Reviewby Nick Creamer,
A Bride's Story
With Pariya's home still undergoing repairs in the wake of the raid, and her store of wedding embroidery completely depleted, negotiations for her wedding to Umar have unfortunately been put on hold. But even if the official talks have halted, Pariya still finds herself deeply curious about her potential husband, and eager to get closer to this boy from a distant village. With her new friends supporting her and Umar himself seemingly eager to talk, Pariya will have to find the courage to actually speak her feelings, and hopefully find a kindred soul in her husband-to-be. Whether it's bonding over common interests or sharing daily trials, the two will take slow steps closer one day at a time.
Kaoru Mori seems to understand she struck upon a truly brilliant character in Pariya. Plagued by all-too-relatable social anxieties and defined by the dichotomy of her shy exterior and blunt feelings, Pariya is a profoundly likable and consistently entertaining lead. In A Bride's Story's ninth volume, Mori continues to hone in on Pariya's narrative, following her diverse struggles as she works to juggle familial obligations, new friendships, and her potential marriage to Umar. This may not be A Bride's Story as its most fanciful or dramatically impactful, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more endearing volume of romantic comedy than this.
Pariya herself is the cornerstone of this volume's appeal. Having regularly stolen the show even before she was much of a focus character, this volume grants us a close view of all of Pariya's thoughts and feelings, resulting a volume that feels closer to home than A Bride's Story's sometimes far-sighted, almost anthropologically-minded perspective. Through her constant blushing and stammering, a very human character portrait emerges. Pariya is confident in her skills and opinions, but very unsure about human relations, and sees her social troubles as a substantial personal failing. She loves to laugh and apply herself to thorny physical challenges, but feels out of place in traditionally feminine society. She has a sharp sense of humor, but often keeps it concealed, out of fear her snarky delivery will offend others. She's a character it's easy to root for, and though her stumblings are funny, they're also endearing and reflective of relatable character truths.
This volume opens with as clear a statement of purpose as possible, frontloading us with a series of Pariya-focused 4koma misadventures. Watching Pariya sit on a hill of grain to avoid being headbutted by goats, only to then be overwhelmed by a horde of goat babies, is pretty much exactly the tenor of comedy you can expect from the rest of this volume. Whether she's lurking behind her dad's butt in the hopes of learning more about Umar, concocting convoluted schemes to run into him near a water wheel (“Umar loves water wheels!”), or simply stewing in her own anxieties, this volume is defined by charming visual comedy and snappy dialogue, a nervous but deeply endearing journey into Pariya's headspace.
In the volume's middle act, Pariya and Umar finally earn some time alone, sharing a ride out to the far reaches of the village. Though the sensitivity of Mori's approach to Pariya's characterization is clear even in the comedy, it's here that both her strong understanding of anxiety and her fondness for this particular couple shine through. Unexpected challenges force the two of them together in a variety of believable ways, helping Pariya get over her initial hurdle of conversation without betraying the imposing and persistent nature of her social woes. There's no easy and permanent “solution” to Pariya's difficulties communicating - they are a fundamental part of her, and watching her and Umar work together to overcome each of their fears is an inherently rewarding experience. Umar's personality also gets to shine through this segment; not only does his bluntness help him break through to Pariya's true self, but his frank style and interest in engineering problems serve as a perfect compliment to her own strengths and temperament. By the end of this volume, you truly believe these two belong together.
Visually, volume nine expresses its strengths in ways a little different from the Bride's Story standard. There are a fair number of striking setpiece panels here, but most of this volume is dedicated to small conflicts of social engagement, meaning it's heavier on the talking heads and lighter on the environmental tableaus. In exchange, this volume's many conversations are elevated through Pariya's consistently revealing expressions, as well as Mori's strong eye for the mechanics of visual comedy. It feels a little odd to praise a manga for its character acting, but the full-body shots of Pariya rushing around or throwing herself into manual labor or simply panicking are so expressive that they definitely count among this volume's principal charms.
Ultimately, the tighter focus on character exchanges at the expense of larger visual setpieces actually helps center us in Pariya's headspace, keeping our perspective constrained to the conflict's universal tenets: an insecure bride-to-be, a nervous potential husband, and the fondness they share. Volume nine is goofier and less narratively propulsive and perhaps not as jaw-dropping beautiful as the Bride's Story standard, but it is a wonderful volume nonetheless, and utterly true to this story's romantic heart.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Pariya is incredibly charming, and her anxieties are brought to life beautifully, the funniest volume of A Bride's Story yet
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