Ascendance of a Bookworm
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Ascendance of a Bookworm ?
At the end of last episode Myne decided to stay with her family rather than seek a contract with a noble, a decision which effectively consigned her to probable death after a year's time. Hence she spends a good chunk of this episode making arrangements to secure the most money possible for her family. That should, by all rights, make for a very melancholy episode, but for better or worse, that's not at all how it plays out. Instead the tone remains typical of most of the series' episodes, with little sense of urgency and only the barest hints of sadness poking in around the edges (and occasionally at unexpected points). While the production has made many wise decisions so far, I'm not convinced that this is one of them, as this all implies that Myne is at no actual risk here. We might know that in a meta sense anyway, but not even making a pretense of Myne being in legitimate danger saps away at the tension that the series had carefully been building. A balance of light-heartedness and somberness can certainly be achieved in anime but this episode is not one of the better examples of it.
Otherwise the episode is stocked with all sorts of interesting little details and developments. Myne backing out of committing to being Benno's apprentice is a move that makes sense under the circumstances, and she and Benno are right that her irregular attendance might spark discontent. That Benno is single, and why, is a mildly surprising twist and one of the episode's sadder moments, though the story spins away from that quickly in an acknowledgement that it's not a big part of the overall picture. Myne's money-making arrangements by selling rights to her various inventions shows her planning for maybe not being around for long, and her scene with Frieda is the one other acknowledgement that not all is well in Myne's world. (That Frieda only really acknowledges Myne's wishes after Myne puts them in monetary terms is a nice bit of consistency.)
The episode's big event, as the months race by, is the long-anticipated baptism for Myne and Lutz. It's both a doorway to a new world for the series – that of how religion works – and a potential turning point for the series. The former case reveals how the religion here isn't monotheistic but rather a polytheistic adaptation of beliefs in elemental forces, with the working of the seasons described in those terms. Baptism is also shown to not just be a formality of citizenship but also a formal indoctrination into the local religion, where children get religious instruction for the first time. I'm not sure what to make of the comical prayer pose; I can't at all blame Myne for cracking up over it (she's right about the Glico Running Man reference; see left for comparison) and have to wonder if some statement or meaning is intended by it. Lutz hopping on one foot to maintain the pose just makes it all the harder to take seriously.
The baptism business also serves two other useful purposes here. The first is to finally introduce the priest seen at the beginning of the series and in the epilogue scenes and suggest that something about Myne catches his attention when she registers. (Did her token glow a bit too brightly, perhaps?) He doesn't have a bigger part to play in this episode, however. The second is to indirectly make Myne aware that the cathedral has a library. The magical barrier which only allows in cathedral staff is a sensible policy in a world where magic is available on a limited basis, and a donation being necessary to apprentice at the cathedral wouldn't at all be out of line for the setting; it would certainly discourage frivolous applications, which would be important given that being part of the Church probably carried big perks for prestige, power, and access. Most importantly, it sets a future direction for Myne which gives her at least a chance at getting the access to magic items that she needs without having to contract with a noble. But what will her parents and those around her think about this?
Easy to lose in all of this going on are other neat little details, such as Myne's sharp baptismal dress or the wooden shoes that she and other kids wear. Beyond that, what's left now is one more episode to bring the story to a suitable stopping point.
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