March 15, 2010

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Bride of the Water God Volume 2

Written by Mi-Kyung Yun
Illustrated by Mi-Kyung Yun
Dark Horse

Soah's life in the land of the Water God gets more complicated as she tries to figure out the link between Habaek and Mui, and can't seem to accept the obvious answer. Meanwhile, the other gods scheme and use Soah as their play toy. After all, she's only a human, and why let her get in the way of bigger plans?

It's a dangerous world for a human playing with fire. Will Soah get burned, even if she is in a land of plentiful water?

I have to admit I did not like this second trade as much as the first one. It felt like we took the entire volume to get anywhere at all, and even that progress was not much. If you'll forgive the joke, it felt like we were treading water the entire time.

This volume picks up where the last left off, with Mui telling Soah to leave. She refuses (otherwise, this would be a very short manhwa), with the reasons being somewhat ambiguous. Soah spends the rest of the trade working to discover the link between Mui and Habaek, which is made obvious to the reader, and frankly, to Soah herself.

One of the things I found annoying is that Yun does not give the reader a good reason for Soah to be so blind to the obvious truth. I can buy that she'd be skeptical, but I don't think we were sold on that idea very well based on what was presented. In addition, Habaek seems rather loose with the secret he was so concerned about in the first volume. He's the biggest leak (Man, these water references just flow, don't they?*) of them all over the course of the narrative, but we don't get a reason why.

I think my biggest problem is that while I understand the point is that everyone in the Water God's kingdom has their own agenda that they aren't sharing, getting an entire volume of obscured truths, half-truths, and back-tracking on statements made leaves me as the reader feeling cut out. I feel like there's just not enough I can trust, and that bothered me.

Part of this might be due to this being only part of a long, ongoing story. Yun I'm sure knows what the truth is, at least I'd hope so. Since we don't know how many chapters she plans to write, it's hard to say whether or not this obscurity works in context or not. In a 5 volume series, it would be inexcusable. For ten, I'd be annoyed but understanding. If this is an epic, twenty-five volume (or more) series, then the way in which this volume is structured makes far more sense.

Even so, I think that a little more clarity is in order this early in the game. I feel like the only thing I know for sure is that we're meant to see Soah and Habaek as destined to be lovers but they must get past their own problems first. Why they're having these problems, beyond the need for conflict in a story, isn't working for me, at least not here.

Believe it or not, there's still a lot about Bride of the Water God that I like. The way Habaek and Soah echo each others' words is really well done. I want to know more about the dual nature of Habaek and why his last relationship ended so tragically for his bride. The implication that Soah's tears now make the rain fall on earth is also a neat touch, showing she's getting further engaged into her new world.

Ironically, I even think the side-characters are well-defined, despite their hidden agendas, and that's one of the best parts of the manga so far. How Habaek's mother and the various residents of the Water God's kingdom try to aid or harm the relationship between Habaek an Soah is likely to be one of the biggest draws as the story progresses. So far, I understand that Murah is going to be trouble, and that Tae-eul-jin-in is a wild card. Their role as the series progresses should prove interesting. I just hope that when they do start to impact on the plot, it's in a way that's a bit more direct.

Yun's artwork in this series continues to be amazing. I talked quite a bit about the quality of her style in my review of the first volume, so I won't repeat myself. Just make sure that when you read this manhwa, you budget time to note that she draws every single tassel on a bed, the beads of a necklace one by one, and gives her female gods outfits that are so lavish as to be almost impossible to reproduce in real life. There's etchings in the buildings and furniture and scenes of flower gardens show each and every flower in perfect detail. Hands are articulated carefully, and our cast's expressive eyes gets lashes drawn out to highlight their longing, pain, or anger, depending on need.

Looking at the cover image above should give you an idea of the level of craft Yun has in store for you in this manhwa. Even the tree Mui is resting on gets articulated bark! I'd read Bride of the Water God for the art alone, and just might have to if the story doesn't start making a bit more sense as the volumes progress. (That seems to be a pattern with manhwa, but that's a piece for another day.) Yun may be the best manga/manhwa artist I've encountered so far. I can only imagine how long it takes her to draw these pages.

Despite some storytelling flaws, Bride of the Water God is still a great read. There's a lot of intrigue, romance, and deception, so if you're fans of any of those, you'll have plenty to like. I'd prefer a bit more straightforward information for the reader, but as I said above, this might just be the perspective of reading this a volume at a time. This is still my favorite manhwa I've read, and it's made the "I want to own this" list. Check it out and see what you think. Just be prepared to scratch your head here and there.

*I'm really sorry for that sentence, but not sorry enough to delete it.