And here we are with our discussion of the first volume of Ascendance of a Bookworm! With the anime having just started, now is the perfect time to dive into this “bibliophile fantasy” and see what lies in store. @jeskaiangel will be joining me this time as we look at what makes this isekai story special.
1. What are your overall impressions of the novel?
Jeskai Angel: The book is an offbeat but solid reincarnation isekai. WHAT happens isn’t anything special (a small child plays with mud and does math!), but the way it’s told makes for an enjoyable tale.
stardf29: The first thing that sticks out to me is how it goes against the usual tropes of isekai web/light novels. The protagonist doesn’t have any special cheat powers; in fact, she’s born into a sick body that has trouble doing anything. On top of that, she’s born into a poor family, and we get to see how hard life is for such a family in general. And there’s no sign of a harem, of course. That said, Myne does still have her knowledge of modern life and still uses it to introduce stuff to this world, so there’s still a bit of isekai familiarity in there. Overall, it feels like an isekai story without the otaku filters, which is definitely nice to see.
2. What is your opinion of Myne as a character and as the protagonist?
Jeskai Angel: Myne works really well as a protagonist. Because she’s been quite literally sheltered, as in bedridden, much of her short life, she knows little about her world, and this makes it possible for us to learn about the world right alongside her. Like with Mile in Abilities Average, her character also seems to combine elements from both her past life and her new one. She has esoteric knowledge no child her age would have, yet she’s also capable of being quite immature in her responses to situations.
stardf29: Myne is definitely an interesting protagonist, in part for the reasons you mentioned. To add to that, it helps that she has a definite goal in this world, so she’s not drifting around aimlessly. The other thing, though, is that she can be quite selfish, since for the most part she only cares about getting books and doesn’t think too much about how she’s making trouble for others. While I’ve seen some complaints about this, I think it provides a nice opportunity for some character development, which does start to show up later in the book.
3. What do you think about the other characters in the story?
Jeskai Angel: In a way, it’s all the other characters that really sold me on the story. Myne’s relationships with her parents, sister, friends, even Mr. Otto, etc., are just incredibly heartwarming. You really get the sense that all these people love Myne. The depth of the relationships takes a story of a little girl failing to make books and lets it be something special.
stardf29: Yeah, I really like how the other characters play into the story. It’s one of the things that I mentioned helps make this feel not as otaku-fied, by having supporting characters that naturally fit in the story and in Myne’s life, instead of filling out a checklist of character tropes.
4. How did the lack of common isekai fantasy elements affect your experience with this story?
Jeskai Angel: I found it interesting how basically nonexistent common fantasy tropes were. Unlike most isekai stories that take place in an openly magical world, this book has almost nothing that is explicitly supernatural. We, along with Myne, do hear about some unusual plants that don’t exist on earth, but it’s not really clear if they are magical or just weird. I felt the apparent lack of magic really gave the setting a different feel compared to other isekai stories. Of course, the very end of this volume does betray a hint that magic will be involved in Myne’s future, but that doesn’t negate the strikingly mundane tone of our introduction to Myne’s world. Her struggles are more relatable, I think, because she’s not (at least as of vol. 1) living in a high fantasy setting.
stardf29: The immediate benefit of the relative lack of magic is that Myne cannot rely on any magic “cheats” to get her books. She has to do it the historical way, which allows the book to be a bit educational on how writing methods used to be made.
That said, as you mentioned, the end does hint that this world does have magic. Moreover, it’s something that seems to be exclusive to nobles, meaning it’s likely largely behind the social stratification of this world. So the relative lack of magic also highlights just how low-class Myne’s current circumstances are. And then, of course, there’s the matter of the “devouring”…
5. We touched on this a bit earlier: how do you think Bookworm‘s portrayal of “older girl in a young girl’s body” compares to how Abilities Average did it?
Jeskai Angel: It was fine, though I think I’d say Abilities Average handled the issue slightly better. I suspect that’s because Mile is a bit older than Myne, meaning there’s less of a gap between her physical age and the age of her past-life-memories. With the larger age gap between Myne and Urano, the blending of the two identities isn’t quite as smooth. But the story actually makes good use of the incongruities — they provide a basis for various other characters to recognize that Myne is strange, behaving oddly for a child her age or knowing things they wouldn’t have expected.
It occurs to me that Mile never really seems conflicted about her identity, easily accepting her reincarnated nature upon regaining her memories. On the other hand, Myne seems noticeably conflicted at times about whether she’s Myne or Urano. I think her behavior ultimately shows that she is truly BOTH, perhaps even more than she wants to admit. As a tangent, it’s interesting to compare these two series with Seirei Gensouki, which has yet another take on the child-awakens-memories-of-past-life plot device.
stardf29: I think the difference is that Mile wanted to leave her previous life’s identity behind, so she embraces her new identity as much as possible. On the other hand, Myne wants to basically continue living her Urano life in the new world, at least as far as reading books goes. So that factors into that greater incongruency between her two identities.
A more amusing difference I noticed was with their interest in boys. Mile had zero interest in any of the boys her age, because her higher mental age made her see them as too young. Myne, on the other hand, did seem to at least be a bit charmed by Lutz early in the book, so in her case her new body is influencing her more? This is definitely something I think about as someone with an interest in psychology, in just how much the body affects the mind, especially with these reincarnation stories.
Jeskai Angel: Myne sometimes talks as if her “original” Myne identity is something separate and gone, overwritten by the memories of her Urano days. But things like the affection she shows her family or her childish meltdowns when something goes wrong both suggest that she is truly both Myne and Urano, even though it seems like Myne herself doesn’t care to admit it.
6. One of the most notable moments in this first volume is when Myne, having experienced one too many setbacks in her book-making, almost loses the will to live, and then the “devouring” nearly actually kills her. What do you make of this moment that is practically a depiction of barely-averted suicide?
Jeskai Angel: The big thing I took away from the incident actually ties into the last question: having a total meltdown when something goes wrong seemed rather immature, childish even. It was one of the developments that helped me see that for all her Urano memories, Myne really is Myne the little girl, not just adult Urano. Another takeaway I got from this event was the degree of Myne’s devotion to books. We’ve already seen her depicted as an extreme bibliophile, but seeing her almost give up on life itself over books drives home that her love of books is actually a bit of a weakness in her character, a trait taken to such an extreme as to become a flaw. I can’t help but think Myne would do well to consider Ecclesiastes 12.12, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” It will be interesting to watch in future volumes to see if she matures in this area and finds more reasons to live. Finally, it’s ironic that Urano died from too many books, while Myne nearly dies from the lack of books.
stardf29: I remember finding that part to be rather jarring upon first reading it, like “I know Urano/Myne really likes books but is she really the sort of person who would basically kill herself if she didn’t have books?” Of course, after reading the side story about her life back on Earth, maybe she is… But as you said, this seems to be a case where Myne’s younger body/brain is influencing her. Of course, she does get over it in the end, thanks to remembering a promise she made with Lutz. Which leads into…
7. What do you make out of the relationship between Myne and Lutz so far?
Jeskai Angel: It’s a great aspect of the book (as are Myne’s other relationships). Lutz really seems to “get” Myne in a way that few others in the story do, and he’s remarkably selfless in the way he helps her. One also suspects there’s a childhood friend romance brewing, but they for now they are still young children and any overt romance seems to be well off into the future.
stardf29: Lutz interests me a lot because, while on first impression he’s the romantic interest, there’s a lot more going on with him than just being “interested” in Myne. We get to see what he wants to do, even if it is not the most practical thing to do. It gave me the feeling that Lutz is being inspired by Myne’s pursuit of her “books” despite her condition.
Meanwhile, on Myne’s side, given that he was the reason she overcame her devouring, even if only to fulfill a promise she made to him, it seems like Lutz is the start of her growing out of her selfishness and really learning to care about others. So I’m definitely interested in seeing how their relationship develops from here on out.
And that… almost wraps up our discussion of the first volume of Ascendance of a Bookworm. We do have one last thing to discuss, though: our impressions of the first episode of the anime adaptation! That will be posted separately later on, so look forward to that.
As for what the Light Novel Club plans to do next: you’ll have to stay tuned next week for that announcement. It’ll be something a bit different from normal, though, so look forward to that!
In the meantime, if you read along with us this time around, go ahead and post your own answers to the above questions, or anything else about the book, in the comments!