Reviewby Nick Creamer,
A Bride's Story
The peaceful days have come to an end. With Amir's former clan the Halgal now desperate for grazing land, Amir and Azel's father turns to the Badan clan for assistance. Together, the two clans devise a plot to attack Karluk's village, stealing their land and their homes before the coming winter. But the Halgal's new allies may have their own motives, and with the specter of Russia lurking in the distance, alliances and rivalries will be tested in the coming battle. After many months of contented married life, it's looking like Karluk and Amir will be forced to contend with a larger world much sooner than they'd hoped.
When I reviewed the last volume of Bride's Story, I mentioned how my greatest hope for the series was that it would eventually turn its piercing eye towards a story more focused and dramatic than the slice of life vignettes so far. Though the manga was endearing and beautiful, it wasn't always gripping, and sometimes felt more like a travelogue than a story. In volume six, all my requests were answered in spades. Building off of the slow drama seeded by Azel's first attempt to retrieve his sister, this volume explodes in dramatic fireworks, demonstrating Kaoru Mori is just as capable of presenting high action drama as she is of capturing the small details of everyday life.
Volume six opens with a fairly peaceful chapter, one focused on the classic disconnect between the ways Amir and Karluk see each other. When Karluk requires new clothes due to a recent growth spurt, he requests Amir not lather these robes in childish good-luck charms. Karluk is tired of being treated like a boy, even though he is still a boy - his marriage to Amir has forced him to essentially live up to her maturity as best he can, and this anxiety is only compounded by the fact that he has other responsibilities to assume as the eldest son of his family. Meanwhile, while Amir certainly loves Karluk, she often expresses that love in the form of protection - he's still almost a little brother to her, someone she wishes would grow up just a little faster. This relationship dynamic is at the heart of Bride's Story, and the ways these two come to a variety of compromises in defining their communal space is one of the core emotional strengths of the narrative.
That question of whether Karluk is a boy or a man comes under direct questioning in this volume's central story, when his village comes under attack. But the chapters build slowly towards that point, centering us in Amir's brother Azel's perspective as he tends horses and goes with his father to negotiate with the Badan leaders. Focusing on Azel here is a smart choice by Mori, and one that's been well-earned by the preceding volumes. Even though Azel is something of an antagonist, we can still see strong personalities and values upheld by him and his close associates. These chapters are also just a visual wonder - never one to hold back from difficult visual feats, Mori almost seems to be showing off in this volume, as a chapter of horse-tending and later chapters of heated battle demand depictions of entire fleets of horses in motion, galloping and tearing at the dusty earth.
In addition to building off well-earned character stories, this volume also makes smart use of the story's larger worldbuilding whispers. The approaching threat of Russian intervention was a thread stoked largely throughout the faraway Smith chapters, but here, that question is given direct expression through the Badan clan, Russia's pawns. The slow build of both Russia's presence and Azel's proud, straightforward personality make the conflict of the volume's second half seem inevitable; of course the Badan can't be trusted, and of course Azel would be the one to rise to the challenge of fighting them.
In the volume's second half, all of these conflicts come to a head, as the Halgal and Badan stage a direct assault on Karluk's village. These chapters give basically every character a chance to shine; Azel's conflicted loyalties and dramatic fighting skills make him the story's central action hero, but Amir is not to be outdone, demonstrating a mixture of quick thinking and battle savvy that nicely contrast against her inconsistent domestic confidence. Horses rear and cannons fire and the walls come tumbling down, all depicted in stunning clarity and energetic panel composition by Mori's steady hand. A Bride's Story's excellent character work, sturdy worldbuilding, and beautiful artistry are all in peak form throughout this volume, strengths that combine with the gripping drama to make this easily the most impressive volume yet of a manga that started great and has only gotten better.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A+
+ The manga's usual strengths of character and worldbuilding are elevated by this volume's dramatic peaks into something truly remarkable; Mori's art is on fire.
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