the feeling there's much else going on behind the curtain.
And finally, there's the boredom. The excruciating, unending boredom of just waiting for something to happen, for this stasis to break. The 20-odd minutes I spent watching Bibliophile Princess stretched on endlessly, completely blowing the premieres I had complained about before out of the water in terms of sheer tedium. The drop at the end is simply her feeling sad at the idea of her fake engagement ending, revealing to the audience what we knew all along: that she has feelings for Prince Christopher. There's supposed to be some dramatic irony because we also know that he is in love with her and their engagement is very real to him, but they are so uninteresting I could not muster up a single emotion.
In conclusion, I'd rather get another flu shot. Don't forget to get your Covid bivalent boosters, folks!
As I mentioned before in my I'm the Villainess, So I'm Taming the Final Boss guide entry, I love villainess stories regardless of subgenre or medium. I can't get enough of all the little ways the archetypal story is twisted to keep things both familiar and new—which brings us to Bibliophile Princess.
Bibliophile Princess takes the typical setup—i.e., a prince falls in love with a lowborn noble who is, in turn, bullied by the prince's evil fiancée—and posits the question: What if the evil fiancé wasn't actually evil? Heck, it takes it even further by making the fiancée a nerdy girl who is only interested in books. Far from going out of her way to bully the female heroine, Elianna is happy to read all day.
But that's just the start to her character. While Elianna is kind and soft-spoken, she suffers from low self-esteem. She can't see any reason why she would have been engaged to the prince in the first place beyond being a convenient shield against potential suitors. Thus, when the heroine arrives and hits it off with the prince, she can't help but feel that this is something that was destined to happen. What surprises her is how hurt she is by it. It's very much a case of “you don't know what you've got till it's gone.”
The other cool thing about this episode is how it's told. We are locked into Elianna's viewpoint and hers alone. But more than that, the flashbacks we see are only the memories she finds important—almost all of which revolve around her reading. This gives us the sense that there is a lot more going on than we are seeing. She is so tied up in her bibliomania and her insecurities that she's blind to what's really happening: that she's been placed into the villainess role. But by who and why? Well, we'll just have to come back next week to find out.
I can't be the only one to make this complaint about The Bibliophile Princess, but it warrants making, darn it: For an anime that literally features the word “bibliophile” in its title, the show sure doesn't seem to give a flying Finnegan about literature. Sure, our heroine Elianna seems obsessed with the act of reading to a degree that borders on genuinely unsettling, but it's only weird because the girl is completely lacking in anything resembling an identifiable personality. What is she reading about? What does she want to use all of that accumulated knowledge for? Hell, it would even be better if she was a super aggressive otaku that was incapable of shutting up about all of her favorite characters and series and whatnot. She doesn't seem to care about anything at all, though. She has no passions, no dreams, no goals, and no genuine curiosity or creativity to speak of. She absorbs words like a sponge soaks up water when it gets dropped into a puddle. Sure, technically something is happening when all of that material is transferred from one vessel to another, but why would anyone want to watch it?
Maybe I'm being a bit harsh—it isn't like Bibliophile Princess is actively distasteful or anything. It's still somewhat infuriating to watch, though, since it is utterly devoid of human charm or emotion, despite having a premiere that is desperate to introduce one bland and vacuous character after another. Neither the Prince that Elianna is betrothed to nor the various suitors of vaguely different hair styles and colors that surround him can carry the weight of an entire romantic plot, that's for sure. The presumed antagonist lady wins the award for most interesting character of the show, and that's only because she at least has some sort of desire that she seems to be actively working towards, which is to play homewrecker to Elianna's façade of matrimony.
Well, I say “façade,” even though its obvious that the end goal of this whole thing is that Elianna will somehow discover her true feelings for the incredibly attractive and eager romantic that she's managed to ignore for four years straight, and he will of course end up reciprocating those feelings. To be honest, though, even if the show ended up subverting our expectations and doing something truly unexpected, The Bibliophile Princess is an excruciatingly boring experience no matter how you slice it. This is easily the least enjoyable thing I've watched so far for the Preview Guide, and that's coming from a guy who sat through every minute of Human Crazy University.
Like the source light novels by Yui, Bibliophile Princess starts out a little slow. Mostly that's because we're so firmly in the perspective of Elianna Bernstein, the eponymous book-loving lady: Elianna is perhaps better at figuring out what's going on between the lines of a novel than in her own life. She's therefore managed to convince herself that Prince Christopher, the handsome young heir to the throne, has only proposed to her in order to have time to find a “real” fiancée, because how could he possibly want the bookish daughter of the bibliophilic Bernstein family?
We as viewers, of course, can see that he very much does want Elianna, no matter what she may think about it. First of all, he never said anything about “fake” or “temporary” when he proposed to her (it sounded more like he was bribing her into marrying him, really), and the fact that he put all of his considerable resources into finding her a rare tome she was lusting after seems like a pretty good indication that he's more than a little fond of her. (And he's definitely smart enough to have figured out that the jewelry wasn't going over well.) But Elianna has been listening to rumors about herself long enough that she's started to believe them, as we can extrapolate from both her steadfast refusal to believe that Christopher wants her for real and the behavior of one Lady Irene Palcas.
And we do need to put those analytical skills to use here, because Elianna isn't. Lady Irene's actions are very much in line with an otome game villainess (though I promise you that this story is not isekai, villainess or otherwise; it's plain old romantic fantasy) – spilling tea on Elianna's book, berating her for showing up late to a tea in a suspiciously wet dress, and the coincidental timing of that loose rung on the library ladder all point to Irene as being up to no good where Ellie is concerned. Factor in the way that her protectors are all trying to keep her away from Irene in a variety of unsubtle ways, and it's looking less like Christopher is on the verge of dumping Elianna and more like Irene is trying to worm her way in between them.
That this is forcing Elianna to think about her own feelings is obvious, and while I do think that the story is moving at a relatively fast pace – I suspect they're trying to get all five currently available novels into the show's run – it also still feels like a solid adaptation. The art is a bit too light and is in desperate need of a few darker shades for contrast, but the details are good, from Ellie's changing dresses to show the passage of time to the basic look of the thing, and I think that whether you're a fan of the books or not, this is going to be a sweet, romantic, bookish time.
I had several lingering questions at the end of this premiere, but probably the biggest and most troubling one was this: what does our titular princess like about books and reading? That sounds like a simple question, considering our heroine's defining feature is that she greatly prefers books to socializing, and spends a good third of this episode's runtime reading tome after tome, yet after this first episode I couldn't tell you the first thing about Elianna's interest in the printed word besides it running in her family. Just what kinds of books does she enjoy reading? She mentions reading a lot of history books at one point, so does she prefer non-fiction and informational texts? Does she find comfort in the solitude of an engrossing book? These are simple questions whose answers would go a long way in making Elianna feel relatable to the audience, but this episode never really bothers to ask them.
To be clear, I'm not bringing this up to call our heroine a fake book girl, but rather to highlight how listless Elianna feels as a protagonist here. We spend so much of this episode inside her head, nose tucked comfortably inside a hardback novel, but if asked to describe her personality all I could tell you is that she doesn't really understand political marriage and seems disconcertingly incurious about everyone and everything around her. Throughout the episode there are clear signs of political tension, intra-castle scheming, and a whole lot of potentially pertinent goings-on that Elianna just sort of shrugs off, looking slightly confused the whole time but never asking any follow-up questions or addressing any of it. I get that's probably meant to be key conflict in the ongoing story, and she'll eventually have to start taking some interest in the world around her, but it means there's not really much going on in this premiere itself. All the action is off-screen while the men in her life deal with things, and she's kept in the dark without much effort to clear any of it up.
All that's left, then, is the rather one-sided relationship of Elianna and Prince Christopher, which is just...not for me. I love romance stories, and I can certainly relate to somebody who's too caught up in their own head and full of self-deprecation to recognize somebody else's romantic interest, but Elianna is presented as so blank and distant that it's hard to buy into it. Their relationship so far consists of her sitting silently in his office while he occasionally looks at her longingly, then at the end he gets her a rare book she asked for and...that's it. Not to mention her constantly feeling guilty about being a “phony fiance” seems weird considering, like, the entire history of politically motivated royal marriages. Getting engaged for political convenience is kind of just how nobility rolls, lady, no need to make a big deal about it. It makes for a lifeless relationship that doesn't make me want to see them get together so much as it makes me wonder what Christopher likes so much about his bride-to-be.
It's not like you can't make an engaging story, even a romance, work with a passive or insecure protagonist. But Elianna just doesn't have enough metaphorical meat on her bones to carry the show on her own, and that makes the entire romance a non-starter. I love romances and I love reading, but this just ain't doing it for me.
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