Getting Main out of the cathedral for the Spring Prayer brings some much-appreciated focus to Ascendance of a Bookworm for this episode. I know some enjoy the distinctive, day-to-day pacing of seeing all the different aspects of Main’s life play out, but the past couples just felt especially scattershot to me. This entry sees things settle better into a more singularly-concentrated storyline, while still making space for elements from some of the other adjacent plots. Specifically, the threat of Main being kidnapped by interlopers desiring to use her powers looks like it’s going to be an overarching element for this season. It demonstrates that Ferdinand was absolutely right about needing to keep Main as safe as possible even after the passing of winter, and that things could only grow more complicated as she interacts with and assists with more of the Church’s activities.
That critical kidnapping concern isn’t the only conflict this episode, however, and thankfully the other elements in play have more of a simple sitcom flair to them amidst all that seriousness. Main is formally introduced to Sylvester, another Blue-Robe with a talent for show-off acrobatics and a flair for being an absolute troll to the poor little bookworm. Sylvester’s interactions with Main are…contentious, even if they are central to the storyline of this entry. There’s being somewhat insensitive, and then there’s barging in, immediately starting to jab at Main’s face demanding reactions, and even stealing her hair stick and taunting her with it! “I hate guys like this” indeed, Main. I think my issue is that even as others like Ferdinand admonish Sylvester for his behaviour, there’s an implication that this is just the way he is and treats everyone, but it doesn’t really come through.
It instead comes across like Sylvester is specifically bullying Main, for unclear reasons. It’s an unpleasant look to begin with (especially given that he’s the actual adult in this interaction), with the unsavory aspects of the situation acknowledged in the likes of Ferdinand advising the two be seated apart from each other during dinner to keep Main from getting harassed (which doesn’t actually play out, as they just end up sitting across from each other anyway). It does seem like Sylvester’s antics are partly in service of showing Main learning to handle herself in the face of an antagonistic element that’s otherwise part of the same organization as her; She responds by kindly sharing her food when Sylvester invites himself to try some, and keeps him in check regarding the power imbalance inherent in the dynamics between nobles and merchants. She even sells him on becoming a patron of the restaurant the chef will be opening up in place of specifically hiring the guy. We already know that Main, like so many other adorable tiny creatures, can be a master of psychological manipulation when she wants to, and this is another example of it working on a jerk like Sylvester.
That said, the episode’s portrayal of Sylvester ultimately settles on a ‘jerk with a heart of gold’ type. His willingness to patronize the restaurant was a hint, then by the end of the episode his outlandish moves are providing useful in a more perilous situation, and he demonstrates that he has Main’s safety and best interests in mind when things get serious. It’s tough to say how much such plotting excuses the absolute douchery Sylvester got up to before throughout the episode, but it did at least successfully communicate the point that his heart was in the right place.
That peril wherein Sylvester proves himself is the climax of the more serious tension ramping up across this episode. It’s as neat as ever to see Main participate in more rituals and practices of the world’s religion, but the various visits for Spring Prayers mainly end up being a vehicle for dialing up the tension of the potential-kidnapping plot. Such focus is a good thing for the engagement of the storytelling. It allows us to acknowledge that Ferdinand needs to take Main to visit this Viscount Gerlach character, since the Church needs to maintain a relationship with him, while exercising caution in how she’s brought over, since they know for a fact the Viscount has a none-too-scrupulous interest in her powers. It demonstrates the complex juggling of internal and external politics the Church needs to engage with, making the strain all that struggle would have on Main feel apparent even before we see it visibly tucker the poor girl out. There’s a great sense of escalation from there just in this one episode, when a reported kidnapping attempt results in two people dead, and by the end of the episode her attendants are being attacked during their travels.
Aside from the engaging plot stuff, this last attack setpiece lets Ascendance of a Bookworm Show off in a way it hasn’t gotten to in a while. Most of the more expressive animation had been saved for the little chibi Main interludes (which are still plentiful and just as delightful this episode), so when a flying action scene atop the characters’ highbeasts punctuated with explosive magic use kicks off, it’s a welcome treat. It’s nice to see Bookworm‘s unique prayer-based magic system in action, resulting in a particular kind of battle of competing magic walls and barriers. And alongside that aforementioned character beat with Sylvester, it also serves as a demonstrative moment of Main’s resolve and ability to strategize on the fly (no pun intended) and Ferdinand’s resolution to offer her guidance in such a situation as he knows she’s going to cut loose with her powers anyway. It tidily connects ongoing plot elements with broader character and thematic work, and it looks great doing so. That’s the kind of cohesion I like to see this show work up to.
It even leaves us with some more seeded plot elements afterwards, with the implication that Main’s magical items inadvertently caused her prayers to activate some magic spell (itself resulting in a truly explosive loosing of power by Karstedt). I also appreciated the acknowledgment of other world-building elements, with the point that the God of Darkness barrier being used meant a Noble was almost certainly involved in the attack. That’s the sort of thing Ascendance of a Bookworm has always been good about, really. But the rest of this episode was filled with demonstrations of other strengths. Even as unjustly annoying as Sylvester could come off, I still got what the show was going for with him, and it fit together well with the other thematics demonstrated across this stretch of the story. It’s a step up after all that previous setup, and I’m back to eagerly anticipating where it’s all going next.
Ascendance of a Bookworm Season 3 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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.