Ascendance of a Bookworm
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 18 of
Ascendance of a Bookworm ?
For much of post-Roman Empire European history, the Christian Church was heavily involved in the handling of orphans. Some famous theologians even went as far as stressing that it was a holy duty to look after such a vulnerable population and raise them until they could either be married off (for girls) or apprenticed (for boys). Hence the role of the Church in Myne's new world as essentially a dumping ground for orphans has considerable historical precedent. In historical context, the term “orphan” did not necessarily mean that both parents were dead; outside of periods of war, it commonly referred to children who had one or more living parents who were unable to support the child and so abandoned them. (They were called “foundlings” if this happened with babies.) Though not explicitly stated, that is likely the case here as well, especially since the Church in this setting also serves as a dumping ground for spare nobles. Unfortunately, as one of the most vulnerable populations in any society, orphans are among the easiest to fall through the cracks when there are organizational breakdowns. That is exactly what the bulk of this episode focuses on.
I have not read the source novels, so I will leave it to commentators in the source thread to clarify if the anime is pulling its punches here or not, but what it does show is pretty harsh. The barred cellar door in last episode's epilogue turns out to be where the youngest orphans – the ones bottommost in the pecking order, since they are too young to be baptized yet – have literally been locked away and left to their own devices except for feeding with “alms of the gods,” and that doesn't look too regular. If they die under those conditions, then who cares much, since they have not been baptized yet and thus aren't recognized by the Church?. I had wondered last episode what the consequence would be for an absent orphanage director, and this is that consequence. With a shortage of blue robes in the church these days, who in their right mind would want to take up the onerous task of looking after the dregs of the Church? There might not even be anyone that can be afforded to be assigned there as punishment. And so the little children are left to waste away. With Delia's flashback to her time in that place figured in, we now know exactly why she was so desperate not to return to the orphanage and so willing to play the “budding seductress” role. I also clearly was understating the matter when I previously said that being a retainer had to be better than being in the orphanage.
What makes this more tragic is that is all more a result of systemic breakdown than any individual's evil act, and I am glad that the writing did not try to cheapen any of this by taking the easy way out and portraying it as purely a dastardly scheme by the High Priest. (That doesn't mean that there isn't a corrupt side to it, but the notion of the orphans being raised specifically to be servants to nobility isn't that far-fetched by historical standards, either.) People in the Church – whether retainers or the Head Priest – know about this but either are not in a position to do anything about it or do not have the will to change it. Given that the High Priest has shown little regard for the lives of commoners before, that this is even a problem would be beneath his concern or notice, and that requires the Head Priest to be wary of bucking him too hard as well. Hence the only way this mess is likely to get corrected is through the intervention of an outsider not locked into (or beholden to) Church mindset. In other words, Myne.
The solution to the problem is actually pretty obvious: put the orphans to work for a Church branch of Myne Studio, hence allowing them to earn better food and get positioned for a future trade. Myne is almost certainly underestimating how much work this is going to entail, but she has her retainers, Lutz, and Benno on board for her effort and at least the tacit approval of Head Priest, so that will help. The latter's revelation that he also joined the church for Reasons, rather than being raised within it, is also a detail that will no doubt have further impact down the road. The whole scenario also provides additional lessons for Myne on how she's going to have to learn to behave if she wants to be able to deal with nobles in the future.
I still have some concerns that Myne's solution is oversimplifying things a little, but we'll see how this plays out. If Myne pulls it off then she's going to have a small army of loyal supporters in the future.
Ascendance of a Bookworm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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