Ascendance of a Bookworm – Anime Review
Synopsis: Avid bookworm and college student Motosu Urano ends up dying in an unforeseen accident. This came right after the news that she would finally be able to work as a librarian like she had always dreamed of. When she regained consciousness, she was reborn as Myne, the daughter of a poor soldier. She was in the town of Ehrenfest, which had a harsh class system. But as long as she had books, she didn’t really need anything else. However, books were scarce and belonged only to the nobles. But that doesn’t stop her, so she makes a decision… “If there aren’t any books, I’ll just create some.” (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: Ascendence of a Bookworm suffers a bumpy start, choosing to open with characters that don’t appear again until almost the very last episode and depict events that don’t even happen by the end of this season, making the first few minutes feel out of place and they don’t offer the best feel for how the rest of the show plays out. But once the show finds its groove, settling into the daily antics of Main and her quest to create books in this fantasy world, it turns into a surprisingly comforting and entertaining watch. Ascendance of a Bookworm is one of those rare anime that I feel people need to watch more than the 1st episode to get a true feel for. Featuring a young and intelligent girl as the lead is already an uncommon choice for the Isekai setting but Ascendance also does some really unique storytelling with its premise; She’s not some overpowered genius. She’s not only limited as a child, but physically frail, and lacking the common world tools to even make basic paper, making her quest one that doesn’t have an easy or obvious answer anywhere in sight. Ascendance melds real modern world knowledge with the fantasy medieval setting in a realistic manner, making Main capable of producing and creating products that inspire awe among the residents of this medieval-esque society while also challenging her every step of the way as she scrambles to find reliable replacements, substitutes and methods for making the one object she gives a true damn about: Books.
Tom: Not having Main out to slay the Demon King, or some other typical Isekai goal gives Ascendance this novel and unique feel. She wants to make books, not save the world, change society, or even return home in some way. She just wants the books she loved so much and that more narrow, even selfish, focus really allows Ascendance of a Bookworm to stand apart from the pack and feel almost totally divorced from the Isekai genre, even if that’s what still constitutes the series’ basic building blocks. It’s also unique in its ability to take the Isekai genre and successfully meld it with the more easy going Slice of Life genre. There’s this wonderful middle ground between Slice of Life’s laid back atmosphere, and Main’s quest to make basic paper, allowing the series to feel low-stakes, but also engaging every week. Well, once you’re past that awkward first episode. But most everything after that is top tier.
Linny: While I really enjoyed watching Main chase her goal with such devotion and ingenuity, there’s something that still irked me about her character. Namely the show’s reluctance to truly define the illness her new body suffers from. Early on in the series we come to learn that the girl whose body Urano comes to possess, Main, was suffering from a terrible illness that ultimately claimed the girl’s life, allowing Urano’s soul to take over. That illness resurfaces throughout the series. For me its early inclusion felt vague and deliberate; either so that the author could redefine the illness when needed for plot’s sake or was merely left to be fleshed out till later. With each new twist we get concerning her illness and the ramifications, the revelations are often portrayed as jarring and shocking while also being treated like common knowledge by Benno, a merchant that becomes involved with Main’s quest to make paper. This makes the reveals feel contrarian to the mysteriousness of the illness earlier, making it hard to tell exactly what is common knowledge and what isn’t. But the most egregious complaint about Main’s illness is that in the final episode, we get one last big development regarding her condition which feels poorly foreshadowed and conveniently slid in to resolve the season’s most climatic situation, giving her a deus ex machina like advantage she never had even once before. These issues are by no means show ruining but when speaking about this show, they stood out enough in my mind to at least be brought up as a sort of heads up for those who might have very specific expectations to these plot elements.
Tom: The illness’ wishy washy portrayal, and the later deus ex machina solution to the series’ climax are definitely black marks. But I think they’re superseded by how expertly world building details are woven in. Main knows nothing about this world at the start of the series and neither do we. That allows the audience to learn alongside her. The series never offers more details than necessary, allowing Main’s efforts to make paper to lead us to greater knowledge every time she wants to try something new. It feels natural and by series end our view of this world changes the more we learn about all the things wrong with it, taking it from a child-like innocent view audiences might have to learning the darker, less savory elements lurking beneath the facade. Alongside this the series intertwines personal and family drama for Main to solve. Issues left ignored early on gradually come back into focus, like the entire concept of Urano taking control of the late Main’s body, and certain characters noticing that she’s no longer who she used to be. It’s these toe dips into the more dramatic elements of the story to keep the series from feeling too easy going and laid back, giving it a near perfect a tonal balance.
Linny: My nitpicking aside, following Main as she learn about this new world, the merchant trade, and more, all for the sake of her love of books made for a much more enchanting experience than even I myself expected. I can’t deny that Ascendance of a Bookworm still ultimately feels like a show that will more likely appeal to lovers of slice of life but it does so much with its plot and protagonist that it’s bound to turn the heads of those who dismiss the genre as predictable and inconsequential. Ascendance uses its fantasy elements to inject a heavy air of adventure and discovery into its otherwise down to earth plot. There’s also plenty of drama and twists thanks to our protagonist having to suddenly navigate a new world, new time period and a new body with some serious limits and disadvantages. If you haven’t tried this show yet but are intrigued at the sound of a slice of life that offers plenty of drama and growth with a remarkable and unusual protagonist; you should definitely add it to your watch list.
Tom: A borderline dull first episode and a couple missteps with Main’s illness are really the only issues I can see with Ascendance. Weighed against the charm, the natural woven world building, and more, Ascendance comes out on top. Finishing Episode 14 and discovering that a 2nd season, or Part 2 as its described, is already in the works made me excited for this next year. More Isekai need to follow Ascendance of a Bookworm’s example and try new things. Allow your protagonist a less selfless goal, and even have them start small, it allows the story to move somewhere, rather than stagnate on the most epic quest there is. For breathing new life into a troubled genre, I can’t help but recommend Ascendance of a Bookworm as one of Fall 2019’s top titles.
Ascendance of a Bookworm is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.