Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Water Dragon's Bride
The Water Dragon has saved Asahi from the burn inflicted by Subaru's mother, ensuring her continued survival. The god himself couldn't say why he has taken an interest in this specific “bride,” be it's clear that he finds something about Asahi fascinating, even if he doesn't precisely care for her. His continued interference, however, makes Subaru worry that he's lost his claim on the girl, even as he continues to try to protect her. This is something the Water Dragon has to come to terms with as well as his feelings towards Asahi as it becomes clear that drastic measures are going to have to be taken to ensure the girl's safety.
Tales of girls sacrificed to water gods exist world-wide, although the story seems to have particular appeal to creators of manga and manhwa. Rei Tōma's The Water Dragon's Bride combines with the ever-popular isekai genre to bring Asahi from the modern world to one that resembles an era far in Japan's past, and the first volume of the series had her losing her voice to an annoyed Water Dragon, who nonetheless saved her from drowning and allowed her to return to the humans who initially reacted to her red hair with fear. Now in volume two, both the Water Dragon and Subaru, the little human boy Asahi's own age who saved her when she was spirited away both to this world and to the Water Dragon's lair, will both have to try and protect her from Subaru's own mother, who is determined that the girl should die.
At first we're left to assume that the woman simply is superstitious. After all, red hair was hardly common in ancient Japan, so she could be excused, if not actually forgiven, for being afraid of the strange-looking girl her son brought home. The truth, as we find out in this volume, is much less worthwhile: she's simply afraid that Asahi will grow up to be more beautiful than she is. It's a story that's even more familiar than that of the girl sacrificed; the tale of the jealous woman threatened by the promise of beauty in a child. (You may know it best as “Snow White.”) This takes Subaru's mother into a whole new category of evil: she's not trying to protect her son from an otherworldly threat or even trying to appease a touchy god, she's just trying to ensure her own power. She's petty, and that pettiness is what loses her her son's trust and almost ruins the entire village, as her repeated orders to kill Asahi result in bringing the god's wrath down upon the town as only a water god can.
If we follow the “Snow White” storyline that this volume sets up, the fact that we don't see Subaru's mother beyond the first third of the book shouldn't make us relax. We do know that she survived the water god's wrath due to a passing remark by Asahi's new caregiver, the young village headman; the chances that she'll be back after the time skip (which happens at the end of this volume) are very good. The question is which of the two male leads will fill the prince role. Both Subaru and the Water Dragon spend much of the volume trying to protect Asahi in their different ways, although neither is particularly adept at it, as we see when during his burst of rage the god nearly drowns Asahi along with the village. There's an implication that perhaps he realizes that Subaru is in a better position to help her, as he grants both of them a power: when Asahi cries, it will rain, and Subaru will come to her side. It seems that neither child is aware of Subaru's part in this magic, although the whole town quickly realizes Asahi's new power; it's what ultimately saves her from Subaru's mother's wrath.
Where the first book was mostly devoted to developing the new world Asahi found herself in, this one is more interested in how that world copes with her. There's also more of a look at the stark differences Asahi now faces; this is handled both seriously (she and Subaru almost die of starvation after a flood) and humorously, such as when she asks for a doll and gets a creepy haniwa figure. She's also not the first female to have been brought here, which is an interesting detail that may become important later; interestingly enough, the adult woman who was the last (known) transplant was not sacrificed, but instead nearly deified herself. This again speaks to the petty cruelty of Subaru's mother, who could not look beyond her own hatred to see how Asahi might help.
Although the plot definitely progresses, there's also a slight feeling that this volume is, if not quite padding, at least Toma's attempt to hurry through to the time skip, when Asahi and Subaru are in their teens. Nothing is really lingered on, even when it might have helped with world-building or character development; it's just told and moved on from. This does keep the story moving forward without spending too much time wallowing in Asahi's unhappiness or the trials she faces, but it also doesn't give us much of a chance to get to know her beyond “unhappy kid from another world.” There's some effort to show us her determination and inherent kindness, such as when she buries a fish she could not cook in a show of respect, but the time still feels a little glossed over. Asahi herself is the least heard from in the volume, with not as much internal monologue as you might expect. Her facial expressions don't quite fill in the silence, although they do come close.
The Water Dragon's Bride's second volume keeps the story moving without quite taking it far enough. It introduces some “Snow White” themes which stand to be very interesting as the tale progresses, and both Subaru's and the god's determination to protect Asahi come through very clearly. Toma's spare but ephemeral art works well to enhance the story, even if backgrounds aren't terribly present. With the end of volume introduction of the time skip, things stand to progress in more detail, so even if this isn't quite as strong as it could be, it's still worth reading and sticking around to see how the story will unfold.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Water Dragon's conflict is well done, interesting new themes introduced
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