Ascendance of a Bookworm
Episodes 1-4

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Ascendance of a Bookworm ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Ascendance of a Bookworm ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Ascendance of a Bookworm ?

How would you rate episode 4 of
Ascendance of a Bookworm ?

Though I had not read the source material, Ascendance of a Bookworm was still on my radar going into this season because it sounded like an interesting variation on standard isekai fare. What I did not expect was that its first episode would so completely win me over that it would become my priority view on Wednesdays, which this season is one of the busiest days on the schedule. (And this is true without even factoring in my new review responsibilities for it.) After four episodes, the series still hasn't missed a beat.

The success of the series so far comes down to two main factors. One is that it's not at all a typical isekai reincarnation series, even down to its set-up. Urano did die, but her death was implied to have been a result of a natural disaster rather than the traditional truck. She was reincarnated into another world, but not to be the world's hero or champion or anything of the sort. (Or if she has, that hasn't even been hinted at yet.) By all appearances she is merely a normal, even frail little girl from a very humble background. Rather than being reborn or appearing whole in a new body, her soul seems to have replaced that of five-year-old Main (pronounced “mai-een”). The faint implication here is that the original Main may have been dying and Urano took her place as the true Main's soul exited, but the possibility that the original Main is still in there cannot be ruled out; that her memories remain to allow Urano to instantly know the language and the identities of those Main should know keeps that option alive while also allowing a slick way around the language barrier problem.

Because Main doesn't have any apparent special powers, her story isn't a grand one but rather a smaller and more intimate tale about the little details of living in a late Western medieval-level world. It's about practicalities which often get overlooked, like the use of bedpans, how children become indoctrinated into their career paths from a relatively young age, or how town life can function just fine on such a low level of literacy (most people can read numbers, but that's about it) that formal education isn't even thought about by commoners and books are something that only the rich own. In other words, the series is almost purely a world-building exercise. If I had to liken it to any other fantasy series in tone and pace, it would probably be Spice and Wolf, but without the sense of danger.

That she's in an environment without books, when books were her life, sets up the series' conflict and gives it an overall goal: Main will seek to make books herself. First she has to learn to read and write in this world, then she has to figure out the physical practicalities. One episode focuses on her attempting to weave papyrus, and when that proves impractical she shifts to clay tablets. These, too, face practical issues, and some of the humor in the series comes from Main's trial and error process. Along the way she also applies some other knowledge from her original world on unrelated but practical items, such as makeshift shampoo (made from fruit oils) or using a fruit pulp normally reserved for animal feed to make a type of pancake. This is the one place where the series' nature as an isekai title becomes readily-apparent, but this is on a much lower-key level than normal. While Main may not have powers, her advanced abilities in things like basic arithmetic make her quite precocious, almost like she has powers. Or does she? There's a curious scene in episode 4 where she seems to glow and her eyes change when she is genuinely infuriated, and it doesn't seem to be just the normal “angry anime character” aura. What that might mean is a mystery for now, but a potentially juicy one.

This isn't all about Main's discovery process and day-to-day life, either. The writing is careful to establish the characters around Main and how she relates to them as well. In fact, one underlying theme of the story so far could be the way her experiences as Main are expanding Urano's world beyond just books. Her bibliophile nature suggests social isolation, though her personality doesn't, so whether this is coincidental or an intended angle is unclear at this point.

For all of the character-building and world-building elements it has, the series has another factor in its favor which may be even more powerful: it is possibly the most visually attractive series of the season. Instead of trading in glitz and glamour, it concentrates on being cute, but in not in the carefully-calculated fashion all-too-commonly seen in anime. Main is absolutely adorable as a character design, with one of the most captivating smiles I've seen in quite some time, but almost every other named character in the cast so far is also endowed with an uncommon level of warmth, charm, and appeal. Even aside from what the story is doing, this series is just a delight to watch. Kudos also to the prolific Yuka Iguchi for hitting just the right cute note as Main.

With the utterly harmless nature of the content, the main complain I could see surfacing against this series is that it's boring. Without question it is a low-key series, and those who can't get wrapped up in the little details (and Main's inherent cuteness) may not find it interesting enough. However, I can see this series deeply endearing itself to at least as many people, and I am definitely in the latter camp.

Rating:

Ascendance of a Bookworm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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