Rating: 4 (of 5)
Episode 27 was mostly set-up, so episode 28 is the first of the season to delve into the real meat of the story. And that begins by establishing Main’s status while living directly at the cathedral.
In fact, the first half of the episode is completely devoted to this. Main not only has to adjust to being apart from her family for the first time, but she also has to understand better the boundaries under which she, as a wearer of blue robes, must operate. She can’t apologize or get too personal with her attendants (not even hugs), should not be the one teaching grey robes beyond her immediate attendants, and for her own safety after the Ink Guild incident, is heavily restricted on her movements. This leaves her more isolated than ever before, which the episode direction takes great pains to depict; one scene where she is eating a meal alone is especially effective here.
For as forlorn as Main is over this, it is also the point in the story where she is most relatable. When I moved to Indianapolis for my first full-time job, it was the first time I had lived away from home, and in a city where I did not have family or friends close by. It was nearly as rough as what Main is facing here, to the point that for the first few months I drove 2½ hours each way every other weekend to visit family and my old gaming groups. I eventually adjusted, and have comfortably lived solo for a couple of decades now, and Main will have to as well. Of course, I didn’t have such a high level of mana that it was going to attract lots of the wrong kind of attention. . .
And that is what the second half of the episode ends up being about. The Ink Guild’s doings are a more earthy threat, and Main is certainly in danger from that, but she has also become desirable to ambitious nobles as well – and while they may not know much about her identity, they certainly know that she exists in the cathedral at the Lord’s decree and there are many witnesses to how vast her mana is. This was, to some degree, expected, but Main is only now starting to appreciate the very heavy implications of her actions at the trombe. That’s also without factoring in that Shichicoza’s actions towards her got him executed. While that may seem extreme by modern standards, it ironically reinforces the point Shichicoza was trying to enforce on Main and Damuel back in season 1: status is everything in this world, and you defy it at your peril. Ignoring your superior’s orders by mistreating, threatening, and then injuring one approved by the lord (and with nearly disastrous consequences on top of that) warranted death, even if you are a mid-ranking noble. That it was passed off as him dying in the line of duty seems like a compromise move to assuage the family, or perhaps to protect Main by not drawing even more attention towards her. Only her relative anonymity is protecting her from even more danger at this point.
Connected to that is the return of the two nobles involved in that incident who received lesser punishments: Karstedt (who had to pay for Main’s replacement robes) and Damuel (who was demoted within the knights’ order). Bringing the latter in as Main’s bodyguard is a wise move, as he is someone Main knows and is likely to trust and he is unlikely to have objections to the duty, both because of his shame over being unable to stop Shichicoza and after Main unwittingly impressing on him just how valuable she is. The move to have Karstedt offer to adopt Main was far less wise (even if possibly necessary) and shows that Ferdinand still does not fully understand the strength of familial bonds. Despite getting reports about it, he is still woefully underestimating how much Main needs that family connection for her emotional stability and how deeply being forced to leave behind her original family affected her. As Main herself says, he still has a ways to go on those fronts.
Still, the plan to have her enter the Royal Academy at age ten sets a long-term path for Main’s personal situation as much as making the first steps towards developing a printing press have set in motion her book-creating ambitions, while also raising questions about how Main’s family is going to fit in (or not) when the time comes. The one minor complaint I have is that the episode tries too hard to compensate for relatively limited animation by using creative camera angles. This has varied effectiveness; a Main-level shot of Karstedt (making him look huge) enhances his imposing nature as a noble, but one overhead shot in that same scene just seemed like a blatant way to reduce needed animation.
Overall, the first two episodes amount to a fine start for the third season.