To celebrate the release of Season 3, we had the opportunity to talk with Miya Kazuki-sensei, the genius behind this fantastic fantasy isekai series: Ascendance of the Bookworm.
Also, we’ve got a special surprise for you, so make sure to read until the end!
So, let’s start the interview!
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
Mipon: When did you get the idea to start writing Bookworm?
Kazuki-sensei: It was about half a year before I decided to submit to the Shosetsuka ni Narou* contest. I wanted to write my own novel, so I spent some time thinking of ideas. I remember spending a lot of time at the library around Golden Week (early May) of that year. Serialization started in September of that year, so I suppose I started working on it about four or five months prior to that.
*A light novel writing contest hosted by the website of the same name. See our video here for more information.
M: So, you managed to come up with the idea in quite a short period of time. That’s incredible!
K: Yeah! (laughs)
M: There’s also a “young readers” edition* of Bookworm primarily for elementary-school students. How did that come about?
*Aimed at children in elementary/primary school, these editions are written with simpler grammar and vocabulary (including hiragana readings for kanji).
K: The idea was originally pitched to me by my editor. As it happened, right around that time, I had nieces and nephews who were around the age where they could read something like that, with the hiragana readings for kanji and such. So, I thought it’d be nice to also have a version of Bookworm for kids their age to read.
M: Has the kids’ edition sold well, or have you gotten any feedback about it?
K: Since then, I’ve started getting a lot more fan mail from elementary-school students, so I think it’s been quite well-received.
M: That’s wonderful. I think not only children in Japan, but foreign fans who are studying Japanese also appreciate the more accessible version!
K: That’s true! I’ve gotten comments like that from overseas fans on Twitter. They’ve told me that having the kanji readings really helps.
M: There are a lot of isekai series nowadays, but around the time Bookworm began serialization, the majority of series published thus far involved being transported to another world, as opposed to being reincarnated. Why did you opt for the reincarnation premise over transportation?
K: Well, for one, I wouldn’t have been able to use the idea of the magic-related “Devouring” sickness that Myne suffered from if she had simply been transported. There’s also the dilemma of how to handle an ordinary human from our world suddenly being sent someplace where humans can use magic.
There would also be totally different approaches to life such as how to treat sickness, for example. So, in that regard, I felt it was easier to have a different world where everyone was the same.
M: That’s a very good point.
K: Also, for an ordinary human who couldn’t use magic, it would be impossible to become part of the nobility, since they’d be powerless. That was also a big reason why I didn’t use the transportation premise.
M: Speaking of ceremonies, I wanted to ask you about the famous “Glico Pose” scene from Episode 12 of Season 1. How did you come up with the idea for that?
K: I think I’ve talked about this a little bit on Twitter, but the idea started from a conversation I was having with my husband. We thought it would be strange if, in this alternate world, they prayed in the exact same way as a religion from our world.
K: My husband went to Catholic middle and high schools, so he knew a bit about this kind of thing. He explained that the image Japanese people have of the Christian prayer ritual (hand together/folded) is a very simplified version of how it’s actually done. It’s a much longer process, and there’s significant meaning behind each of the steps.
So, he said that when I described rituals that people would perform in Yurgenschmidt (the country in which Bookworm takes place), it’s important that everything had a meaning or purpose. So, when I proposed the idea of raising your hands and one leg to the sky (to be closer to the gods), we realized, “Hey, that’s the Glico Man pose!” We had a pretty good laugh about it, so I decided to use it (laughs).
M: I was curious which came first; the pose or the meaning behind it. Very interesting!
K: We’d both had a little bit to drink at the time, so we were feeling a bit silly (laughs)
M: After seeing it in Bookworm, I made sure to visit the famous neon sign* in Osaka. That was one of my main reasons for going (laughs)
*Created as part of an advertisement campaign for the Glico company’s caramel candies. The iconic sign at Osaka’s Dotonbori district was first installed in 1935. It’s been a cultural symbol ever since.
K: Fans will occasionally send me photos of themselves posing with the sign (laughs).
M: Throughout the story, there are many times where you describe how material is made, for example, paper. How did you research that?
K: Well, back in school, we learned how to make washi paper during a field trip to a paper-making workshop. I also had some experience with making arts and crafts as a child, and as an adult, I have a friend who specializes in that sort of thing. But mainly, I just researched different processes on my own.
It was still a bit difficult to really understand how things are made just by talking to people, so I read a lot of specialist magazines, books and so on. I also put a lot of thought into what was technologically feasible for people in Yurgenschmidt, and if not, could I substitute this or try that process instead.
As for the printing press, I did happen to tour a printing museum in the past. I wasn’t planning to write professionally at the time though, so I didn’t consult with any experts while I was there.
M: Did you take the opportunity to visit more places like that after you began writing Bookworm?
K: I didn’t really learn how to make things myself, but I was able to watch people make them or listen to them explain how things were done. I was able to write a lot just based on that.
M: While reading the novels and watching the anime, I’ve noticed that many names of characters, places and so on appear to be derived from German, or inredacted the case of characters like Ferdinand, from Italian. Was that a conscious decision on your part?
K: It was. In fact, I was working on a different story before writing Bookworm, which was set in the German countryside, or rather, somewhere based on that. I referenced a lot of things like climate and customs while I was creating the setting. I later included a lot of that in Bookworm.
K: So that’s why a lot of people have names derived from German, especially in the castle town. And that’s why so many other things are German inspired too.
As for Ferdinaredactednd’s name , I wanted to suggest a “foreignness” due to his involvement with Lanzenave. That’sredacted why I decided to go with an Italian-derived name that would be more exotic.
M: That’s very well thought out.
M: Did you study foreign languages in school?
K: I took English of course, but that was just part of the normal curriculum. In college though, I took French as my foreign language elective.
M: Oh, I see! I noticed that on Twitter, you occasionally reply to foreign fans in English.
K: Well, I can read and write a little bit, but speaking and having a conversation is somewhat difficult. I can only understand the meaning and translate it into Japanese, like they taught us in school (laughs).
M: Even still, that’s great. Overseas fans are always thrilled to hear from you, so please continue to communicate with them!
K: Thank you, I will!
M: How closely are you involved with the anime production process?
K: For the anime, I’ll check the script and storyboards, and make sure there are no contradictions in the setting or worldbuilding. For artistic decisions, such as when a painting appears in the manga adaptation, I’ll provide reference material for the artist.
Also, for things like magic circles, I’ll ask them to draw it a specific way and give them reference material for that as well. In general, though, I don’t make many requests myself. I mostly answer questions from the staff and approve certain material.
M: Was there anything in particular that you requested? Something like, “Please make sure to do it exactly like this”?
K: Not really. The anime production staff handles almost everything, so I haven’t made any specific requests.
M: What about the casting process for voice actors? How closely were you involved in that?
K: I was somewhat involved. I wasn’t there for the auditions. Instead, I’d receive the voice recordings from the final candidates, about five or six people, and decide whether they fit my image of the character and offer some feedback as well.
I did listen to all of the voice samples, not just the final candidates. But I think choosing from the group that the staff screened was a decent compromise.
M: Were there that many people auditioning for each role?
K: That was for the main characters. We didn’t have that many for every single role.
M: Did you have any specific requirements in mind when you were judging the candidates?
K: Not really, it was more a question of whether this person fit my image of the characters.
M: Did work on the anime wait until you approved the entire script, or did it proceed in parallel as you approved it?
K: The scripts would usually come one or two episodes at a time. In addition to that, there would be art/visual elements and character settings for those episodes that would also need approval. Once I approved the script and other details for an episode, work would begin on the storyboards.
After I approved those, then comes the animation itself, and then the voice-over work. We would follow the same process for each episode, so there was a lot happening in parallel.
M: Did you attend the recording sessions as well?
K: For Season 3, I was able to attend sessions remotely, so I could be present for all of them. For Seasons 1 and 2, there would be times when I was too busy, like right before a manuscript deadline, so I couldn’t make it to every session. But I tried to be there when new characters were introduced, so I could make sure they sounded right.
M: Did you make any specific requests during the recording sessions?
K: I sometimes asked the director and the voice actors to do things a certain way. Mostly, I’d explain what I thought the characters should sound like or ask the actors to emphasize a certain line. Sometimes I’d also ask to make small changes to the script during recording.
M: So, you’d occasionally modify certain lines as you went along?
K: That’s right. For example, sometimes we wouldn’t be able to fit everything into the runtime limits of an episode if we followed the script exactly, so we’d modify a character’s speech or inflection, for example. The scenario scripts aren’t normally used as-is for the actual dialogue scripts, and sometimes the nuance or mood of a scene might change because we had to cut things in order to stay within time constraints.
In that case, I might say, “that sounds a bit off,” or “this character wouldn’t have said it that way,” and so on.
M: You touched on the subject of the manga adaptation earlier, but how closely were you involved in that?
K: For the manga, there was a lot of checking details related to the setting*. Plus, I reviewed the plot, storyboards and finished versions. There was a lot of checking to do. Sometimes there would be several proposals for the manga cover art that I was asked to choose from. I also wrote short stories for the manga volumes, as well as the afterwords [sections].
*The manga adaptation began in 2015, four years before the anime premiered. So, this would be the first time that many details, often only described in text form, would require visual confirmation.
M: Speaking of Season 3, what kind of things can we look forward to in the upcoming anime?
K: Well, the nobility is a much more central part of the story now, so magic and such will be more prominent. It’s a very big departure from Myne’s life as a commoner. So, I hope viewers will enjoy that, along with Myne’s ongoing book-making efforts and the new friends she makes along the way.
M: We did get to see some of that as Myne entered the nobility in Season 2. Having read the novels and supplementary material like the fan-books, I was very impressed with how detailed the magic system is, so I’m very excited to see more of it used and explained in the anime.
K: Yeah, things are starting to get really interesting at this point in the story. Especially the anime version of the Spring Prayer ceremony in Part 2 Volume 3 (of the novel), [which] turned out very well, so look forward to that too.
M: The web novel version of Bookworm is complete, but how much more is left to tell for the light novel version?
K: I’d say we’re getting close to the final story arc.
M: Any chance you could tell us exactly how many more volumes to expect?
K: Well, Part 5 Volume 8 will be released this April, and right now, I’m working on Volume 9. As for the final volume, that will probably be Volume 12.
M: Are you planning to write any side stories or spinoffs based on the Bookworm universe?
K: For the time being, I feel like I ought to get around to finishing “Hannelore’s 5th Yearredacted in the Royal Academy, a side story that’s being sporadically published on the web. I’ve been too busy to properly focus on it, and I feel really bad about that, so I’d like to finish that as soon as possible.
I’ve also been receiving requests from other publishers to do a new project, so I’ve been thinking it might be fun to do something completely different.
Note: A side story focusing on Hanredactednelore, a young arch-noble and student of the Royal Academy. Serialized online from 2017 to present. Here is a link for more info (language is in Japanese)
M: Ooh! A whole new story?
K: Of course, I do want to write continuations of the Bookworm story, but I know that if I get started on that, it’ll make it harder to start a completely new project. I do sometimes get the urge to do something brand new, you see.
M: That’s true. I imagine it’d be hard to work on two projects at once…
K: Yeah (laughs)
M: Do you already have an idea of what new story you’d like to write?
K: Oh, you bet! Ever since I finished the Bookworm web novel, I’ve been asked whether I would write a brand-new story, but I’ve always said I’m too busy to do it. At this point, I’ve been keeping them waiting for about four or five years.
M: I imagine that must be a complicated feeling. But I am excited to see what you write in the future!
K: Thank you!
M: Just one last question before we go. Who is your favorite character?
K: Ooh, that’s a tough question! It would be hard to choose who I liked best, but in terms of who I find easiest to write for, I’d have to say Myne. Lutz and Tuuli are very honest and cute, but it’s hard to choose one character. I could list all the characters I like, but it would be near impossible to decide.
M: I was curious about some of your other activities as a writer. You’ve written some essays for the Minna no Toshokan (Everyone’s Library)* blog. How did you come to be involved in the project?
*Minna no Toshokan (Everyone’s Library), a monthly magazine by Education Resource Publishing House, which publishes magazines and editorial content related to the education system in Japan.
K: It was actually fairly informal; I didn’t really have a goal in mind. One day, an old senpai from my college days contacted me and asked if I could write something for the project.
M: Oh, so your senpai was involved with libraries in some way?
K: That’s right. They actually worked at a library. They were holding a workshop, and I was asked to do a column for the workshop magazine.
M: What made you decide to work on the project? Were you interested in a particular aspect?
K: At the time, I wasn’t too busy with my other work, and all I had to do was write everything at once and it would be split into 10 separate columns. That wasn’t too difficult of a project, so I agreed to help out.
M: So, you mostly wrote about books and libraries?
K: That’s right.
M: When reading for fun, do you prefer paper or digital books?
K: Definitely paper. For manga, I prefer the digital versions, but for text-heavy media like books, paper is easier to read. As for when I’m working, paper is much easier when I need to look back at illustrations in my books.
On the other hand, being able to search the digital versions when I want to reference something I already wrote is a huge help. I don’t have to do that too often since I already have the manuscript draft files, so most of the time I prefer to use paper.
M: So digital is helpful for work, but as a reader, it’s hard to beat the real thing.
K: Yeah, paper’s just better.
M: Agreed. I’ve got an e-reader, but I’m always wishing I could have the real thing instead.
===Bonus conversation END===
End of interview.
Nowadays, the isekai genre is heavily saturated, to put it mildly. But Kazuki-sensei’s creativity and dedication to crafting a rich world with relatable characters makes Bookworm stand out as a brilliant example of why these kinds of stories are so fascinating.
Season 3 of Ascendance of a Bookworm will air in Japan on April 11 and will be available for streaming via Crunchyroll.
Now finally, do you want to win a copy of the light novel or manga signed by Kazuki-sensei herself?
She was kind enough to sign a copy of the manga and light novel (one each) which we’ll be giving away to our readers!
Subscribe to our Youtube, we’ll be making a big announcement about it soon!
If you’re already subscribed, then just keep an eye out for the news. As always, if you’ve got any questions, feel free to reach us on Twitter or Instagram.
Thanks to Kazuki-sensei, Happinet Phantom Studios, ToBooks and everyone that made this interview possible.
Interview and Translation: Karl Bruder.
Editor: Chelsea McWillis
DISCLAIMER: All the images above were used with the permission of Happinet Phantom Studios.
©Miya Kazuki,TObooks/Ascendance of a Bookworm Project 2020