[Review] Ascendance of a Bookworm – Episode 1

By: Dee October 3, 20190 Comments
A young girl in a patched dress kicks out her feet. Behind her is an open book on a table.

What’s it about? Having just landed a job as a librarian, all Urasu wants is to spend the rest of her life surrounded by books. But after a freak accident, her soul is whisked away to another world where books are rare and bookstores don’t even exist. What’s a desperate bookworm to do? Why, make her own books, of course!


Content Considerations: Animal death (used for food; not shown).

You know, maybe it’s just me, but I think the protagonist of this series kinda likes books.

A chibi Myne raises her hands and shouts "There are books here!"
You know. Just a smidge.

I’m two-and-a-bit volumes into the Ascendance of a Bookworm light novels, and it’s one of the few series I both enjoy and can recommend to others with only the smallest of caveats. With a lovable cast and a premise that blends fantasy, history, slice-of-life, and coming-of-age, Bookworm’s unhurried, character-driven narrative makes it an isekai of a very different color from the male power fantasies that have flooded the market in recent years.

And, so far anyway, the anime has captured the charms of Bookworm’s story—and especially of its protagonist. It may not have the flashiest animation, but it more than makes up for it with some clever stylistic touches, particularly the abstract shadow-puppet style for Myne’s memories as Urano and the expressive chibis for her inner thoughts. 

Myne has to learn how to live in a new body with a new family, a new home, and in a dramatically different culture. The contrast between her internal and external reality, as well as between what she thinks and how she acts, are vital parts of this fish-out-of-water tale. It’s encouraging to see the anime finding ways to express that without getting bogged down in endless monologues.

A silhouette of a young woman sitting in a chair and reading a book. Behind her are stylized, abstract structures that resemble both high-rise buildings and bookshelves.
BRB, getting this made into a print and hanging it between my bookshelves.

Similarly, while the settings are a bit drab (although that’s sort of the point of this grounded fantasy world), the bright color palette goes a long way in establishing the series’ tone and its protagonist’s mindset. It pairs well with Myne herself, helping to give the audience an immediate sense of who she is and why we should care about her.

It’s not just that she loves books (although oh boy, does she ever), but she’s also independent, stubborn, inquisitive, and ultimately optimistic. Reborn to a peasant family in a world where only the rich can afford books, Myne is basically in her idea of Hell. But instead of despairing (much), she decides to find ways to make her life better. The premiere ends on a note of determination, assuring us that Myne will be an active figure who takes her fate into her own hands.

A close-up of Myne thinking "I'm gonna get my books if it's the last thing I do!"
Now this is a heroic quest I can get behind.

I hesitate to dig too deeply into the details of this episode (“no spoilers, fool!”), but I do want to highlight a few moments from this premiere to give us all something to chew on going forward.

As others have commented elsewhere, Urano’s “rebirth” is surprisingly grim: her soul seems to have jumped into Myne’s body at the moment Myne’s soul was leaving it. Well, y’all are right—it is grim, and intentionally so, I think. While Bookworm is overall a chipper series, there’s a definite somber undercurrent throughout, especially as Myne starts to learn more about her new world.

Myne looks dead into the camera and says "Also, life here absolutely sucks."
Staring dead into the camera like she’s on The Office.

We can already see those undercurrents in the sharp contrast between Myne’s living situation and that of the city’s nobles. Bookworm takes a much more realistic approach to the medieval fantasy genre than most anime, presenting us with a rigid hierarchical society where wealth and title grant people access not just to material goods, but to information itself.

While I’m still not sure where Bookworm plans to take all this quiet cultural critique, it does add an intriguing second layer to the story. Myne’s desire for accessible books may be a personal quest, but if she succeeds, it could have a huge impact on society as a whole.

Myne pouts and thinks "Damn these lucky nobles!"
Fight the power, Myne!

As far as points of concern… well, any time an adult character gets crammed into a child’s body, there’s the possibility for creepy romantic subplots. It hasn’t happened two volumes into the LNs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually reaches that point. Other than that, my chief fear was that the anime would take all the cute kids and fetishize the hell out of them, but this first episode gives me hope they’re going to avoid those pitfalls.

On the more complicated side of things, the culture clash between Myne and her new society will have to walk a careful tightrope between falling into ethnocentrism (i.e., Modern Japanese Girl Brings Civilization to Natives) or excusing harmful behavior and ideals because “that’s just how things are done in this world.” Again, I don’t know if Bookworm is up to this task, but I’m curious to see where it goes.

Myne's family walks in a line (dad, mom, sister, then Myne) in front of a watercolor-style image of a medieval city and a bright sunlit sky.
Onwards to the next episode!

From what I’ve read, Ascendance of a Bookworm is a fun, lovingly geeky series about a driven female protagonist with a charming supporting cast and some low-key social commentary about equality and accessibility. I hope you’ll join me in cheering on Myne as she strives to make books for the masses and/or topple the aristocracy. You know, whichever comes first.

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