Reviewby Nick Creamer,
A Bride's Story
The raid on Karluk's village has long passed, but Karluk's feelings of powerlessness have only grown in the long months since. Determined to grow into a man that Amir could feel proud of, Karluk journeys to Amir's old home, and begins to learn the fundamentals of archery and falconry from her brother Azel. Meanwhile, perpetual vagabond Mr. Smith continues his journey with a larger caravan, with an unexpected face from his past in pursuit. And all these trials lie in the shadow of war, as Russia makes increasingly bold steps into the region. There is great beauty in this world, but it is a harsh place, and only the strong will survive the coming trials.
After a lengthy break since the last published volume, I was thrilled to finally see a continuation of Amir and Karluk's beautifully illustrated and altogether charming journey. Kaoru Mori's artistic talents are stunning, and beyond this story's unimpeachable visual appeal, Mori's fascination with the cultural context and day-to-day experience of 19th century Asia comes through clearly in every page. Mori's tale combines the appeal of a warm slice of life story, an ambitious ensemble character drama, and an informed, loving travelogue, and volume ten demonstrates all of those component pieces with beauty and grace.
Roughly the first half of this volume is consumed by a particularly inspired narrative turn, as Karluk takes some time away from his village to learn archery and falconry with Amir's brother. Offering a tidy compromise between character development and cultural exploration, these chapters find Mori articulating the bracing lived experience of herd-tending nomadic tribes, with Karluk's efforts to toughen himself up naturally echoed by the fierce beauty of the landscape. The details of hunting and falconry are illustrated with as much fascination and care as earlier chapters handled concepts like weaving or baking, with the change in scenery allowing both Bride's Story's character stories and thoroughly researched worldbuilding to shine.
The sequences focused on falconry are a particular highlight here, serving as a demonstration of both Kaoru Mori's stunning draftsmanship, and also her ability to convey drama without words. Building on the occasional wildlife-focused vignettes that peppered earlier volumes, volume ten sees the golden eagle and its human-adjacent lifecycle take center stage. Not only are Mori's falcons so realistic they feel they could leap off the page, but even their various emotional turns are conveyed with an expressiveness and clarity that eclipses many human characters. It feels almost pointless to reiterate that A Bride's Story is one of the most beautiful manga ever composed, but it is still absolutely, resoundingly true.
The focus on Karluk challenging his anxieties, attempting to grow up, and dealing with the approach of winter all give this volume a welcome sense of forward momentum. That said, at this point, the very slow pace at which this overall narrative progresses meant that I found myself growing a little tired of Karluk's anxieties. Karluk's fears are very understandable and realistic, but they've been raised and acknowledged and temporarily assuaged for ten volumes now, and the pace of his growth is just too slow for these fears to remain engaging. It's perhaps a necessary consequence of this manga's careful approach to illustrating lives and ensemble ambitions, but it did mean a few of this volume's big moments fell flat for me.
Speaking of ensemble ambitions, this volume also features the return of Mr. Smith, our irrepressible cultural wanderer. Mr. Smith feels like a character who was fundamentally designed to facilitate this story's sociological globe-trotting ambitions, and his return definitely doesn't disappoint. His appearance offers a variety of engaging vignettes, as he marches alongside a caravan and learns more about local customs. And his eventual arrival at the town of Ankara gives Mori even more room to show off visually, as the characters' conversations are contrasted against architecturally diverse and beautifully realized city streets.
All in all, A Bride's Story's tenth volume offers a healthy sampling of all the things this manga does well, using the personal journeys of Karluk and Mr. Smith to find ever more vistas and cultures to celebrate. Though the central tale of Karluk and Amir is starting to feel a little dragged out, A Bride's Story is so packed with so many riches that even such a core complaint can't drag it down. I'm excited to see Karluk emerge from this winter stronger, can't wait to continue following the journey of Mr. Smith, and am altogether just as dazzled by Mori's work as I've ever been.
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A+
+ Art is consistently stunning, volume finds a number of smart ways to further the story's travelogue appeal
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