by Mi-Kyung Yun; adaptation by Philip Simon
published by Dark Horse; $9.95 US
Review by Rob Vollmar
Like NetComics’ excellent Dokebi Bride, Bride of the Water God is a Korean manhwa that draws heavily on the animistic mythology of that country as the source material for its plot. Though the two series could not be any more different in execution, surprisingly, neither suffers in comparison to the other. In fact, they can be appreciated in context with one another as two different attempts to integrate Korea’s spiritual past with its materialist present.
The “Bride” in question is a young girl named Soah who is sacrificed by her village to the god of Water, Habaek, in order to end a drought. To her surprise, she is not killed but rather brought to Suguk, Habaek’s kingdom, as his bride. Soah’s designation as sacrifice and subsequent voyage to the realm of the supernatural take up almost no space in the book at all. The reader is given very little information about Soah herself and is, then, forced to speculate on the details of her character as she goes through the process of orienting herself in an unfamiliar land.
Whereas Dokebi Bride juxtaposes a more grotesque imagination of these nature spirits against the ugliness of the modern world, Bride of the Water God presents them as an beautiful race of eccentric immortals and offers their world an escape from the brutish world below. Though the latter Bride lacks the former’s mystical leanings, it has plenty of strengths of its own to draw upon instead.
Foremost among them is creator Mi-Kyung Yun’s stunning artwork. Though working from the Korean sunjeong tradition (a style aimed at young women), Yun embraces with reckless abandon the decadent detailwork of the halcyon shoujo manga of old. As one might suspect, enormous detail is spent on costuming and architecture, both crucial in establishing Suguk and its inhabitants as otherworldly. Knowing nothing about the production arrangements that might have gone into the production of Bride (like how many, if any, assistants were employed in its creation), lavish illustration, however ambitious, doth not alone a good manga make. But Yun also demonstrates a comprehensive and dynamic palette of visual storytelling techniques that can not be explained away by a talented production staff. She deftly weaves the reader’s attention between the verbal and visual narratives, keeping both occupied and engaged as the story unfolds. There are a number of stirring, silent passages that, garnished by the relentless embellishments, taken on a transcendent lyrical quality reminiscent of Kyoko Ariyoshi’s Swan.
The plot, at least in volume one, is textbook fantasy romance material, but given Yun’s obvious ambitions as a visual storyteller, I am open to having my initial expectations surpassed in her execution of a timeless story. Even if what we’ve seen so far is representative of Bride of the Water God‘s average depth, there is already ample excuse to consider it as a satisfying diversion and an important addition to the sum of well-executed Korean manhwa now available in English. Highly recommended.