The fact that the previous volume of this series happened to be a disappointing read was bad enough. It stung even more when you consider that new volumes of “A Bride’s Story” only come out on an annual basis. So I’ve basically spent most of the last ten months worrying that this great series had lost the thread and would only continue to disappoint from here on out. Vol. 8 is certainly a step back in the right direction, but we’ve got to deal with a bit of a hangover first.
By that I mean mangaka Kaoru Mori gives us one final chapter with Anis and Sherine to wrap up their story. We get to see more of their life together as Avowed Sisters and find out that the former is truly happy with this arrangement. That’s all well and good, but there’s still remarkably little substance to this arrangement. Anis is happy because the plot dictates that she be that way, and that’s all there is to it. Anyone hoping for greater insight into their relationship, or even some kind of acknowledgement of the yuri/lesbian subtext that permeates the story is going to come away disappointed. Instead, I’ll just try to find some entertainment in the little details from this whole arc. Such as the way that Sherine can pack away any amount of food in front of her in a way that I, and most other men, can only envy.
Then things move back to Amir and Karluk’s village for the rest of the volume. They’re not the focus of the story, even though we get a nice little vignette about their lunch date on the plains. Taking the center stage from here on out is Amir’s friend Pariya. The last time we saw her, she had finally met a potential husband who she liked and who wasn’t put off by her brash personality. However, after the attack on the village back in vol. 6, her dowry of embroidered fabrics for the impending marriage was destroyed. This means that until they can be replaced, the marriage is on hold. Unfortunately, Pariya has no talent for sewing. So it’s a good thing she’s got the backing of Amir and her family to help her out with this.
In case it wasn’t obvious before, vol. 8 makes a point of showing that Pariya is as tsundere as they come. If you’re not familiar with that word, it’s a Japanese term describing a person who is outwardly brash and standoffish but is secretly tender and sensitive on the inside. With regards to Pariya, she also has a hefty case of self-defeatism to contend with as well. In stark contrast to the previous arc, Mori actually digs into Pariya’s history and mindset to show us why she is this way. As a result, the character’s struggles feel real and not subject to the dictates of the plot.
They’re also pretty engaging to take in as well. We see every facet of Pariya’s efforts to become a decent embroiderer, from the problems with her initial efforts, to the temptations to take the easy way out, all the way to the pride she feels at a job well done. There’s also some amusing comic relief as Amir’s grandmother serves as a specter — both real and imagined — that drives Pariya on to do her best.
The business with embroidery is followed by a town visit from Pariya’s betrothed and his father. We get to see her making some inroads into acting like a proper (for the period) woman in front of him, only for it to appear to be undone when he witnesses her displaying some tomboyish behavior while helping others clean the irrigation ditches. This leads to a chapter that is mostly a comedy of errors as Pariya goes around town spying on Kamola, a girl everyone respects and admires, in order to get some idea about how to be a better version of herself. Such stalker-ish behavior ultimately backfires on her, but with a decidedly welcome outcome.
I’m kind of torn about this part of the story because Pariya’s actions here aren’t really out of character. The problem is that it feels like Mori is playing up her anxious and defeatist tendencies for purposes of comedy relief more than anything else. So they wind up feeling strident rather than funny more often than not here. You could also argue that the ending does feel a bit forced in light of Pariay’s hyperactivity in this part of the story, but I was mostly glad that things ended well for her after how she tormented herself through most of it.
If anything, I was disappointed by the fact that we didn’t learn much more about her betrothed, Umar. It’s clear that he’s a decent guy who likes her, and is good with an abacus, but that’s about it. I think it’s nice that Mori has created a character who exists to fall in love with the most troubled individual in the series. That’s about it, though. It’s hard to have any real feelings or interest in him when he basically exists as a cipher in the narrative.
Definitely a step in the right direction, but “A Bride’s Story” isn’t back to its usual quality just yet. After an entire volume where she had characters following the dictates of the plot, it appears that Mori hasn’t quite shaken off that tendency here. Still, there’s enough decent character development here to suggest that she’ll get around to addressing the issues I have here eventually. I’d also be remiss in not pointing out that the volume’s art is up to the title’s typically high standards, particularly with the bits involving embroidery. I’m expecting a year-long wait for vol. 9. This time around, I’ll be feeling a lot more optimistic about its quality than I did when I was waiting for vol. 8.