虫かぶり姫 Princess of the Bibliophile Mushikaburi-hime
For generations, the Bernstein family has been recognized as a house of nobles who favor books over everything else. Elianna Bernstein, daughter of a baron of the Sauslind Kingdom, is no different. But instead of being called a bookworm, she is known as the Bibliophile Princess.
Four years ago, the crown prince, Christopher Selkirk Asherald, offered Elianna a special arrangement: if she would become his fiancée, he promised that she could continue to spend all her free time reading. Despite having to inherit a title of great responsibility, she agreed to the proposal, enticed by the prospect of gaining access to the royal archives housing a wide selection of books.
To this day, Elianna firmly believes that her engagement is void of romantic sentiment. When she notices Christopher’s interactions with another girl, she presumes that the days she spends with him will soon reach an end. Yet, during this period of uncertainty, Elianna and Christopher open a new chapter in their relationship, gradually uncovering their genuine feelings as they grow to better understand each other.
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I want to make something very clear: I NEVER go into watching, reading, or playing something wanting to hate it. Whenever I see something that seems like it appeals to my tastes, I actually try to keep an open mind about it. Similarly, there are certain shows and genres that I avoid like the plague. Don’t expect me to talk about any ecchi anime ever and don’t expect me to watch shows such as Haruhi Suzumiya, Redo of Healer, or Ranma 1/2 or anything of the like. If you like those shows, cool, good for you. So when I first heard about Bibliophile Princess and its upcoming anime adaptation, I thought it seemed cute, so I decided to try it out. Since the light novels are only available digitally, I can’t really rent them, and I don’t want to buy something and then find that I don’t like it and be unable to return it, y’know? I thought, “Hey! Maybe Bibliophile Princess might be good! I’ll give it a watch and see for myself!” Boy howdy do I regret that decision so, so, sooooo much. Dear lord, I wanted to like this show so badly. I really did. But seriously, watching Bibliophile Princess was like being made to go through a muddy river with the promise of a prize at the end, only to find out too late that there was never a prize to begin with. By God, not only is Bibliophile Princess one of the most utterly generic, mediocre, frustrating anime I’ve ever seen, based on what little I’ve read of the light novels, it completely fails as an overall adaptation.
In the kingdom of Sauslind, Lady Elianna Bernstein and her family of self-professed bookworms live in relative peace, with no desire for power and content with spending their days doing nothing but reading and acquiring knowledge. During Elianna’s debutante season at court, she is proposed to by the dashing Prince Christopher, the heir to the kingdom. At first, Elianna balks at the idea of being married to him, as she feels there are better candidates out there, but Christopher makes an offer she can’t bring herself to refuse: If she marries him, she’ll have special access to the fabled royal archives, a repository of rare tomes, and her social duties will be intentionally limited. Unable to resist the allure of reading new books, Elianna accepts and becomes Christopher’s fiance, but she does wonder why he of all people would rather marry her and make her his bride when there are other, far better suitable people that want it more?
Man, I honestly thought Prima Doll was going to be the worst anime I saw this year, but Bibliophile Princess took the throne by virtue of the fact that everything about it just screams “I don’t give a shit.” Seriously, there’s barely anything redeemable about Bibliophile Princess as an anime. Everything it does has been done way better in other shows, some of which I’ll mention further down. Bibliophile Princess at best is a boring cliche-fest that has zero ambition. Now, cliches in and of themselves aren’t inherently bad, and I abide by the philosophy that as long as you flesh out the characters well and care about the story you want to tell, you can make anything good whether it’s cliche or not, as there’s no such thing as a truly original story anymore. But everything about Bibliophile Princess just feels extremely passionless, listless, and workman-like, like the staff on the show only produced this because they were mandated to do so to fill out a light novel adaptation quota. From the obnoxiously bright, washed out, and shadowless animation to the similarly mediocre and generic soundtrack, the whole production feels like a poor man’s Ascendance of a Bookworm. Speaking of Bookworm, does anybody else think that the only reason Yuka Iguchi was brought on to sing the opening was because the producers for this wanted to cash in on Bookworm’s fame and popularity? Ironically, the opening song is actually the best thing about this show.
Beyond that, the writing is just outright stupid. This is the kind of show that was written by people who think that its target audience has the mental capacity of a lobotomized squirrel. Characters act solely on what’s convenient to the plot and make the most bizarre leaps in logic at times. Any attempts this show makes to try and be genuine is overshadowed by their complete stupidity. Add that to a story that is just chockful of plot devices and inconsequential politicial babble that we never even see portrayed on screen, and you basically have a bland mess. Even the character designs have no passion put into them, as the men are all just generic bishounen that are carbon copies of each other save for Alan (Who, ironically, is the only character in this show I liked even though his whole running gag is that nobody remembers him at all), and all the women have similar faces that you wouldn’t be able to tell apart even if you swapped their hair styles and costumes. The show’s attempts at political intrigue fall flat because a lot of it just consists of catty girls trying to sabotage Elianna with absolutely no sense of subtlety whatsoever. Characters telegraph their evil intentions like blaring neon lights. The show thinks its smart when it actually isn’t.
Speaking of Elianna, I hate to say it, but she’s the absolute worst aspect of this show. Bibliophile Princess is constantly beating into our heads that Elianna is this super awesome lady who does great things for her kingdom and others, even showing other characters praising her for her feats…but the thing is, the anime doesn’t actually show her doing anything of note on screen, so any praise she winds up getting feels not only unearned, but completely undeserved. For example, episode 2, which I feel encapsulates every single flaw this show has, has Elianna be caught up in some girl’s bad attempt at trying to usurp her as Christopher’s fiance, and the nobles all wax poetic about all the wonderful things Elianna has done for them. What does Elianna actually do throughout the entire episode? Nothing! She literally just stands at the top of the stairs like a deer in the headlights, making absolutely no attempt to refute any of the mean girl’s accusations when she has all the power to do so, and everyone else just does everything for her. And she spends THE ENTIRE FUCKING EPISODE JUST STANDING AROUND!!! The fact that everyone worships the ground Elianna walks on even when the anime makes no effort to show her actually doing anything of note on screen just makes Elianna come off as a blatant Mary Sue straight out of someone’s bad fan fiction, and I’ve both read and written my fair share of bad fan fiction (My fics were a lot worse as a kid, and I can say I’ve vastly improved my writing since then)! Furthermore, Elianna’s personality doesn’t change all that much and her views are never challenged. There’s one arc where a military guy points out a lot of the flaws in Elianna’s proposal about storing food and putting less money into war weapons, and the guy actually makes some fairly reasonable points considering Elianna has literally no experience with military affairs and is a bit too idealistic about preventing war, but after she makes some overly cheesy speech, the guy just laughs it off and accepts Elianna without a second thought! Plus, Elianna never makes the effort to actually talk to people about any issues she has, especially when it matters (Again, episode 2 is the worst example of this), and any time she tries, somebody else steps in and does everything for her, or claim that she did nothing wrong when a lot of conflict could have been avoided if she had just talked to SOMEBODY AT ALL. All throughout the series, Elianna just comes across as a whiny, listless, passionless waif who only cares about books and nothing else, yet is constantly shilled by the entire narrative as this amazing person when she’s done literally nothing to deserve any praise at all and is given little to no agency or autonomy. The one time she does try to do something (During the Star of Sissel arc) also falls flat because she recklessly throws herself into a situation where a nobleman could easily kill her right then and there, and she didn’t bother to bring her guard with her. Gee, it’s almost like trying to confront a powerful nobleman without any weapons or self-defense training is a bad idea!
And the thing is, Elianna does have established reasons for being the way she is in the light novels! The LNs establish that she mostly stayed away from social gatherings because she was picked on by aristocratic girls for her love of books and her plain looks, which the anime never bothers to establish in the beginning. Even during the Irene incident, Elianna, while she still stood around and didn’t do anything, she saw through Irene’s ploy and even snarked about it in her head, and the LN establishes that the only reason she didn’t speak up was because she didn’t know if she was supposed to act or just stay put and follow the mental script everyone was acting out. So basically, the anime deliberately left out what little personality Elianna had in the LNs in favor of making her into a swooning, spineless waif who jumps to conclusions at the slightest thing and barely does anything of her own initiative, even when she has all the power and freedom to do so. Any reasons she has for being the way she is are left out, so it’s really hard to feel any sympathy for anime Elianna because she basically brought a lot of her own issues on herself and doesn’t even make the effort to solve her own problems! Do you want to know an anime that features a character that actually does shit and has legitimate reasons for being the way she is? Raven of the Inner Palace, which is airing right now! In that anime, Shouxue is shown to be lonely and isolated because not only does her position as the Raven Consort dictate such, if certain people find out what she really is, they will literally kill her, yet Raven of the Inner Palace actually shows Shouxue going out of her way to help people and solve their problems, whether by their own request or because she wants to, so any loyalty she receives from her new friends and acquaintances actually feels earned. Plus, it is possible to write a heroine who starts off listless and dispassionate as long as the reasons for her being such are plausible. For example, I’m reading the light novel My Happy Marriage right now (Which is getting an anime fairly soon), and in that series, the heroine, Miyo, is quiet and has zero self-esteem because she was abused and mistreated by her family for her entire life, with the series making it clear right off the bat. Her life improves when she’s made to marry a rich man named Kiyoka, but marriage alone doesn’t magically resolve all of her trauma and issues, with the series empathizing that Miyo’s path to healing will be a long one. In that series, Miyo’s arc is about her regaining her self-worth, agency, and autonomy and allowing herself to become a more self-assured individual now that she interacts with people who genuinely love and care about her. Elianna doesn’t have that excuse, so her problems, again, come off more like a girl’s insufferable whining than anything truly genuine.
That’s not even getting into all the other little problems the anime has as well. In one episode, the series just randomly introduces a character named Lilia and expects us to already know that she and Elianna are acquainted without even showing us how they know each other. Like, the hell? I know Arte had this problem with its anime, but Bibliophile Princess is actually worse about it because even though this girl is in the opening, she just disappears after that arc and never shows up again. The LNs establish that Lilia is Elianna’s cousin on her mother’s side, and yet again, the anime just chucks her in there without rhyme or reason. Like, why even put this girl in the opening if you’re only gonna have her be in the series for two or three episodes and then never again?! God, just thinking more about this series makes my head hurt. Overall, if you’re into shows like Bibliophile Princess, that’s totally cool, more power to you. If you like it, great! I personally feel the Bibliophile Princess anime is frustrating and terrible, mainly because it commits a cardinal sin that no adaptation should ever do: It made me question if the source material is even that good to begin with. Seriously, there are so many other things out there that manage to tackle their premise and characters better than Bibliophile Princess could ever hope to do, some of which I’ve named. All in all, Bibliophile Princess is not only a hopelessly blank, generic anime, but also a terrible adaptation. But don’t just take my word for it. ANN writer Rebecca Silverman did weekly reviews for the series, and since she’s read the light novels, she also recognizes the adaptation’s failures in capturing the spirit and essence of the source material, and even other ANN writers don’t feel the anime is worth much. But ultimately, you should make your own judgment and see for yourself whether you like or dislike Bibliophile Princess, or anything else, really. At the end of the day, my reviews are just my personal opinions on the stuff I read, watch, and play, nothing more and nothing less.