Kouki UchiyamaTaku YashiroReina UedaWataru Hatano
Bibliophile Princess
Also known as: Mushikaburi-hime
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2022
Director: Tarou Iwasaki
Writer: Mitsutaka Hirota
Original creator: Yui
Actor: Gen Sato, Kouki Uchiyama, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Reina Ueda, Ryohei Kimura, Taku Yashiro, Wataru Hatano, Yohei Azakami, Yuma Uchida
Keywords: anime, fantasy, reverse-harem
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Url: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=25243
Website category: Anime 2022
Review date: 22 December 2023
Mushikaburihime
I enjoyed it, sometimes almost because of its flaws. It's odd, but I like odd things. (Apparently the original light novels do a much better job of portraying the protagonist's inner life, though, and will seem far better by normal definitions.)
Our heroine is a blank slate. A wisp of air. A pretty nothing. Her name is Elianna and she likes books. She's incapable of raising her voice, except to a mild extent if you mistreat a book. She wanders around like a ghost, or even perhaps a parody of the kind of otome game heroine who's deliberately been written as an "insert your face here" template. She's hardly ever this story's protagonist in any meaningful way because she's a walking hole in the air and the narrative is usually happening around her. The idea of Elianna dynamically driving her own story would be a joke.
Furthermore, it's a pandering fantasy to an even more outrageous degree than usual for its genre. A handsome prince (His Highness Christopher Selkirk Ashelard) proposes to her at the start of ep.1 (to which her reaction is "eh?" and "why?") and whisks her away to a palace of pretty boys who wait on her hand and foot. He's a saint. He worships her. He affirms his love at every opportunity. He barely even seems human. As for the female characters (i.e. rivals), they're almost all scary and you'd run a mile from the prospect of court intrigue with that lot... but sometimes they're so incompetent that it's hilarious. Look at the big lie in ep.2. The show's so one-sided in its Elianna bias that it makes that episode's villainess look too stupid to live.
Had this series not been such blatant comfort food, though, its world could have been unnerving. The factions and schemes are darker than you'd think. There's an assassination plot. The queen has a frank discussion about courtesans, which Elianna will be expected to put up with as a mandatory part of royal marriage. Producing heirs is serious business. "That's the fate of women who marry into royal families."
Besides, it could have been worse. At least Elianna's familiy isn't strong-arming her into being a courtesan herself.
The good news is that Elianna's not actually the milksop she looks like. Her reading matter includes history and the latest pharmaceutical research. In this pseudo-medieval world, she's a polymath. She could easily end up becoming a Newton or a Copernicus. She investigates the origin of plagues and can spot forged art works at a glance. We rarely see her actually doing anything, but we're told that she's made lots of improvements to castle life. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to make bigoted or questionable statements in her presence, because she'll timidly demolish you.
I think she starts turning into an actual person about halfway through the series, when she's realised that she loves Prince Christopher as much as she loves books. This isn't permanent and it's only to a small extent, but progress is progress.
The show's okay. At least it's not an isekai or a game adaptation. It's bland, obviously, and it has the odd forehead-slapper for plot convenience, e.g. Elianna's communications failure at the end of ep.11. You could skip half the episodes and not notice. Sometimes it's dull. It is, though, pleasant and relaxing. (That's the entire point of it, after all, and it could hardly be more unsubtle about how its plotting, characterisation and universe have all been shaped to flatter and reassure Elianna.) I prefer it to most otome adaptations where the "protagonist surrounded by pretty boys" happens to be bland, since here that's being underlined so hard that it feels like the point. I found it quite fun.