This week I check out some licensing news, the Vizmanga top 10 digital manga, and review the Vertical title Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin Volume 1: Activation.
High school junior Wakaba Sakimoto is a normal girl, no matter how you look at her. Everyone around her is thinking about the future, but Wakaba still doesn’t know what she wants to do. Then one day, she meets voice actress Touko Hosaka by accident, and Wakaba’s future changes in a big way…
Koetama was another impulse buy from Jmanga. I’ve always been intrigued with voice acting, and after reading the scenes in Bakuman, I wanted to read more. Then Jmanga licensed this series. The characters are fun, and the premise isn’t bad, even though the whole thing comes off as feeling very generic. But being only the first volume where all the set up takes place, this is to be expected.
Wakaba Sakimoto is a high school junior who doesn’t know what to do about her future goals. Her two best friends, Tomo and Serina already have goals that they are working for; Tomo is practicing karate and Serina wants to be an author. But Wakaba doesn’t have anything she feels passionate about. When Tomo, Serina and Wakaba go to an amusement park, Wakaba finds a lost girl and tries to help her by reading a book the girl is carrying. She starts to reach the girl, but then gets nervous. She is rescued by well-known voice actress Touko Hosaka, and then Wakaba knows what she wants to do; be a voice actress. She has a bit of a rocky start, but then she meets Kuu Sonozaki, another aspiring voice actress, and the two apply to Voice Connect voice acting school.
I had a hard time getting into this title at first. I started reading it three times before I finally got through the first chapter. It wasn’t that the story was bad, it was just so generic. The girl with an untapped special talent, supported by her two best friends, gets dropped into a situation where her talent is needed and noticed by someone important. Even after I finally got through the first chapter, things didn’t really change. The rival, the country bumpkin with dreams in the big city, and the stuck up snob who looks down everyone all make their appearance in this first volume.
Despite all the tropes, I actually liked Koetama. Wakaba, the main protagonist of the series was quite likable. Once she decided she wanted to be a voice actress, she didn’t hesitate getting down to work. She bought books about voice acting and breathing, and practiced on the roof of her school everyday. I liked that his was a decision she made on her own, and didn’t have to be told and pushed by friends into doing it. Even when she seems to have a change of heart, her friends, Tomo and Serina never pressure her, but just support her from the background. Throughout the volume there are hints that Wakaba has a special talent for voice acting, the “soul of the voice”, and a flashback with Tomo shows the idea of voice acting was planted in her at a young age.
I liked all of the supporting characters as well. Tomo is the male childhood friend who seems to have a crush on Wakaba, but never comes out and says anything. Serina is the best friend that has no problem with beating up on Tomo. She is constantly running him over with her bike. Kuu is the spunky girl from eastern Japan and an accent. She has her quirks, such as speaking her mind and getting lost, but her accent was kept in check, so she wasn’t as annoying as she could have been. Amane is the spoiled rich girl who goes into the audition expecting the wow the judges, and does. She is of course prejudice against Kuu just because of her accent and tries to woo Wakaba away from her. I’m sure she’d be won over by Wakabe by the second or third volume. Runa is the seasoned pro who is tough on others but really means well. She is the one the other girls will be chasing to become a star voice actress. She is more talked about than really seen but she doesn’t appear to be haughty star.
Koetama, had a lot of potential. The character conceptualizations were down by four seiyuu: Nakahara Mai, Ueda Kana, Hayami Saori and Yahagi Sayuri, all of whom are credited in the title. We’ve been getting titles about the inside workings of manga lately, so it’s not a stretch for voice acting, since these actors will not only work on anime, but also drama cds. I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to read more of this title. I was starting to look forward to see what happened with these girls next. I don’t hold out hope for Jmanga titles to be rescued, since they were rescuing titles from defunct publishers themselves. I can only hope someone will see the worth of this series and license it on its merits.
Chaos reigns as the curtain descends on the age of the samurai. Atsuhime, born to the Satsuma branch of the Shimazu clan is to wed Iesada Tokugawa, the 13th shogun. However, soon after their marriage, Atsuhime’s beloved husband dies, leaving her to defend the clan as she is tossed about by the waves of history. Watch as this exceptional woman from Satsuma lives out a trouble-filled life while resolutely moving forward no matter what in this moving historical comic!
Well, what do you know, another historical title. What a surprise. Yes, I do love my historical titles. The last one I reviewed, King’s Moon, dealt with Japan just before the start of the Tokugawa Shogunate. This title, Hanagatari Tenshion Atsuhime, deals with the last years of the Shogunate, as told though the eyes of Atsuhime, the wife of the 13th Shogun.
Hanagatari Tenshion Atsuhime begins with the girl Okatsu playing in the fields behind her home in Satsuma. It is decided that she is to become the next wife of the Shogun, Iesada. After a few years and several name changes, she arrives as Atsuhime. She makes a not-so-good impression with the palace staff when she arrives and worse with Iesada himself when she slaps him and basically tells him off. This leads to a real relationship between Atsuhime and Iesada to the point that she turns against the Satsuma Clan in support of her husband, which seems to turn the Satsuma against the Tokugawa, leading into the Bakumatsu. Atsuhime, who becomes Tenshion sees two more Shoguns before the final fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
I really like Atsuhime. When she is first introduced, she seems to be a more timid woman, there to do as her clan wishes. That all changed when she faced Iesada, who sounded more like a whiny child. Her outburst breaks him out of his apathy, and she truly challenges him to rise up beyond his physical problems. She shows a strength that not only did no one truly see, but then gives some of that strength to Iesada, who despite his health problems becomes more active in living. She becomes the strength of the Tokugawa as she becomes mother to the next shogun, finds a way to relate to her daughter-in-law, the younger sister of the emperor, holds the palace together through a rebellion led by her own former clan, the Satsuma, and sees the last Shogun to his surrender, and then end of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
There is a bit of introspection toward the end as Atsuhime thinks about the decisions she made and if things could have gone differently. In the end though, she stands by her choices, being as resolute as the mountain her mother told her would always watch over her from her home in Satsume. Even after the Tokugawa fell, and she is given the option to return to Satsume, she chooses to remain with the family she created with the Tokugawa. She may be sad at the path her life took, but she never regretted it.
Hanagatari Tenshion Atsuhime was presented in the way I like my historical manga. It just tells the story without having to resort to long narrations to bridge scenes or time changes. It did have a few narration bridges, but they were brief, and the story carried the narrative most of the time. It made it feel more like a story and less like a documentary. I really enjoyed this title and am glad I got to read it before Jmanga closed.
Hiroshima, 1955. Ten years after the city was consumed by a scorching flash of light, the soul of Minami Hirano is still deeply shaken by the earth-shattering explosion that devastated her home and changed her life forever. To the weak, the victims, what did the war mean? What pieces of certainty changed and broke that morning, when the sky lit up with a fire like a thousand suns? A controversial story of the aftermath of disaster, long after conflict is over and the dead are long buried.
This isn’t the first time The Town of Evening Calm, The Country of Cherry Blossoms has been published in English. Last Gasp first published it in print in 2007. Jmanga then got a hold of it and used it as one of its launch titles. It was well received originally, but it took me until the last days to get it and read it. It is a story that deserves every once of praise it received.
The Town of Evening Calm, The Country of Cherry Blossoms, is essentially the story of one family over 3 generations. It follows the Hirano family, starting 10 years after the bombs fell with older sister Minami. She and her mother are survivors of the bomb, and live in a shanty town in Hiroshima. Minami works and takes care of her mother. Uchikoshi is a boy who works in the same office and comes to check on her when she doesn’t come in one day. He likes Minami, but she chases him away. Minami has memories of that day the bomb were dropped, and they haunt her. Survivor’s guilt gnaws at her, and just as she seems to ask forgiveness for living, she succumbs to radiation sickness.
This first chapter, The Town of Evening Calm, was incredibly powerful. Minami seems okay as she goes to her job and helps out her mother at home. But the memories that haunt her, of the burnt bodies everywhere, the desperation to find family members, it was all burned into her mind, making her think the world after, the one where she lived wasn’t the one where she belonged. But more powerful than that was her slow death from radiation poisoning. Much of it is shown from Minami’s perspective, as she loses her energy, coughs up black blood and then loses her sight. All of her observations from this point are heart-wrenching, and it gave me a cold feeling in my stomach when she asked if the people who had dropped the bomb were glad she was dying. If there was ever needed a short story about why atomic bombs should never be used again, this is it.
The Country of Cherry Blossoms follows Minami’s younger brother Asahi, who wasn’t in Hiroshima at the time and was spared the devastation. It starts 30 years later, with Asahi’s children, Nanami and Nagio, and their next door neighbor Toko. Nagio is in the hospital with asthma and Nanami and Toko bring cherry blossoms to cheer him up. The second chapter is another 20 years after the first with Nanami and Toko following Nanami’s father as he visits people around Hiroshima, and how he and Nanami’s mother met.
This second half of the volume didn’t have the punch the first half did. The memory of the bomb is faint now for Nanami and Nagio. But the stigma of being a survivor or related to a survivor remains. Asahi, who after being adopted by his Aunt and Uncle, returns to help his mother, and meets Kyo, a girl who lives nearby and helps out his mother. Asahi watches Kyo grow up and eventually falls in love with her. Kyo, as a survivor, suffers some prejudice at school as her slow learning is blamed on it. His mother, a survivor herself, is against Asahi marrying her at first, because she doesn’t want to see anymore loved ones taken because of the bomb. Later in a letter to Toko from Nagio, Nagio implies that his asthma might be because his mother was an atomic bomb victim, and gives it as a reason why they can’t be together. Nanami has a good answer to that.
Taken as a whole, The Town of Evening Calm, The Country of Cherry Blossoms is a wonderful generational story of a very dark moment in human history. Toko’s reaction to seeing the Peace Museum for the first time is a very real and visceral feeling, even 60 years later. Kouno’s art is simple and cute, contrasting against the darker, heavier story. Minami’s story is a reason why it should never happen again, and Nanami and Toko’s story reminds us why we should never forget. I highly recommend it.
This week I check out the going-ons at Vizmanga.com and review the Yen Press title Spice and Wolf.
The Life of Akechi Mitsuhide ― Oda Nobunaga ruled the nation with a scorching force like that of the Sun. In his shadow was his faithful retainer, Akechi, who continued his unwavering service to him. Once sharing the same vision for the future, a change of heart sets their paths forever apart. What conclusion did Mitsuhide reach following the events at Hongan-ji? From a great author, comes a beautifully illustrated historical drama full of intensity!
I love historical dramas, so when Jmanga announced this title, that not only took place in the Warring States Era, but also featured bishonen historical figures in a historical setting without any fantasy elements, I bought it sight unseen. While I enjoyed the title in general, it didn’t really fulfill the “full of intensity” part promised in the description.
King’s Moon details the life of Akechi Mitsuhide, a loyal retainer to the famous warlord Oda Nobunaga. The story begins with Mitsuhide already a retainer to Asakura Yoshikage. The retainer to Ashikaga, Hosokawa Fuijtaka, has come to Asakura to ask him to champion Ashikaga in his bid to be Shogun, but Asakura waivers. Mitsuhide, who had spent many years on reconnaissance, believes another man would be a better champion; Oda Nobunaga. Being a cousin to Nobunaga’s wife, Mitsuhide gets an audience with him. Nobunaga agrees to the request, and with Mitsuhide as his retainer begins his quest to conquer Japan.
King’s Moon is described as a historical drama, but it felt more like a docudrama. The drama was interspersed with historical facts. Nobunaga will be talking about a strategy, and then there will be a couple of pages of “And then this battle happened, these people were killed/committed suicide, and Nobunaga took over this area.” Now, I don’t think this is a bad thing necessarily, but it did reduce the “intensity.” The dramatic scenes themselves weren’t all that “intense” either. They were mostly of Nobunaga and Mitsuhide, or Mitsuhide and Fujitaka talking. There were nearly no battle scenes shown. While I do enjoy documentaries like this, even I found this title to be rather dry.
There isn’t any character development to speak of. You are expected to know who most of the people are, but since it was written for a Japanese audience about historical Japanese figures, I really can’t fault the title for that assumption. While the title is “The Life of Akechi Mitsuhide”, it really only covers his time with Nobunaga. The two men are compared as the sun and the moon, hence the title. Nobunage is fiery and direct with his ambitions. Mitsuhide is more subtle, using Asakura, Ashikaga and even Nobunaga to see his ambitions. It’s here that the story seems to drift into the realm of speculation. Kusumoto portrays Mitsuhide as a man looking for someone to bring peace to Japan, and he believes Nobunaga is that man. But the more Nobunaga expands, the more he is shown to be someone who enjoys the killing. Mitsuhide calls him the “God of Death” at one point in the story. It’s at this point that Mitsuhide starts to have his doubts about Nobunaga bringing peace, but what tips him over into betrayal is when Nobunaga gives his castle, Sakamoto to another retainer. There is a definite disconnect between what Mitsuhide expected from Nobunaga and visa versa.
The art is very well done. All the men, and it is all men shown in volume, are bishonen. Nobunaga has a devilish look to him with his wispy mustache and goatee and piercing eyes. Mitsuhide is much more the hero-type, with the long hair and rounder, more reflective eyes. I must admit, all the pretty boys is one of the reasons I chose to check this title out.
King’s Moon is an interesting title if you’re a history buff like me. It gives a quick run through of the Nobunaga years leading up to the beginning of the Tokugawa period. It is all military victories and defeats broken up by bits of personal reflection. For the historical information, this title was great. As entertainment, not so much. There was drama, mostly with Mitsuhide, as he struggles with his choices and following Nobunaga, and the chapters had some nice closing, but overall it was too dry to really be called intense. The history geek in me loved it.
This week I review the digital-only Jmanga title Japan Sinks Volumes 1-4.
This week I have some comments on Kodansha and their position on older Del Rey titles, and have a series review of the Yen Press title 13th Boy. Review copies provided by publisher.
In a world infected with a deadly virus that turns its victims into zombie-like dolls call Guignols, a traveling band of musicians, known as the Grand Orchestra, wander the world, and bringing music to the uninfected. For the right price they will perform any song and maybe even a miracle. Led by Lucille, the beautiful singer, the Orchestra searches for the legendary Black Oratorio, which is said to hold the answer to ending the Guignol Virus.
Grand Guignol Orchestra is latest Kaori Yuki title to be released in English. It is a Gothic horror, that puts a different twist on the zombie phenomena. I’ve enjoyed Yuki’s work since I first read Godchild, and was looking forward to reading her take on zombies. I wasn’t disappointed. The interesting characters, mixture of music and zombies, and a story with lots of twists and turns all wrapped up in a fairy tale-like setting made this a fun read.
Right from the beginning I liked the characters. Lucille, the beautiful, gender-ambiguous leader of the Orchestra starts as rather capricious and a little sinister. But after seeing the “Divine Lightning” in action, a more serious and grim side to him is shown. His motives aren’t revealed at first, and a lot of doubt is cast on him as being good or trustworthy. But as the story progresses, the truth is revealed, and we see that not only Lucille but his sister were manipulated into their circumstances, but Lucille had the strength and courage to find a way out for them.
Lucille’s companions in the Orchestra, Kohaku and Gwindell also have their sinister sides. It is revealed at the beginning, that they are convicted criminals, and travel with Lucille in order to pay down their bail. Kohaku plays the violin, and loves his guns. He is also able to hide and infinite number of weapons on his person. Gwindell, the cellist, is the strong but silent type. He drives the hearse they travel in and carries a hedgehog with him, a memento of his daughter. Both of them claim to not like Lucille, that they are forced to be with them, but when push comes to shove, they do come to his aid. They backgrounds are revealed toward the end, and like Lucille, they are not as bad as they were made out to be.
The final member of the Orchestra is Eles/Celes. She is masquerading as her twin brother after her piano playing accidentally sends the surrounding guignols into a frenzy, infecting or killing the rest of the children in town, as well as several of the townspeople. At her father’s behest, she joins Lucille to find a reason to live as herself. She is the sane member of the Orchestra, trying to make sense of the insanity around her. She is also the one person all the members of the Orchestra care enough about to truly want to protect.
The story moves at a brisk pace, as there is only one story to introduce the characters before diving headlong into the plot. No chapter after the first is really a stand alone, as each revelation adds another piece to the puzzle that is finally put together in the final chapters. The twists the story takes, from who and what Lucille really is, to Gwindell’s past, to the final reveal of the true villain made for a great ride. I did like how Le Senat, who seemed to be the villains at the beginning, are slowly revealed to be more than they seemed, and even honorable enough to stop one of their own, and allowing Lucille to complete his mission. I also really liked how all the seeming supernatural elements, such as the Queen’s divine lightning, were explain scientifically. Sadly, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how the world ended up that way, or that one man’s obsession could cause such a world-wide catastrophe.
Now, I’m not a big fan of blood and gore, so zombie stories don’t tend to be something I enjoy. This title is a definite exception. Yuki’s zombies are different from the usual rotting, meandering creatures with their flesh falling off. They are more like wooden dolls, with hardened skin and joints, and frozen expressions. I think having them like dolls is much more scary, since dolls are real things, and can be scary on their own in the right circumstances. The “clankity” sounds they make are really creepy. They aren’t completely mindless. Under certain circumstances they can regain their selves, making them less like monsters and more something to be pitied. Music is one of those circumstances.
Music is an important element in this series. The guignols respond to it for some reason, whether its Celes’ piano playing, Lucille’s voice or even a single tone, music can drive the guignols to attack, become themselves for a few moments, or break some control over them. Music is also the way the Queen controls her divine lightning and even some guignols. Ultimately, it is music, a song from the Black Oratorio that finally ends the terror of the guignols. And with the shadows of the original Queen and the King that created her gone as well, the series can reach a happy finale.
I really enjoyed Grand Guignol Orchestra. It wasn’t as dramatic or angsty as Yuki’s earlier titles such as Angel Sanctuary or Godchild. Considering what those protagonists had to go through, Lucille had it pretty easy. He still had a lot of difficult obstacles to get through, but he never gave up, no matter how hopeless the situation seemed. That is one of the things I love about Yuki’s protagonists. I was also really happy to see the series had a definitive happy ending, and we are not left to wonder what happened to the Orchestra. Though, Lucille’s face is left in shadow, so we don’t know what effect the destroying of the guignol virus had on him. But then, some things are best left unsolved.
I didn’t have any real issues with this series, other than it felt rushed. I would have liked a few more stories of the Orchestra helping other towns before plowing into the main plot. A little more of Lucille, Gwindell and Kohaku arguing and fighting guignols would have been nice, but not having doesn’t diminish the series any.
Grand Guignol Orchestra ended shy of half a volume, so one of Yuki’s short stories, Camelot Garden was used to fill it out. This is another story that mixes fantasy with science to good effect. It’s premise is similar to Grand Guignol Orchestra with a father determined to keep his daughter to himself though it uses the poem ‘Lady of Shalott’ by the English poet Lord Alfred Tennyson as it’s core. I really enjoy stories that do this, weaving the story and pictures around a poem or song.
I really enjoyed Grand Guignol Orchestra. It has the perfect balance of humor, drama, action, romance and a happy ending. It’s hard enough to get this in any series, let alone a Kaori Yuki manga. This series is rather atypical of most Yuki titles, so while I do recommend it for readers looking to get into her work, be warned that the warm and fuzzies from this series aren’t translated to a lot of her other works. Pick it up in print or in digital on Vizmanga.com.
Researcher Mr. Smith has left the Eihon family and is on his way to Ankara. As he awaits his guide in a village, he meets the widow Talas, but his honorable intentions toward her are not seen that way by her uncle who has his own plans for her, and lands the Englishman in jail. Rescued by some familiar faces, his journey takes him through a fishing village along the Aral Sea, where a pair of twins are plotting to land themselves some rich, healthy brothers as husbands.
These two volumes of A Bride’s Story leaves Amir, Karluk and the Eihon family behind, and follows Mr. Smith as he travels across the desert on his way to Ankara, where a colleague waits for him with an item he’s been searching for. We meet two different kinds of brides in these volumes, the five-time widowed Talas and the over-eager twins Laila and Leily. While I still enjoyed these volumes, the new characters didn’t grow on my as much as the Eihons did in the first two volumes.
Mr. Smith gets the spotlight in volume 3. After arriving in the village where he is to meet his guide, he meets a young woman, Talas. She offers to put him up until his guide arrives. She and her mother-in-law have been alone for a while, after the death of five sons and the father. Talas thinks having Mr. Smith stay will make her mother happy. I liked Talas. She was quiet and unassuming; the opposite of Amir in a lot of ways. She’s had a hard life, going through so many husbands so quickly without ever producing an heir, but she bears it all with a quiet strength. Her mother is much the same, having lost 5 sons and her own husband, she continues on alone, thinking only of Talas’ happiness.
Mr. Smith becomes caught in the middle of this, as the mother tries to get him to take her as his bride. It’s interesting to see him struggle with what to do. He doesn’t have a wide emotional range, and often has a bewildered look on his face, except when he has learned some new cultural aspect. When he finally comes to a decision, the circumstances change on him. The change shows how different betrothal and marriage is treated between Europeans and the Western Asians, and the importance of a father in a woman’s life. Even when it is explained to him, he doesn’t seem to fully get it. He doesn’t show any emotion about it until he is alone, and a single act shows his disappointment.
In volume 4 we don’t see much of Mr. Smith, as his arrival in the seaside town causes a stir when his cover story of being a doctor has him overwhelmed with patients from all over the area. This leaves the story open for trouble-making twins Laila and Leily. The two girls are determined to get husbands, and spent most of the volume plotting ways to get them. I really didn’t care much for the twins. They bordered on obnoxious for me. But their story gave an excuse to concentrate on the women’s side again. Laila and Leily were recounted with stories from the older women of how they found their husbands and the tricks they used to land them. And when husbands are found for the girls, their mother has to give them whirlwind lessons in being proper wives, teaching them cooking, cleaning and sewing.
I still enjoyed this series. The cultural aspects shown in every volume are fascinating. In these two volumes we see the importance of being generous and hospitable, as an impromptu meal becomes an event to be shared with. We also get a glimpse on being a groom, as Mr. Smith’s guide, Ali, explains why he took the job even though it was dangerous. He wants to take a bride, but has to come up with the betrothal money himself since his family is poor. So far, we have only been seeing that the bride’s family has to do, and haven’t heard much about what the groom must do as well. Information on the wedding preparations start to get more in-depth as Laila and Leily’s wedding approaches which of course, will delay Mr. Smith who will want to stay and see an actual wedding.
While my enthusiasm cooled a little over these volumes, volume 4 mostly, I still love it. The cultural details that Mori is able to present in the story without it feeling like a lesson is great. This series could easily be used as a teaching aid for the time period. And of course her meticulous art continues to delight. The different costumes she used for the different regions are just beautiful. I’ll continue to give this series my highest recommendation, because, personal feelings or no, this is still one of the best series you will ever read.
In Victorian England, a young girl named Emma is rescued from a life of destitution and raised to become a proper British maid. When she meets William, the eldest son of a wealthy family, their love seems destined. But in this world, even matters of the heart are ruled by class distinctions.
I didn’t expect to like Emma. I have a split track record with Kaoru Mori’s work. I loved A Bride’s Story, but wasn’t impressed with her short story collection Say Something and Anything, especially the maid stories. But as I started reading, I couldn’t help being enchanted by the charming characters she populates the series with, and sets up so simple an obstacle, but it still seems just as insurmountable.
Emma starts with the unceremonious meeting of Emma and William, the former student of Kelly Stownar, who was William’s governess, and is Emma’s employer. William is immediately smitten with Emma, which Kelly picks up on, while Emma seems not to notice. But William is not the first or only man to be drawn to her, as the pile of love letters she receives shows. Even Prince Hakim, William’s friend from India is taken by her charms at first glance. This first volume introduces these main players, and gives a little insight into who they are.
I absolutely loved every character in this volume. There isn’t a single one that I found annoying or dislikable. William is wonderfully nervous around Kelly, and a little over-excitable when he’s around Emma. Emma herself comes off rather innocent, or naive. While she is able to turn down most of her would-be suitors, William elicits a blush from her. I loved Kelly, who seemed to take great joy in making William feel uncomfortable with her memories of his childhood, but didn’t discourage his interest in Emma. Hakim brought a lot of comedy, with his elephants marching through London, or his motorcar whizzing around the inside William’s house. I also loved his Indian women attendants. Their expressions never change, whether they are draped over Hakim or driving the motorcar, they are always straight-faced, almost bored-looking.
The introduction of William’s father, Mr. Smith, also introduces the main conflict of the story. In order for William and Emma to be together, they must not only overcome class distinctions, but also the attitudes of the people around them. Kelly doesn’t have a problem with Emma marrying up obviously. She seems to be encouraging their relationship. It’s William’s father, and his other family and friends that will be the biggest obstacle to their budding relationship. Mr. Smith makes his feelings very clear at the end of the volume about the relationships between classes, describing them like people from two different countries who just happen to speak the same language.
Because of Karou Mori’s obsession with Victorian England, this title is filled with historical details. From the fireplaces and wallpaper in the homes to the clothing of both the men and women, reading Emma is like watching a BBC historical drama. I’ve never been a fan of the Victorian era, but I love Mori’s depiction of it. The men in their suits and hats and the women with their hair done up and their long dresses and ball gowns, I love the look of them all. But most important was the attitudes and beliefs of the people at them. Mori really gets these, from the working class grocer who doesn’t see the worth in his daughter going to school and learning when she will just get married, to Mr. Smith’s constant harping on William about proper manners. Social etiquette was a big deal to the upper class, as they saw it as one of the things that separated themselves from the lower classes. Having good social graces was just as important as one’s family and blood line. Mori really seems to get this, and isn’t just using stereo types to portray the classes.
This first volume of Emma was an engrossing read that just makes me want to read more. I’m really glad this MMF gave me an excuse to read it. Of course, the problem with reading the first volume of a hard-to-find OOP series is that if you turn out enjoying it, that means finding the rest of the series will be like pulling teeth. The volumes will tend to be difficult to find or worse, very expense. An incomplete set of the series just recently sold on eBay for $135.00! This is probably the only bad thing about the entire volume that I could find. And with Jmanga ending their service, the chances of seeing this series in print again is very unlikely. Unless Yen Press, who has published two of Mori’s other titles, sees some worth in. Though Yen Press has done some license rescues lately, I’m not holding breath for this one, which is really a shame.
Along the nineteenth-century Silk Road, Amir Halgal, a young woman from a nomadic tribe, is betrothed to a twelve-year-old boy eight years her junior. Coping with cultural differences, blossoming feelings for her new husband, and expectations from both her adoptive family, and her birth family, who now wish to see her wed to another, Amir strives to find her role as she settles into a new life and a new home in a society quick to define that role for her.
I remember when this title was first announced and how excited people were to get a new Karou Mori title. Having not read anything by her at the time, I didn’t see what the excitement was about. But after hearing some discussion of the title, I decided to check out the first volume. I absolutely loved it, and had to buy volumes 2 and 3 immediately afterward. The charming characters and immersion into 19th century Central Asia was a delight to read.
These volumes start by introducing Amir and her young husband, Karluk Eihon. They first meet on their wedding day, and while both seem surprised at seeing the other, both also accept each other. Many of the chapters show their everyday life, with Amir showing Karluk’s family, now her family, her way of doing things, while she learns theirs. There are also stories about other members of the Eihon family, and the Eihon’s nomadic relatives. Also introduced almost immediately is the stirring trouble with Amir’s birth family, who have decided they need her back since her younger sister, who was married off to another tribe, died and they will lose the grazing land they got in the deal. This leads to an armed conflict between the two families, as well as some between Amir and Karluk.
I absolutely loved Amir and Karluk from their first introduction. I adore Amir and her enthusiastic and earnest personality. She can be impulsive, such as when she jumps up to hunt rabbits immediately when she learns the Eihon family hasn’t had rabbit stew before. When given a gift, she feels the need to return the favor and proceeds to shoot down a bird to exchange. She is dedicated to Karluk and treats him like an equal and not a child. Karluk in turn tries to be a husband to her, but still has some problems with being intimate with her. When they are sleeping together in the Yurat while visiting Karluk’s Uncle, he feels more like a child with his mother than man and wife. He proves himself though when he defends Amir from her own father when the Halgal family try to take Amir back by force. He takes his duties as husband seriously, trying to protect her from danger. They make a really cute couple.
The supporting characters are great too. Seleke, Karluk’s older sister, tries to be strick with her four children, but ends up doting more. Their parents are kind and supportive. I loved Balkirsh, the grandmother and matriarch of the family. She doesn’t meddle in the affairs of other family members, but will step in when necessary. She diffused the confrontation between Amir’s brother and her grandson-in-law, and was able to get Amir to rest while Karluk was sick with a cold. She’s feisty, and doesn’t mince her words. And then there’s Mr. Smith, an Englishman living with the Eihons. He is an anthropologist, studying the life and culture of Western Asia. He is constantly asking questions about customs in the village, or for help with translating documents he has found. He is played a lot for comedy relief.
Mr. Smith and to some extent Amir, is also used to show the culture and customs of the area. Amir, who has come from a semi-nomadic tribe, has a lot to learn about town living. One of the biggest is that the townspeople are much more modest. Amir is constantly causing a stir, such as when she misunderstands Mother and thinks she must clean her clothes and runs out in her underwear. Amir’s hunting skills fascinate the townsfolk, as she hunts rabbits from horseback and brings back deer. The children become fascinated by her bow, and soon she is teaching them how to use it. Through Mr. Smith, more general cultural elements are explained. The importance of embroidery and cloth for dowry is shown in detail, as is entertaining. The townsfolk try to compete to entertain the messenger who bring letters for Mr. Smith.
Because this is “A Bride’s Story”, a lot of focus is put on the women. There is the impression that women are seen as nothing more than property, especially when Amir’s family tries to reclaim her, and the Eihons counter that they have no claim. But it’s not like the women are treated poorly or without rights. Balkirsh commands a lot of respect, even from Amir’s brother when he first comes to reclaim Amir. And as is shown with Amir, they can be hunters and herders, and not limited to the household. I don’t see the arranged marriages as a way to control women, but as part of the complex social structure passed down through the generations. Compared to European women of the time, the women of western Asia had a lot more personal freedom.
The art is just exquisite. The detail that Mori puts into the clothes and rugs is amazing. The costumes are beautiful and varied, reflecting their different origins. It’s not just material that is so ornate. Wood carving and even the making of bread is shown to be decorated with beautiful designs, and their creators are shown to put great care into their craft. I loved the chapter with the carpenter, and the time he spends creating ornate doors and posts. I also love the wide-eyed expressions that both Amir and Karluk have. It makes Amir’s enthusiasm all that more infectious, and Karluk just looks cute, even when he’s trying to be heroic.
I can’t say enough good things about this series. I loved it from cover to cover, and it just gets better with every re-read. Amir’s story is funny, exciting, and touching. A Bride’s Story is one of the best series you will read, filled with great characters, fun slice of life moments and charming characters that you will never want to leave. It’s a great investment of both time and money.