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Ascendance of a Bookworm
Episodes 15-16-17

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 15 of
Ascendance of a Bookworm ?
Community score: 4.6

How would you rate episode 16 of
Ascendance of a Bookworm ?
Community score: 4.7

How would you rate episode 17 of
Ascendance of a Bookworm ?
Community score: 4.7

Note: Since I thoroughly discussed episode 15 for the Preview Guide, this review will focus entirely on episodes 16 and 17.

Episode 15 offered a fine introduction to the series' second season, but episodes 16 and 17 (especially 16) are practically the epitome of what I love about this franchise. Whereas other isekai series tend to focus on grand plots and/or power progressions, this one instead continues to focus on the minutiae of what it means to actually live in, and adapt to, the new setting. In particular, these two episodes deal with Myne's transition into life in the cathedral and the learning curve that entails both by her and by those around her.

To say that this involves some culture clash might be a mild understatement. Myne's lack of awareness of all of the intricacies of what it means to live in the cathedral vs. “downtown” (I have to wonder about the accuracy of the translation on that term, as it doesn't feel right) is used as a vehicle to elucidate on assorted topics for the audience, but instead of just being a sly way to insert exposition, the learning curve goes both ways. There is a lot that Myne needs to learn, but just so is there a lot for her retainers to learn as well. On some points both Benno and others are being a little unreasonable on what they expect Myne to know; genius or not, wearing noble robes or not, she's still only 7. Lutz also clearly didn't have a clue that walking through town in robes marking you as a noble just isn't done, both for propriety's sake and for practical safety reasons. Nobody at the cathedral thought to warn about this because one who lives and works at the temple doesn't have reason to leave it; even the head priest seemed unaware of that danger. In other words, the cathedral is its own world separate from that of the nobles and from that of the commoners. (This would not at all be unusual for a medieval setting in our world.)

There are many other juicy tidbits here as well. The discrepancies in interpretation of calling someone a “Fruhtrane” (after the local water goddess) and how that can be interpreted different ways is very interesting; it's the kind of detail that might get overlooked in many other series, as is the business about big age differences in marriages being common among nobles but not commoners, which is historically accurate in many areas of Europe even as recently as the beginning of the 20th century. Myne learning when she cannot get away with being informal at the cathedral, and how even how the eldest of her retainers starts acting differently towards her once she starts behaving like a noble, is more common fare but still significant.

All of the details that get spilled about how things work in the cathedral (more so in episode 17) also flesh things out even more. That prayers over food are used in the cathedral but not by common folk is a little surprising, but the details about how retainers get fed are not. The procedure about retainers getting fed the leftovers from the nobles and orphans getting “alms from the gods” (further scraps) is both a practical system and absolutely an exercise in classism; it's just one of the subtle ways that nobles can keep commoners under their control. How the orphanage works into that, and how it's actually a substantial portion of the cathedral, is also interesting, and both that and the attitudes of Delia and Gil make it clear why being a retainer is still a step up from being in the orphanage even with the crap they have to put up with from less hospitable masters. The absence of an orphanage director is curious – no doubt it has something to do with the shortage of “blue robes” and it probably not being a desirable job, since the office is in the area of the orphanage rather than the noble housing – but also convenient for Myne as a dress-changing and food-testing station. Even so, that's the one point where the story feels like it's stretching a bit on its contrivances.

Character development here is also important. Myne certainly gets some as she realizes that she was being bratty and inconsiderate at first, though admittedly Gil and Delia didn't give her much reason to be nicer. The last part of episode 16 and most of episode 17 basically entail Myne winning all three of her retainers over to her side, and the way she grows and they all come to new understandings in the process. Fran, for instance, did not appreciate at first that his assignment to Myne was an act of trust by the Head Priest, not abandonment, or the extent to which she needs to be monitored for her health. Gil is basically angry at his lot in life, but he responds when Myne treats him fairly and even praises him, something that he has probably experienced precious little of in his life. He's starting to come around by the end of the episode, though I hope he doesn't totally lose his acerbic edge. Delia, by contrast, seems more a work in progress, though even she's starting to come around at the end. She also just wants someone to actually care about her, and responds well when Myne shows she will. In all, Fran's change of heart is the most credible of he lot, while the other two maybe came around just a little to easily, as if the writing wanted to get that resolved quickly so bigger issues can be moved onto.

Other little details of the episode were also appreciable, such as how suave Benno looks in his formal wear, the way both the head priest and Fran wore gloves when handling the shield (hopefully more detail about that will be forthcoming), and the light and jaunty use of music throughout both episodes. Myne's running internal commentary also has yet to get old. And what of that final scene suggesting that Myne's pizza is being sample behind closed (and barred) doors? What's that point to? Lastly, I find it interesting that most of the guest illustrations on the end cards show Myne looking at least a few years older. They're still well-done efforts which add a nice extra touch to each episode.

Rating: (episode 16) Rating: episode 17)

Ascendance of a Bookworm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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