Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Water Dragon's Bride
Asahi is the pampered child of loving parents whose happy life is disrupted when she's pulled through the garden pond into another, darker world. Now trapped in a superstitious place, Asahi is rescued by a young boy named Subaru, whose good intentions of bringing her home to his superstitious mother get Asahi sacrificed to the Water Dragon God. The god finds himself fascinated by Asahi and keeps her alive, but Subaru will stop at nothing to retrieve his friend. Even if Asahi survives, can she live in this place?
As readers of Rei Tōma's previously translated series Dawn of the Arcana know, she writes fantasy with teeth. The Water Dragon's Bride (not to be confused with the manhwa series Bride of the Water God, although there are some similarities) is not a charming story of a girl given to a supernatural being as a sacrifice, only to have him fall in love with her. It's the tale of a little girl stolen from her home by supernatural forces, only to be sacrificed by a cruel (and possibly jealous) woman who fully expects the child to drown. The god who takes hold of Asahi is uncaring, and the only ally the frightened girl has is Subaru, the son of the woman who threw her into the lake to die.
Suffice to say, if you want fluffy entertainment, this is not where you want to be. The book itself, however, begins an intriguing story where superstition and emotion will drive the plot going forward, and the characters have the potential to become fascinating. There will also presumably be a time-skip at some point, as Asahi and Subaru are both children in this first volume, somewhere between six and nine years old. Given the world he lives in, which Toma says she modeled roughly off of Japan's Kofun period (roughly 250 to 538 C.E.), Subaru at times seems much older – he has to be more mature than Asahi simply by virtue of his world being harsher than the coddled modern existence Asahi comes from. That's the biggest thing holding Asahi back as the story starts; she's used to being taken care of and having things like food and shelter provided by people who love her. It doesn't really hit her that she's in a place without those things until Subaru's mother throws her into the lake as a “bride” for the local water god; this woman, who should look after her by virtue of being a mother, has instead decided to kill her.
Subaru's mother is one of the most interesting characters in the story right now, if only because her motives are the least clear. When her son brings home the little red-haired girl (we're told Asahi takes after her grandmother, so presumably she's of partial European descent, making her look alarming in the Kofun era), she is noticeably less than thrilled until she realizes how she can use it to her advantage. It seems unlikely that she would have refused Subaru's request to help Asahi outright though, because when he later defends the girl, she's unwilling to go against him in any obvious way. Is this a statement about her feelings for her son, or is it about going against a male as a cultural taboo? We don't know yet, but there's clearly a lot more beneath the woman's, and possibly the culture's, surface than we're fully aware of.
Asahi herself gets the least development in the book, despite being the narrator. Halfway through, she loses her voice when she irritates the Water Dragon God, but even before that point, she was mostly just confused and scared. While it makes perfect sense given her age and situation, it also doesn't give her a chance to do much, making her a one-note character thus far. She may be the title player, but right now the story is about how the others react to her rather than about her own motivations. Her state of mind does allow us to get a clearer picture of the Water Dragon God himself – he's cold to the point of blankness where others are concerned, an uncaring being who watches humans as a form of entertainment and could care less about the countless “brides” sacrificed in his name. Asahi is the first one he's taken an interest in, but that's mostly because she's so young; as we see from the bodies under the lake, usually older girls are tossed in. Her youth certainly appears to be a factor when he checks on her late in the volume; he first seems to feel something for her besides annoyance when he watches her curl up in peaceful sleep, although it appears more like the way we might look at a sleeping puppy than anything.
The Water Dragon's Bride has a lot of potential to become a tangled tale of two men fascinated by the same woman, assuming we do get that time skip. Where Subaru feels protective of Asahi as well as affectionate, the Water Dragon God may come to see her as a way to actually feel anything at all. Ultimately, the story will need to be about Asahi herself coming to accept (or not) her new world and deciding whether she wants to be a god's possession or someone's beloved. Toma's use of Kojiki-style mythology will be worth keeping an eye on as the story develops; it could provide plot clues, particularly from water god tales. Fans of Dawn of the Arcana or Give to the Heart should definitely check this out – it has the potential to be an interesting take on romantic fantasy.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Interesting use of mythology, characters have a lot of potential, water fish are great background imagery
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