Ascendance of a Bookworm: First Impressions
by Christopher W Gamsby
The illustrations are from Ascendance of a Book Worm Light Novel by Miya Kazuki, Illustrated by You Shiina. I (Christoper W. Gamsby) colored in the pictures.
Overview - I like the series. I think it is a nice break from the super action-packed movies, anime, and books I'm used to. So far, the LN seems to line up pretty well with what I've watched from the anime, but they expand on people's motivations, reactions, and thoughts a lot more than a TV show can do.
Things I like
Focus on Crafting - When playing MMO's and games with robust crafting systems, I usually focus on doing the crafting. I play games to relax, and those elements of the game are pretty cathartic, much like tearing paper or something. I really liked that aspect of the The Rising of the Shield Hero LN and the That Time I got Reincarnated as a Slime manga. One of the main story elements is Myne's attempt to make products from her world, so it is interesting to see how she tries to accomplish that.
Myne isn't a Mary Sue - A lot of main characters in isekai Manga/Anime/LN come to the world and are overpowered at everything, and everyone likes them. In this case, Myne can barely accomplish anything on her own and requires help. Those who take an interest in her right away generally want something from her. Her family and others seem to find her a burden and love her anyway. Her struggles and failures make her accomplishments feel that much better.
Isekai Elements - An Isekai like the The 8th Son? Are You Kidding Me? anime doesn't need to be framed as an isekai, and so far (there are 4 episodes out currently), the main character's isekai roots have almost no bearing on the story. His POV isn't affected by moving to the new world. Other than the start of the very first episode and the very end of the 4th episode, there really are no isekai elements. Both of those scenes could have been slightly tweaked and made for someone who was always in the world.
Even something like The Rising of the Shield Hero LN really only has weak isekai elements in the narrative itself. Naofumi being from a different world mostly only affects his POV when describing situations. If he was just a random shlub from a remote village or town that was granted the holy shield, the story's narrative could have been precisely the same.
Currently, the story of Ascendance of A Bookwork is inextricable from Myne's identity as Urano. It explains her knowledge about the items she's making. It gives a convenient excuse to create exposition about the world. It gives her POV access to our world to explain and compare aspects of the world. It forces her to try (terribly) not to expose herself, which adds more narrative weight to her interactions. I think that this series made an excellent choice to become an Isekai, even though the genre itself is becoming saturated.
Everything is 'Cute' - I think one of the sentences I read yesterday used the word cute 3 or 4 times. I believe such a character-driven story written innocently is a nice change from the gritty action manga/anime I'm used to.
Different points of view in epilogues - This is something I ended up really liking by the end of the second book. It gives a way of explaining away plot holes or facets about people's interactions that would be incredibly awkward to tell from Myne's POV. Two great examples come to mind. The first is how the other children view Myne when she is angry. You know from reading the main book that they are scared when she gets angry, but it isn't entirely clear why. You find out in the epilogue that Myne not only turns red and scowls, but her eyes actually start to flash in multiple colors. That minor display of magic is why they are so afraid.
An epilogue also answers the question of how Myne's mother never seemed to notice how weird her daughter had become. (The quick answer is that her husband is weird and adventurous like Myne and she just thinks Myne inherited that from him).
Art doesn't really match story - I don't find this to be a big problem, as I mostly follow the rule of cool. If it looks good, I don't care too much how accurate it is. If you look at the picture of Myne trying to open the door near the beginning, you realize the shape of the room doesn't make much sense to how the house is actually laid out. For example, a light source would need to be on the wall shared with the kitchen, which is also in an alcove. I was thinking of writing something on noticing some weird stuff with the lighting as I was trying to color a piece, but maybe another time.
Not great hooks - A lot of the chapters, especially near the start of book one, don't propel you into the next section. It's not likely if you read this book that you will find yourself marathoning it for eight hours straight just to know how the next chapter resolves hooks from the last chapter. Some people will like having a book you can read for a few hours and have a satisfying experience. Some people won't like a book that you can put down and not have a strong pull to pick up again.
Always Nobility - I thought I should have at least one comment in here, so I do have a bit of a weak one. The book series seems to be escalating toward always dealing with nobles and the cloak and dagger lifestyle they have. To be honest, I would like to see a series like this have relatively low stakes. A strong focus on how Myne navigates life with her family and still manages to eke out just enough money to stay ahead of the Devouring. I'm still early in the series, so it could yet take a different direction.