Ascendance of a Bookworm
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Ascendance of a Bookworm ?
Though I suspect that it won't always be, the main crisis of the day is still Myne's poor health. This episode picks up right from where she collapsed last episode. As a result, the episode's primary focus becomes an examination of what's necessary to survive The Devouring. It's not a positive picture, which sets the stage for some heavier drama.
The details revealed here color in the picture outlined in her conversations with Freida a couple of episodes back. I had speculated before that only the nobles having access to the magic items necessary to bleed off the mana which causes The Devouring might be more than just an economic thing, and what the Guild Master describes only reinforces that: even though he's quite wealthy, because he doesn't have the privileges of a noble he is only able to purchase magic items which are considered rejects to allay his granddaughter's condition, and even those are difficult to find and don't last long. Hence Freida's only realistic way to survive is to become a noble's concubine. (Or perhaps “concubine-in-waiting” might be a better term, since clearly she won't be old enough for the sexual side of what that title entails for many years yet. That this formal designation exists in an era where the Church seems to have some authority is also interesting, as the formalized practice seems to have faded in historical Europe as the Church gained ascendance.) In other words, whatever magical ability she may develop as she grows older will thus be legally under the control of the nobles, and anyone who doesn't make that or a similar agreement never lives long enough to develop such abilities. It's a practical but also very nasty system for insuring exclusive access to magic if this is really being done deliberately, and I'll be surprised if it isn't.
This puts Myne in a bad spot. Though she is able to pay for the item which saves her life, she effectively has the long-term choice between leaving her family behind to pursue an arrangement like Freida's or likely dying with her family when The Devouring resurges in about a year. Myne breaking down and admitting this to her family (who had thought she was cured) makes for a tearful finish to the episode, especially since Myne is now fully accepting even her father as her real family. Her decision there, as the episode's title indicates, is literally a life-or-death choice. We know from both the beginning of the series and basic storytelling meta logic that something will happen to change her course – and I'm guessing that something may happen during her upcoming baptism, which seems like the best opportunity for her to meet that priest – but the whole sequences makes for some potent drama enhanced perfectly by the slow, slightly mournful string music backing it. The final scene of the father sitting and drinking in front of the fire, while Myne sleeps with her sister and mother embracing her, is a powerful one because we haven't seen him do that before.
The episode can't be allowed to be too relentlessly heavy, however. Both Freida and Myne get to appear in their baptismal outfits, and on the upside, Myne should theoretically be healthier than ever for a while. Myne also introduces pound cake into the world and woefully underestimates how much potential profit there might be in that endeavor.
As a final thought. . .
English Dub: The first two episodes are now available dubbed on Crunchyroll, courtesy of Bang Zoom! Entertainment. It's a plenty good enough dub to be well worth checking out. Reba Buhr, who voiced Karen/LLENN in Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online, makes a perfect Myne, but all of the other characters who have appeared so far also sound exactly right. If current quality levels are maintained then this could end up being one of the year's better English dubs.
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