Monday, June 20, 2011

Manga Monday: Early 20th century Mongolia has never been so beautifully drawn

When writing Emma: A Victorian Romance, Kaoru Mori pulled on a lifetime fascination with Victorian England to create one of the most accurate, if still idealized, depictions of a maid's life in manga. As it turns out, while she was reading up on England, she was also fascinated with the nomadic tribes of China and Mongolia. So, quite naturally, her new series, A Bride's Story is set here.

There is quite a bit of similarity in tone and side characters between her old series and what we see in A Bride's Story Volume 1.  Her main character Amir (generally a male name, but here given to our main character) is once again a fairly strong woman. Here, Amir has a combination of Emma's earnestness and Dorothea's sensuality, even though her poor husband has no idea what to do about it. The younger children, too, are very similar to the younger children in both the Jones family and the Meredith family.

The storyline, though, is very different. Amir is very late to marriage. At 20 years old, she was a good four years past her peers' age of marriage, but she still went to the ceremony with the excitement of any bride about to start her married life.

How much of a shock it must have been, then, to raise her veil and see a terrified 8 year old boy staring back at her.

Still, this is her husband, and this is the family that she has married into, and she is content here. The family in which she was raised is still nomadic during the summers, but this family has settled down completely. Some of the cultural differences to come into view, but the elders here are indulgent of her oddities, and the matriarch is just as fiercely protective of her as she would be of any other member of 'her' family.

The only bit of continuing plot that has evidenced itself is that some of the men from Amir's birth family have come back to try to reclaim her. Their motives are fairly vague, and they were driven out, but they are sure to be back later.

Admittedly, this volume is very light on plot. Most of the book is a slice-of-life story set in early 1900s Mongolia. We see the daily workings of the family as well as the countryside in which they live. In fact, at times, the volume feels more like a cultural study, which is reinforced by a blond anthropologist, whose existence is never quite explained, that follows around and questions characters at random opportunities.

The artwork is what makes this book what it is. The embroidery of the robes, the carvings in the woodwork, and even the grasses in the landscapes are alive with detail and motion. The detail that we occasionally saw in the Crystal Palace of London and some of the formal balls of Emma are on every page of A Bride's Story. And this is what saves this book from its lack of plot.

As long as the storyline develops more, this series will certainly be worth the quality hardcover binding. After having seen how absorbing Mori's stories can be, I'm certainly willing to wait through a volume or two of beautiful artwork to see how this story develops.

Highs: Astonishingly detailed artwork

Lows: Lack of plot; strange, unexplained anthropologist character

Verdict: A slightly rocky start to what promises to be a stunning series  

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