Kaoru Mori last turned heads on this side of the ocean with her lovely and thoroughly-researched story of Victorian-era England, Emma, adapted into an equally lovely animated series. With A Bride’s Story, she’s taken the same fascination for period detail and turned it on the life of the Caucasus tribes (also of the late-19th century). Aside from being gorgeous in just about every page and panel, this manga operates as both a drama of feuding families and as a look at the way civilized life slowly displaces its nomadic counterparts. If there’s no anime derived from this also in the offing, I’ll be shocked.
The bride of the title is Amir, who might well be too late for marriage at the age of twenty (o tempora, o mores). Her husband, Karluk, is all of twelve at the time they’re wed, and it takes him very little time to realize he’s got his hands full, but in a good way. Not only does she become a valuable addition to the household, she can more than hold her own thanks to her nomadic ancestry — as she demonstrates when she runs out in the afternoon with her bow and returns by dusk with rabbits for the pot. But her biological family has second thoughts about having given her away so freely, and is stunned at how sharply they are rebuffed when they come calling for her.
Most of the story does not revolve around this plot, which constitutes maybe ten per cent of the first volume’s page count. Instead, it’s more about the daily ebb and flow of life in Amir’s new family and the deepening bond between she and Karluk — which, due to their age differences at first, has more of an older-sister / younger-brother flavor to it. This is reinforced all the more in the last chapter, where Karluk falls ill and Amir works herself into a lather trying to care for him — as much out of the fear of disapproval by her adoptive family, it seems, than the fear of losing her new groom. Interspersed with the gentle comedy of their marriage are other quietly observant storylines, like the story of Karluk’s little cousin who grows fascinated with a local carver’s handiwork.
It seems irresponsible to talk about any manga without also mentioning the art, and I will say only that Bride’s Story may be one of the best-drawn titles released in this or any other year. Mori has researched her material with consummate perfectionism, and so the level of detail on the cover is not a fluke but a strong hint of what’s inside. It’s only a shame the rest of the book isn’t also in color, but if that were the case we’d probably have to wait four times as long for each volume to come out. I wouldn’t mind. But with this story, you can come for the art and stick around for a good many other things besides.