Kaoru Mori changes up the tone with this volume, pushing it more towards overt comedy this time out. The reasons for that are right on the cover. We’re introduced to them after Mr. Smith falls off of his camel into a lake and is rescued by the twins Laila and Leily who find out that he’s (posing as) a doctor and promptly invite him back to their home so he can have a look at their grandad. Once the word of Smith’s medical prowess spreads throughout the town, he’s promptly shunted off into the background so we can focus on the exploits of the two sisters. Though some might find their personalities to be more grating than endearing, I ultimately found myself in the latter camp.
Laila and Leily have only one thing on their teenage minds right now: finding a husband who is wealthy, handsome and willing to do whatever they say. Having more exuberance and cheek than common sense means that their plans in this area are doomed to fail from the start. One of them involves knocking a traveler out with a fish, so they’re at least good for a laugh. What makes these girls likeable in spite of such actions is that we’re not asked to accept such behavior as impossibly cute. The girls always suffer consequences for their actions, whether it’s embarrassment, a knock on their heads from their dad, or just the general sting of failure. It’s also refreshing to see the adults are smart enough to keep them in line, as evidenced by the “charm” promised by their grandmother to get them a good husband.
This is a series about brides, however, and the focus comes back to that when their father finally does find some husbands for the girls. To their dismay, it’s not the match of their dreams. To the readers, the solution may seem somewhat conventional but it’s nicely tempered by a feeling of inevitability. Though the girls may have had big dreams, the reality is that things were always likely to turn out this way. I imagine it happened a lot like that back in the day, as it still happens a lot in the present as well. Such a situation may come off as disheartening, but Mori is skilled enough at characterization to make us believe that the seeds of romance planted between the characters here will truly blossom down the road.
Afterwards, things careen back towards slapstick as Laila and Leily’s mother gives them a crash course in bridehood -- no, really, that’s what the chapter’s called -- and proceeds to drill just about everything they need to know about being a good bride in the last real chapter of the book. It’s very, very silly, as ropes and nets are used to make sure the girls escape and the mother plays the role of overbearing taskmaster to the hilt, but it still manages some emotional heft at the end. For all of its ridiculousness that final story still manages to really underscore the importance of family not only in terms of the knowledge passed down from one generation to the next, but the closeness it provides as well. In reading this I was reminded of nothing so much as Jason Aaron’s more over-the-top Marvel work and how he can still manage to tell a compelling story despite filling it to the brim with the most ridiculous superhero concepts. I got the exact same feeling here.
At the end of the volume, it becomes clear that we’ll be hanging around here for a little while longer. I’m very much down with that, as well as the bits at the beginning of the volume that catch us up with Amir’s brother and his fellow tribesmen as they try to strike up an alliance with a neighboring tribe. That we’re seeing them again now means that Mori clearly has some long-term plans for them that will no doubt come back to involve Amir, and likely Mr. Smith as well in the future. While the volume-to-volume storytelling has been strong enough to overcome the lack of an overarching story, the fact that we’re getting one now has me even more excited to see what happens next. This isn’t just one of the best manga out there, it’s one of the best comics on the market period. Yes, it may be a series of character studies set in the 19th Century on the Silk Road, but it’s as engrossing as any sci-fi cataclysm, zombie apocalypse, or superhero crossover.