Ascendance of a Bookworm
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Ascendance of a Bookworm ?
Now, we all know that's not going to happen, as the source material for this series goes on for several volumes, but it marks another place where the writing is inserting its own unique variation on established historical elements. As ominous as the name "The Devouring" sounds for a disease, a likely parallel is being drawn to the widespread real-world disease commonly-known throughout much of Western history as "consumption;" these days we call it tuberculosis. Granted, the symptoms are entirely different, as tuberculosis is most commonly a lung infection which induces coughing rather than fevers, but its recurring nature and the way that it's described as eating away at a person are too similar to be coincidence. (Of course, this is also assuming that nothing supernatural is at work, and I'm still not ruling that out here.) That Benno's invitation to the two comes in close timing to his comment about the disease suggests that he wants to have Myne checked out, and why not? With the ideas she's already presenting, it's no wonder that he's already regarding her as a potential golden goose.
The episode also has other interesting details in play. The description of the life of a traveling merchant, including how trade paths are passed down within families and how citizenship plays into the picture, is in some senses reminiscent of the experiences and goals of Craft Lawrence in Spice and Wolf. Details about making wood pulp-based paper also come up, and while it is a cumbersome process, Benno might be understating how thoroughly that could turn the market on its head if any kind of mass production could be developed. Plant-based paper didn't arrive in Europe until the 11th century, so it being brand-new in a setting which looks more late medieval is a little bit of a stretch, but use of wood pulp in making it would be mightily ahead of its time; historically, that didn't come along until the 19th century.
The episode also has its sweet and amusing details. The former comes from the close relationship between Lutz and Myne, who may be too young to be a romantic couple but are easily shaping up to be one of the year's feature duos. Myne's interactions with Otto's wife, including her assessment of Otto as still having the "spirit of a merchant" even though he's a guard, are also sweet. The funny part comes right after that, in Otto's reaction to seeing his wife with shampoo-cleaned hair, which is actually all the more amusing because Urano doubtlessly understands exactly what's really going on there and not only isn't thrown off by it but also takes advantage of it.
One other thing that impressed in this episode was some of the visual directorial decisions. The production effort by studio Ajia-do has been rock-solid on quality control so far, but director Misturu Hongo's handling of the meeting between Otto, Benno, Lutz, and Myne was what caught my attention. He made a point to frame those scenes so that the camera is looking up when shot from the children's perspective and looking down when from the adult's perspective. Just a little detail, but it provides a lot of extra impact. As if I needed another reason to love what this series is doing. . .
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