Ascendance of a Bookworm
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Ascendance of a Bookworm ?
Considering how low-key this title is, is it at all surprising that perhaps the biggest debate over the anime adaptation so far is how to correctly spell the protagonist's name? Crunchyroll is spelling it "Main" in its subtitles (perhaps because that's the way it looks like it is spelled when she writes her name in her new world's alphabet), while other source material lists it as Myne in official, approved translations. I am convinced that it is supposed to be the latter, so that's what I will use going forward in these reviews.
Through its first three episodes, Ascendance of a Bookworm eschewed any hint of the supernatural beyond the underlying reincarnation mechanic. A brief scene in episode 4 gave the first hint that something might be unusual about Myne beyond her being a reincarnate who retained all memories of her previous life. That not only returns in episode 5, but in a more impacting way; the multicolored irises and glowing body has now shown up on two additional occasions when she was hitting a maximum stress level, again concerning disruptions to her quest to manufacture her precious books. Interestingly, the effect goes away when she regains her composure. Urano is also now beginning to wonder herself if her recurring illnesses are actually just the normal signs of frail health; this is an angle that I hadn't considered before, since "girl with a weak constitution" is a well-established anime trope. While hardly monumental as crises go, these factors nonetheless add a welcome element of mystery to the story.
Otherwise the episode couldn't be more mundane if it tried. However, I'm not saying that as a criticism because that mundanity houses some of the series' most interesting world-building details. I am now very curious about whether or not the writing is drawing upon any particular historical setting for inspiration, because the details shown in this episode about the baptism celebration and ceremony seem very plausible but not in line with general European practice; for many centuries in the Christian Church, baptism at or near birth was the standard because of paranoia over children dying without having been absolved of original sin. Even in groups which practiced baptism at older ages, it was not generally associated with starting a career. The closest comparison I could find was the current Catholic practice of First Communion at age 7, but that was not formalized until 1910. The practice of dressing up and parading through the streets at a certain time of year resembles certainly early European pagan customs which also had religious overtones, but not too closely. If this is an original or heavily modified bit of cultural world-building then it is quite an impressive effort. Giving a six-year-old girl her first knife (and one sturdy enough to cut/shave wood at that) is also a practice that would doubtless make modern parents' hearts palpitate but probably isn't out of line for a medieval setting.
The characters themselves are also still a delight. Myne shows a more serious side with her laments over all her efforts to make a book being thwarted, including her efforts to make a crude form of crayon, though her perky side also gets chances to shine. Her exchanges with Otto, the other soldiers, and her father are all classic "precocious child" fare, but the writing and direction are also careful to remember that she actually is a child physically, and so casts many of her activities as still not being far from the realm of the play of children; who at that age didn't find some kind of odd craft activity to engage in that made sense to them but maybe not to the adults? As for Lutz, well, he might come off as a little too responsible for his age, but he's a real catch in the making.
Essentially, no big plot points this episode, but it didn't need any to entertain just fine.
Ascendance of a Bookworm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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