What’s it about? Four years ago, Lady Elianna Bernstein became engaged to Prince Christopher—a betrothal of convenience where, for her, the number one benefit was access to the palace library. When she sees Christopher talking happily to another lady in the gardens, Elianna becomes convinced that their arrangement is soon to come to an end. Not that she minds, of course. It’s not as if she and the prince shared romantic feelings… right?
I really wanted to like this one, but it’s off to a disappointing start.
Let’s begin with the core of the matter, our Bibliophile Princess herself. Elianna’s number one personality trait is that she’s A Girl Who Reads. Now, this isn’t bad writing in and of itself. It’s a hobby, a passion, and an intellectual motivation—it’s characterization! But Bibliophile Princess falls into a hilarious and frustrating trope where a person (not necessarily always, but most often, a girl) is characterized by their Love of Literature but the text fails to explain what they actually like to read. What genre? Non-fiction or fiction? What books even exist in this fantasy universe?
I feel like there’s a world of difference between, say, Elianna’s favorite books being translated ancient classics compared to pulpy romances. Not to pit those two genres against each other and say that one is better, of course, but this preference would definitely tell us something about the character!
As it is, for most of the episode—at least until it’s implied that most of the books she’s borrowing are history texts—we’re left with the much more nebulous information that Elianna is A Bookworm. Which, again, is not necessarily bad writing, and will certainly make her in some small way relatable (this is based on novels, after all. You read! She reads! You have something in common!). But it tips over into grating territory when a) as noted above, her actual personal taste is barely a factor, making her character feel quite thin, and b) this bookishness is used to differentiate her against other girls her age.
In her introductory narration, Elianna announces that “since I was a child I’ve always preferred and unfamiliar book over dresses and jewels […] A normal girl would generally lament over the shame.” Reader, dare I say I cringed. “I read, not like those other young ladies who like frivolous things like gowns and trinkets” is such an overdone cliché and such an uncomfortable attempt to set a heroine apart from the crowd.
Now, Elianna, and the show itself, could go on to unpack and trouble this assertion, but as of this first episode I’m not… super optimistic. The only other female characters we’ve seen (aside from some unnamed guests at a garden party) are Elianna’s maid and Lady Irene, the woman set up as Elianna’s romantic rival.
There’s something else I need to address, while on this topic. Elianna reads a lot of books, right? We can assume she’s smart and savvy. So why do I feel like the big hinge-point of tension in this episode—supposedly the setup for the tension in the whole show—is based around Elianna not really thinking things through? Because they don’t have romantic feelings for each other, Elianna seems convinced that she and Prince Christopher are involved in some sort of fake dating set-up, rather than this being… a regular political marriage. If she’s a member of a noble house, and, apparently, a reader of history books, surely she would know that marriages of convenience, rather than love, are pretty common?
While I’m sure it’s meant to be a sign of her low self-esteem, there’s something jarring about her calling herself “a phony fiancée” for the whole episode. When surely she’s… just a fiancée in a non-romantic engagement? Maybe it’s off-base of me, to ask this fantasy anime to act like a period drama, but it feels like such an odd train of thought for a character clearly embedded in a setting inspired by real-world aristocratic history.
Secondly, she becomes convinced that the arrangement is all over when she sees Christopher having one (1) smiley conversation with another woman. I can understand feeling a pang of jealousy, but for her to immediately lament that their relationship is over feels like jumping to conclusions. If I’m being generous, I’d muse that maybe this is a character flaw the series is going to unpack: Elianna is very book smart, but her introversion and chronic Not Like Other Girls-itis means she’s not good at reading people and social situations. That could be interesting, but again, the way this episode hinges on the drama of Christopher smiling at another girl for thirty seconds makes me less than optimistic.
I’m really not sure where the series is going to go from here. If the opening and ending credits are to be believed, this is all going to swirl around Elianna’s will-they-or-won’t-they with the man she’s already engaged to. I hate to say it, but this episode has failed to get me invested in that question. Christopher seems like a likeable, but bland, pretty boy (surrounded by a court of other pretty boys). Most saddening of all, I found Elianna to be a shallow protagonist steeped in half-baked tropes that ask us to believe she’s a special, smart girl. It’s entirely possible that (ironically enough) her personality and intelligence shines through more in the novels, and if anyone has read them I’d love to hear about it.
But hey, at least the good news is Elianna is not our only female historical fantasy protagonist this season, or even our only shoujo/josei protagonist! There’s hope, too, that her writing might improve, but unfortunately I’m not convinced to pick up the rest of Bibliophile Princess from her introduction here.