Boomtron have my latest Stripp’d column. This month, I return to anime in order to look at Kaoru Mori’s A Bride’s Story.
The manga is published in hardback by Yen Press and is very much in the style and tradition of such prestige titles as Fumi Yoshinaga’s unrelentingly splendid Ooku: The Inner Chamber. Somewhat less focused and much less high-concept than Yoshinaga’s look at a alternate edo-period Japan, A Bride’s Story is made up of a series of stories drawn from the early married life of a young woman living on the steppes of central Asia in the early part of the 20th Century. However, while the characterisation is frequently intriguing and the central love story between the bride and her (much) younger husband is undeniably affecting, it is clear that both the story and the characters are little more than vehicles for Mori’s exploration of her understanding of that particular culture. Indeed, I conclude my piece by likening A Bride’s Story to a piece of literary travel writing such as that of Geoff Dyer, Paul Theroux or Pico Iyer:
Like any piece of literature written about one culture by a member of a different culture, there are questions of morality and appropriation that need to be asked. Mori mostly answers these questions by celebrating life on the steppes while acknowledging quite how shockingly alien and unfair that life could be. While a lot is made of the ethics of depicting alien cultures, my feeling is that travel writing, like all forms of writing is always produced from a particular perspective. Objective truth is the sole preserve of the hard sciences. As such, we should look upon A Bride’s Story as an impression of a particular culture filtered both through the eyes of a Japanese women and through the demands of the Japanese comics scene. Would real Mongolians enjoy gently burgeoning and chaste love stories? Would real brides be so impossibly lovely and accomplished that their clan would not hesitate for a second before fighting to the death in order to defend them? Possibly not but Mori’s stories are beautifully told and sensitively embedded in a culture that she clearly both loves and respects. At the end of the day, if you want the truth about the Asian steppe, go and visit it yourselves… just don’t expect to encounter any gorgeous 20 year-olds with devoted 12 year-old husbands.
Boasting some of the most jaw-droppingly intricate and beautifully composed artwork I have ever encountered. A Bride’s Story is a wonderful example of what manga can achieve when it moves beyond the straightjackets of the populist and the fannish.
Nice review, as you’ve always been writing. Kaoru Mori’s interest in Central Asia is highly unusual in Japan, and I can’t think of any other manga that tried to put a non-East Asian, non-Western culture under the microscope.
A small factual error: the people in the story are a Turkic people like the Kazakhs or Uzbeks. They are not Mongolians by any definition of the word.
Hi Cuc, thanks for the comments!
I imagine you’re right with respect to the exact ethnicity of the people in the comic. I don’t remember her making their ethnicity (or their location for that matter) all that clear but to the extent that the comic is set in Central Asia, I guess she can’t be writing about the Mongolians as Mongolia is definitely not central Asia. Correction happily accepted :-)
I suspect that Mori takes a similar approach to culture when writing about central Asia as she did when writing about England. The problem is that in British culture, having an interest in maids and lords is really quite a reactionary and backward looking thing to have… but then I guess the same would be true of a contemporary Uzbek who might be annoyed at seeing their people described as a bunch of nomadic horsepeople :-) I do like her style and her approach to things but I really could not stomach a story about British maids in a big stately home… that stuff makes my skin crawl.
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