Manga Review: A Bride's Story, Vol. 1

Kaoru Mori demonstrated a fascination with the minutia of everyday life in her first series, Emma, which was set in Victorian England. In A Bride's Story, she stays in the 19th century but transfers her obsession to another culture, the people of middle Asia, the area known as the Caucasus. This is a promising choice, as the tribes that roamed this area were fond of elaborate patterns and decoration, yet they lived a life that was close to the land and surrounded by breathtaking landscapes.

This book has a story, but it doesn't really have a plot. The story is of 20-year-old Amir and her 12-year-old husband Karluk, and it begins on their wedding day, so we know nothing at all about Amir except the fact that she has come from another tribe and must now fit in with Karluk's people. This happens remarkably smoothly; cultural differences and the usual family dynamics get swept away and replaced by cute children and cozy chats over elaborate meals. Later in the book, it is hinted that Amir's tribespeople married her off to Karluk to form a strategic alliance and to get rid of her, as she was getting on in years, but that's almost a minor point.

The almost total lack of conflict in the first part of the book doesn't make for a boring read, though. Mori does here what Mori does best: She shows little details of everyday life. There's a whole chapter about a child in Karluk's family who makes friends with the local woodcarver. It doesn't advance the plot one whit, and it is barely a story itself, but nonetheless it was fascinating to watch the woodcarver explain his work to the child and the child react as children do. In another long sequence, Amir and Karluk go looking for his cousins, who are nomads. They don't find them right away, but they do find some pomegranates and Amir kills a fox with her bow and arrow. It's a slice-of-life manga with an unusually beautiful setting.

Amir and Karluk do eventually find their nomadic kin, and while they are staying with them, the big conflict of the book finally pops up—Amir's family wants her back, for reasons that are entirely cold-blooded. One of the incongruities of this book is that Amir has won over her new family so completely, yet no one in her old tribe seems to care about her at all. The matriarch of Karluk's clan sends the intruders packing in a delightful scene that shows how well Mori can portray action and strong emotion when she wants to. Amir isn't even there for this scene, and when she returns, the story reverts to cozy domesticity.

While a story about a 20-year-old woman marrying a 12-year-old boy could stray into dangerous territory, Mori keeps it tasteful throughout. Amir and Karluk start as acquaintances, and as the book goes on, we see genuine affection develop as they get to know one another. Amir is more maternal than romantic toward her husband, and in the last chapter, she becomes frantic when he comes down with a cold—a marked contrast to her usual cool, confident demeanor. There is one nude scene, which I think is there because Mori likes to draw nude women in lavish settings. Like the nude scenes in Emma, it is beautiful but incidental to the story (although it emphasizes Amir's innocence and implies that the marriage has not been consummated).

Mori fills her book with a varied supporting cast, including a geeky researcher who is studying the tribe, assorted elders and younger siblings, and Amir's mother, who is more older sister than mother-in-law to Amir. While the elaborate costumes sometimes make it hard to tell the characters apart, especially in the beginning, the bit players really bring the story to life.

Mori's art is clean and clear. She has a genius for drawing lots of detail without getting bogged down in it—the forms are always solid and the action is easy to follow. Although she clearly loves to draw the incidentals of everyday life—clothing, carpets, woodcarvings—she has a deft hand when it comes to action sequences like Amir's pursuit of some rabbits for her new family's dinner. She often breaks the page down into small panels, each filled with details, yet the pages never seem crowded.

There is a second volume of A Bride's Story to come, but the first one stands alone quite nicely. Yen Press has chosen to give it the deluxe treatment—a hardback book with a gorgeously illustrated dust cover—which helps justify the higher price. Indeed, A Bride's Story is as much art book as graphic novel, a book to reread and leaf through just for the drawings.

A Bride's Story Vol. 1 is on sale now.

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