One relatively minor detail of this season of Ascendance of a Bookworm that I’m still going to quibble with is the question of how well Ferdinand and the rest of the church have been able to cover up Main’s stay in the cathedral. It seemed like a well-publicized piece of information that many in her circle, as well as others they all interacted with, were in on. Except a major component of the storytelling this episode is how it’s not just staying within the cathedral’s walls that protects Main from the Ink Guild’s designs — they apparently do not even know she’s in there at all. It just comes off as odd, since the sheer number of people interacting with Main and keeping up on business with her hardly makes it seem like her current residence is supposed to be some kind of secret. But we get a couple scenes of the Ink Guild being stymied at trying to track her down at all, before they’re unceremoniously written out of that element of the story later in the episode.
Like I said, minor detail, but I have to find something to at least lightly riff on, since otherwise this is an episode that’s very much a simple sequence of setups. It honestly feels less like an episode in its own right and more like the very beginnings of four or five different episodes. For instance, one supposed focal element is the ‘Dedication Ceremony’, which sees Main and Ferdinand using prayer to fill grails with mana for the sake of the coming harvest. It’s explained with details about why only these two can do it, and a couple passing complaints from Main about how long it will take, but then that time just passes and we’re ready to move on to another coming spring ceremony. Another odd inclusion is the High Priest seemingly running some kind of mana side-hustle that he strong-arms Main into contributing to. It seems like this bit is mainly here to prompt interactions with Ferdinand and indicate how Main is finding herself further entrenched in inter-church political struggles. But then the subject of the High Priest’s mana collection never comes up again in the whole episode, with the character only barely being mentioned in passing again later.
It’s but one example of the bits and pieces of story that I’m sure we’ll come back to later as this series continues on. But such fleeting fragments of setup with not even a slight inkling of payoff can make it feel like we’re going down a checklist more than watching an actual story unfold. Some of these have the potential for more interesting integrated use, but don’t come off strongly or consistently enough to land that way. An example of that is Damuel being assigned to be Main’s bodyguard this episode. It seems like he might work as a fresh perspective to observe how her life at the cathedral goes on, or the life-decision changes she’s going through, but ultimately not that much is done with it. We do reconvene with Damuel and Ferdinand conversing towards the end of the episode, but that really does feel more like a simple check-in rather than a natural culmination of any arc for Damuel as a result of accompanying Main all this time.
Now, the upshot of delivering plot elements in these sorts of bits and pieces is that at least some of them will work pretty well. Checking back in on Main’s request for letter types is expectedly one of the good parts, since seeing our tiny bookworm’s reactions to the nerdery of literary production is almost always entertaining. Ah, if only we could all have something we’re so passionate about that the mere potential of inventing a printing press prompts exclamations of ‘Gutenberg!’ and a minor fainting spell. It’s a keen reminder of both the quest Main has been pursuing all of this for and the question of how worthwhile that might ultimately be.
That leads back to the other strong point of this episode: the subject of Main possibly being adopted by a noble once she turns ten. It provides a reason to bring her parents back into the picture for a discussion, with some strong portrayals of the emotions the whole family is grappling with over this point, and their understanding of the pragmatism behind it that must be so valued in this kind of societal situation. Main is at the mercy of her status as a mana reserve which ironically is the reason she’s even in the situation where she can entertain her other pursuits, and there’s a sense of closing in as Ferdinand makes clear she’s running out of places she can consistently and truly be safe. I know I already mentioned this point in last week’s review, but it’s through this story element that Ascendance of a Bookworm really convincingly crafts its argument that being the protagonist at the center of an isekai storyline would actually be pretty rough, and that’s to its conceptual credit. It effectively intersects with the other harsh lessons Main is having to learn; Ten years old is way too early for someone to have to realize how much growing up sucks.
Those appreciable elements at the heart of this story are good, since so much of this episode is spending time wondering where any of its disparate threads will end up going. There’s a procedural feeling to much of it, except it also feels like it keeps forgetting about its current task and just hopping onto another one. I don’t doubt that it’ll tie most of these things together eventually, but I also know that ‘eventually’ can be a long time in a story like this.
Ascendance of a Bookworm Season 3 is currently streaming on
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.