by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 4 of
There's some question of how much a young woman of Arte's status would have known about the birds and the bees, but it is entirely possible that she wouldn't have fully understood the whole process before she was married – or even had much interaction with men who weren't her father. That means that it's not out of the question that she would have no idea that she has a crush on Leo before Veronica explains it to her, or that she wouldn't really know what a “courtesan” (or even a “prostitute”) did beyond “not being a lady.” That might have been part of her appeal to a potential husband, or at least proof of her “innocence,” and since Arte hadn't quite reached the marriage stage despite her mother's plans, Veronica might well be one of, if not the, first people to talk to her about sex. Not that Veronica goes into any detail, but what information she does give Arte about love and what happens when a woman lets it get in the way of her plans for independence is one of the most interesting parts of this week's episodes. Arte doesn't need to know what the former courtesan Veronica takes her to see in the slums to understand that it's not a life she wants for herself.
Unlike the previous three episodes, this one seems to have a specific point to make: that no matter what the relative ease of Arte finding an apprenticeship with Leo, life in the Renaissance was much more difficult for woman who didn't want to, or perhaps couldn't, marry. Leo mentions almost in passing that Veronica is supporting her mother and siblings with her work, which means that she's made the informed decision that she could do better financially in sex work than if she married, possibly because of her social status at birth. If she wants to maintain the lifestyle she's worked hard for – and all you need to do is look at her library to know that she's done very well for herself; as viewers of Ascendance of a Bookworm know, this is not a time of easily procured texts – she needs to play the cards she's got very, very carefully. In her business, that means playing patrons off of one another until they reach the desperation point; if she allows every man who comes to her easy access to her favors, she may as well be just another one of the women in the slums. It's not something that earnest, innocent Arte can understand, and in some ways that's good. To comprehend why Veronica treats the man Arte sees waiting in the hall as she does would mean that Arte was a more cynical person, and with the loss of her faith in humanity (her own most of all), she might not be as successful at carving out a place for herself. That said, she does need the hard lesson Veronica tries to teach her, because if she slips up even a little, it's not just her career that could be derailed.
Whether or not Arte fully comprehends what Veronica is trying to impart is a bit uncertain, although she does clearly get that she needs to fix her behavior around Leo if she wants to maintain her position. In some ways, she's catering to him as much as Veronica is to any of her patrons, although in Arte's case it's less a question of gender and more one of maintaining a good relationship with the person who holds her well-being in his hand. The same would hold true for Angelo or even Leo himself as a facet of the society they live in, one that was rigidly hierarchical. It's an interesting thought and one we will hopefully get to see more of going forward, especially since next week's episode is promised to deal with Leo's youth.
It also relates a bit to Arte's curtsy when she meets Veronica. Technically, Arte shouldn't give such a formal or low curtsy to a sex worker; even as a craftsman she's slightly “better” than Veronica, given Veronica's line of work. That she does is another sign that Arte doesn't really understand what Veronica does, but it also gives me a chance to mention that, strictly speaking, the show isn't doing an awesome job at some of the finer points of ladies' behavior. Arte shouldn't be lifting her skirt at all for a curtsy, but rather bending her knees (not at the waist!) and dipping her head. (Her feet are correct. Hooray!) And in the ending theme when she's climbing the stairs, the way she's holding her skirts wouldn't actually keep them out from under her feet; bunching them to one side would or holding up the front of her skirt rather than the two sides as she does. That's a nitpick, I know, but it does emphasize the underlying issue with the fact that for all four episodes thus far the characters have moved like modern Japanese people, not Renaissance Italians. It's a fast way to pull viewers out of the story, and while it was less this week, it's still a persistent problem…and I'm not entirely convinced that this episode's improvement wasn't just due to the slight downturn in art quality that was present overall.
But even with these glitches, Arte's still an enjoyable story. Hopefully we'll get a chance to revisit Veronica and the advice she offers Arte, because while Arte may have companionship, I feel like having a woman she can go to is important.
Arte is currently streaming on Funimation.
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