There are comics that start reading with the expectation that they’ll be good. There are also comics that I go into with the expectation that they’ll be bad. There are also a very few that I go into with the expectation that, “This is going to be one of the best damn titles of the year!” I came into “Emma” mangaka Kaoru Mori’s latest with those expectations. Did it live up to them? No. Was it because of my own inflated expectations? Yes.
“A Bride’s Story” takes place along the Silk Road, near the Caspian Sea in the 19th century. It’s not a very common setting for any comic, and the premise itself is also something you don’t see in much mainstream fiction either. This unique setup, combined with Mori’s reputation coming off of “Emma” have made this a hugely anticipated title not just with me, but with most of the manga reviewers/critics on the net.
We’re introduced to Karluk Eihon, a twelve-year-old who has just been wed to his bride Amir Halgal. The thing is that she’s eight years his senior. Rather than use it as a springboard for wacky age-difference hijinks, Mori instead uses their relationship as a springboard to explore a world that most of us have little familiarity with. We’re introduced to Karluk’s family in short order and soon find out that his wife is no shrinking violet. Amir is a skilled hunter with her bow, taking down rabbits and foxes for food and furs, and while she exudes a welcome confidence in nearly all of her actions, her seeming perfection belies a tendency to get bent out of shape when confronted with things beyond her control.
The couple’s world is explored in subsequent chapters as the family’s youngest member becomes friends with a local woodcarver and through him, we learn about the carver’s trade. We’re also treated to a taste of what nomadic life was like back then when Karluk and Amir go to visit the latter’s uncle and his tribe. In “Emma,” you could sense that Mori had a real passion for England’s Victorian Era, and the same holds true here. It’s evident in the detail of her art, and the detail she gives to her character’s world. While this is one of her artistic strengths, she’s also immensely talented in the areas of facial expressions and body language. The characters in Mori’s books are some of the most expressive I’ve seen in comics, period, and it’s always a joy to see them in action.
My main issue with this first volume, and the one that keeps me from waving the “One of the year’s best!” flag (yet, anyway) is the slow start the series gets off to. While the “slice of rustic 19th century life” approach is nice, there’s no real indication of what the central conflict or plot of “A Bride’s Story” will be. Though Amir’s people want her back for political reasons, and an envoy is encountered in the fourth chapter, it winds up being temporarily resolved here. I could see things developing along those lines, but things seem a bit directionless for now. Still, “Emma” had a similarly slow start and I find that series to be brilliant when taken as a whole. So yeah, I’m optimistic.
I’d also like to talk about how Yen Press is packaging this series. In a trend that I hope will continue for subsequent volumes, this first one is presented in hardcover. I’m betting that the publishers thought that such an approach would help it stand out and mark it as a sophisticated, high-end product. Based on what I’ve seen here, I think that approach works with this product. You want to give the hardcover treatment to the works that deserve the prestige and this volume certainly does. (As opposed to just about every goddamn title in Marvel’s “Premiere Edition” HC line.)
In the end, this is a series whose second volume I will definitely be looking forward to. I was expecting to “froth rabidly at the mouth for,” but you can’t have everything.