Bride’s Story 3

January 2, 2013

Kaoru Mori – Yen Press – 2012 – 4+ volumes

I was worried about the shift in protagonist in this volume, but I probably shouldn’t have. Everything I like about this series is still here. Mori still draws an amazing and detailed period piece, and the stories still contain a lot of the minutiae of daily life.

It is a little strange that the perspective switched to Mr. Smith here. His presence was a bit odd to begin with, since he is an observer that doesn’t belong to the village in the first two volumes. Maybe there’s a meta level to him, where he’s supposed to be like the reader and blah blah blah, but he’s not really prominent enough to give him meaning like that. After really getting into a groove with the first two volumes, not only was I upset that the perspective changed to someone not of the culture (I mean, that’s exactly why I’m reading this, after all), but that the narrative was also moving away from the village I was enjoying.

As it turns out, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I should have had more faith in Mori. I enjoyed the change of scenery immensely, and it was interesting to see how an outsider was treated. Mr. Smith moves on to a larger city where he hopes to connect with a prearranged guide, but winds up having all of his possessions stolen instead. A young woman is in the same predicament when her beloved horse is stolen as well, but he is recovered and the woman, named Talas, offers to put Mr. Smith up at her house until his guide arrives.

Talas’s house is fascinating, as it is only her and her mother-in-law and nobody else around them. The two herd sheep, and the story goes through their daily routine and how their remote lifestyle can sustain the two of them. There’s also an explanation about their family situation, how Talas was wed to four different sons, all of whom passed away, and how an elderly man from nearby frequently comes over to demand Talas as a bride. There’s a rather earnest love story between Talas and Mr. Smith, one that Mr. Smith resists strongly for some time, and one that Talas isn’t sure of herself, since leaving with Mr. Smith would leave her mother-in-law alone.

Later, there’s another scene in the large village with the family from the first two volumes, a large communal meal, and much in the way of good feelings. After that… the feelings aren’t good at all, actually, and the volume ends in a rather bad way for Mr. Smith.

But there’s hope for the next, since it looks like it will be a long overland journey to Ankara. While I wasn’t too happy about the change in scenery before, there’s a lot of charm to meeting new characters and finding out their life stories, and this part of the story is introducing a lot of opportunities for that.

And the art is still exquisite, in case I needed to get into that. I was particularly curious about the dress of Talas and her mother-in-law. It was a point of contention when Amir came to town wearing a different style, so I was curious to see further variations in dress. Talas is very different from Amir, and I’d love to see how many more styles there are.

The fourth volume comes out in a few weeks, but it will likely be a long wait for the fifth. I believe the volumes are annual in Japan.

Bride’s Story 2

November 3, 2012

Kaoru Mori – Yen Press – 2011 – 4+ volumes

This series is so wonderful! I read this ages ago, but it sank to the bottom of the review pile. A shame, because this is such a very unique, beautiful series. The hardcovers cost a bit more, but they are worth it.

The story of Amir’s family life continues as the members of her old village return to bring her back. They claim her marriage hasn’t been consummated since she is not with child, and they wish to marry her to another village in order to form an alliance. There’s actually two chapters dedicated to the conflict, which is a little out-of-character for this series. But it’s not really about that. It’s more about the minutae of village life, about how Amir is slowly but surely fitting in, and about the relationship between she and Karluk.

The minutae of village life is what’s most interesting, though. We get to see Amir bake bread, we learn about a shrine rumored to grant women safe births, and cloth. There’s a long section towards the end of the volume on cloth and embroidery. It goes into a lot of detail about the different patterns the women use, how important it is to learn, the generational stories behind each pattern, and different pieces needed for a woman’s dowry. It was an absolutely charming story, and the very best thing about the volume. It’s clear that Mori has thoroughly researched the culture, time period, and setting in this story, and all the small details shine through. It also helps that the theme is such an unusual one. I can’t remember the last novel, comic, movie, or otherwise I’ve read or seen with this setting. I love it quite a bit for that alone.

Aside from that, and the battle with Amir’s birth family, we also do spend some time watching Amir and Karluk grow closer. Previously, they’ve been very courteous to one another, but now their relationship is turning into love, and the other women observe that Amir has gained “a woman’s heart,” in other words, she is very bashful around Amir and goes to great lengths to please him.

We also meet Pariya, a very forthright girl that takes a liking to Amir while the two are baking bread one day. Pariya is growing a bit old to be married off, but we learn that others find her “cheeky.” It’s true that she is not afraid to speak her mind, and it sets her apart from other, more meeker brides. But she becomes more and more a part of the story, and the way she speaks up to set things right make her a charming character.

And again, Mori’s art is a big part of what brings the setting and story alive. She can really draw in a lot of detail, and it matters a lot in this series. Costumes, settings, characters, and the intricate patterns that make up everything in the lives of the characters all make this series a feast for the eyes.

I mean… really. I can’t recommend it enough. I haven’t let myself pick up volume 3 yet (not until I reviewed this one!), but it looks like it might follow a different couple. I hope not, because I feel like Amir’s story isn’t quite over yet. Hopefully it’ll come back.

A Bride’s Story 1

June 30, 2011

Kaoru Mori – Yen Press – 2011 – 3+ volumes

Alas, I passed on Emma when it was being published by CMX. I’ve heard much of Kaoru Mori from fans of Emma, and all that praise can sometimes be difficult to live up to. But I was shocked by Bride’s Story.

It is beautiful. If nothing else, I was completely blown away by the art. It’s a period story, set in the nineteenth century, about a family living in a small village in Central Asia (I picture the Himalayas, but there is probably a reason it’s left ambiguous). There are a lot of detailed landscapes, and Mori takes full advantage of the setting by having the characters travel, hunt dramatically, go on leisurely rides, et cetera. That alone would be worth comment, but it’s the clothing that really impresses me. The women in particular all wear layered clothing made of many different pieces, and all of it has intricate patterns. Mori draws these costumes in every panel. I cannot get over just how stunning this is. That alone is worth the price of admission for me.

But let me back up a bit. The characters wouldn’t be wearing those clothes if this wasn’t a story set in central Asia. It’s an unusual setting, and focusing on one of the very rural tribes and the way they live makes for very interesting subject matter. It’s not every day you run across a story like this, and I can’t think of a single other Japanese, American, or European comic that looks at this culture. Mori mentions she was interested in the topic of the silk road when she was younger, and that’s how she came to do so much research. Thank goodness for that.

So you’ve got a highly unusual setting and subject matter, drawn with amazing skill. What about the story itself? It is among the “slice of life” genre. So far, we are treated to small stories in the day-to-day life of Amir, the bride, and Karluk, her husband. The pair lives with Karluk’s family, which includes his grandparents, his parents, his older sister and her husband, and her sister’s four children. It’s a lively household, especially with the four children running around, and all the characters are touched on to some extent. The youngest child takes his time studying a woodcarver, and we learn about the decoration on the houses and how they are made (another opportunity for Mori’s art to shine). Karluk and Amir go out to visit Karluk’s uncle, a member of a nomadic tribe that is believed to be nearby. Amir gets the opportunity to show off her bowhunting skill, and the children beg her to teach them the same. We learn the joys of pomegranates, rabbit stew, sleeping in a yurt, and redecorating a room with elaborate wall hangings.

The subject matter was interesting enough that I tore through this book. I literally could not get enough. It was incredibly interesting stuff. Towards the end of the book, there is a peek at some drama that looks about to unfold, but as far as I’m concerned, it could continue to be about the day-to-day life of Karluk and his family for the next dozen volumes and I’d probably be spellbound.

The age difference between Karluk and Amir (he’s 12, she’s 20) seems to be causing problems for some people, but I feel it’s simply a part of the culture in this story. It’s not creepy or dwelled upon heavily, it is merely a fact of life, and Mori treats the topic with respect. Karluk and Amir are clearly affectionate towards one another, but they clearly aren’t involved in a romantic relationship. And that their marriage is merely part of their culture is explained several times. In fact, Amir is apparently too old to be a new bride, and a lot of people look down on her for it. As for Karluk’s young age, apparently the youngest son inherits the family traditions, and that’s why he was married early.

The only thing that bothered me is that we are not privy to what Amir is thinking. We aren’t offered insight into the character’s thoughts, so everything we know is based off how they interact with others. Amir is very active and outgoing, and doesn’t let the fact people are baffled by her strange customs (she’s from a different tribe) bother her. And yet… she often looks puzzled or expectant. She seems to dote on Karluk like an older sister, too. These are both things that I would love to know her thoughts on, and since she is so far removed from what I know, I find it difficult to get into her head.

But getting to know her will come with time. I will savor every volume of this, and I’m dying to read more. Beautiful art, beautiful story, and highly unusual subject matter and setting. Could I ask for any more?

This was a review copy provided by Yen Press.