[Anime News Network] “‘Gekokujo’ and Revolution in Ascendance of a Bookworm”

Non-management: I absolutely adore Ascendance of a Bookworm, to the point that it’s become the first light novel series I’ve actively following and spending money on: I bought all the available novels on Bookwalker, took out a subscription from J-Novel Club, and now I’ve written an ANN article on the anime that basically doubles as my own idiosyncratic love letter to the story. I was skeptical at first before a friend sat me down and had me take a second look at it. I really like how much promise fantasy isekai settings hold, though that might mean something different to me than others. A lot of fans like the escapist fantasy adventurism that isekai can easily accommodate for, and I can’t say I don’t find that part of the genre unappealing . But as a social scientist, I see isekai settings as a golden opportunity for creating allegories that can help educate fans understand and wish for a better world around them. Log Horizon and, to a lesser extent, That Time I Got Reincarnated into a Slime, does this.  Yet so many isekai end up being otherwise uninspired stories that use isekai settings as a lazily gimmicky way to to hook people in like some cheap spice.

A series about a girl obsessed with books, but it’s also an isekai story, screamed as gimmicky to me, and the lukewarm reception to its first episodes didn’t convince otherwise at first. I understand how exhausted some people are with the male-centeredness and exploitative violence of recent isekai (I’ve grown sick of it too), but I wasn’t convinced that Bookworm would be a good story even if it hit the opposite isekai checkboxes. But boy was I wrong. Its worldbuilding is marvelously complex; its application and handling of historical inspirations, political systems, and social issues are thought provoking; its characters are full-bodied products of their environment who change as the world and people they interacts with change. I just wanted to showcase Bookworm as a skeptic-turned-convert in the best way (and most known way) I know how: talking about its revolution and history.

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

It’s a recurring trope in history and fiction: outsiders are salad tossed into a pre-established society. Due to a whole world of difference, these immigrants arrive with fresh perspectives, new ideas, wide-eyed energy, and ambitions, irrevocably shaking their new world’s status quo. Immigrants and isekai are natural marriage partners: Log HorizonThat Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, and Ascendance of a Bookworm are several examples in anime where outsiders from other worlds usher systematic change in their adopted one.

The systematic change these outsiders usher in is comparable to events like the Protestant Reformation, the Japanese Warring States Period, and other periods of “gekokujo”. Gekokujo is a term in Japanese referencing periods of sociopolitical upheaval: times when those of lower position seize control from those of higher status. While Ascendance of a Bookworm (henceforth just Bookworm) is the series’s official name, Honzuki no Gekokujo, the series’ Japanese title, suggests more than just the singular rise of a girl who loves to read. It presents change worthy of the title “revolution” thanks to the power of books… READ MORE

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