Every once in a while, I’ll read a description for an anime that makes me go “Huh…that actually might work.” It’s usually something that sounds either super outlandish (such as Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai) or so mundane that I’m not sure how it will be entertaining (such as The Great Passage). Ascendance of a Bookworm falls into the second category. How interesting could an isekai about a girl who just wants to read books actually be? Turns out, it makes for pretty great entertainment. Spoilers ahead.
Yes, you read that first paragraph correctly. Ascendance of a Bookworm is indeed an isekai anime. Honestly, I should just buy the domain iwatchedanisekai.com and link it to a special page with all my isekai reviews (because you know it will be the most active section on here). I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I’m not exactly getting tired of them; so far, I’ve only been turned off by the most generic of isekai.
Ascendance of a Bookworm manages to avoid all but some of the most basic isekai tropes (looking at you, every isekai fantasy town in anime). Instead of grand adventures to defeat the evil demon king and save the land, we follow the story of a young girl who simply wants to read books. Unfortunately, the technological limitations of the time make books rare and expensive and she was reborn into a peasant family. Even touching a book is outside of her budget, much less actually owning one. So our heroine sets out to accomplish the only solution she can think of: she’s going to make her own books.
Apart from being born into a peasant family, our heroine Main (pronounced Myne) has another problem: she’s sickly. Her body is ravished by an unpredictable fever that threatens to take her life. This fever can really be thought of as the show’s main antagonist. Every day, Main and her childhood friend Lutz work hard to make her dream of creating books come true. But to do this, Main has to “invent” a lot of modern techniques for things like paper. The labor is a physical strain on Main. They work diligently, but her fever often halts progress for days at a time.
Throughout the process of living day to day life and working towards her end goal of creating books, Main also introduces a lot of other new “inventions” to the world. After all, it takes trial and error to find a method to cheaply produce paper. This is where the story really has it’s heart. Like a lot of medieval anime stories, there is a merchants guild filled with greedy men looking to make a profit. Where Ascendance of a Bookworm differs is the protagonists relationship with these merchants.
Main isn’t looking to make a ton of money or secure a position of power; her motivation is to read. To accomplish this, she forms a business relationship with a local merchant that helps her secure means of production and sales. Again, we’ve seen stories like this many times in anime, but because her motivation is only to one day read, the show doesn’t become a pit of exposition about market manipulation and under-the-table dealings. We simply get to focus on Main and her quest to read while enjoying the ripple effect her new products are having on the local economy.
As the episodes progress, it becomes clear that the antagonist fever Main is cursed with is no ordinary fever (you should have seen this coming). She is cursed with a fatal condition. By the end of the show, Main is struggling with equal parts paper invention and fever reduction. This is where the show begins to feel like it loses direction a little bit (though I’m willing to concede it might just need more time to make things clear).
Main’s goal is and always was to read, but exactly how this will be accomplished is up in the air. For most of the show, it seems her goal is to invent a cheap method for paper production. But near the end she is presented with an opportunity that may let her circumvent inventing paper all together; it also showcases something that was hinted at for most of the show.
In a matter of minutes, a new antagonist is introduced, a conflict is fought, and then it’s all over; it almost feels like you’re watching a different anime. And based on the reactions of the characters involved, I’m not sure what long lasting effects that conflict will have (if any). It was cool and I definitely want to know more, but it came and went too quickly to really feel like it had an impact.
The premise of Ascendance of a Bookworm is almost too simple, but it really works. The cast of characters is colorful and delightful to watch, the pacing never seems to stagnate (though it is a slower pace), and the often tired isekai tropes are warped into something new and exciting. My hopes for a second season would be a little more clarity on what direction the show will go and how it will end (because I don’t want to end up in anime limbo on this one), but other than that I would keep doing all the same great things that season one introduced.