Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bride of the Water God

Bride of the Water God [vol. 1 & 2] (Dark Horse)
Written and illustrated by Mi-Kyung Yun
Synopsis: When Soah’s impoverished, desperate village decides to sacrifice her to the Water God Habaek to end a long drought, they believe that drowning one beautiful girl will save their entire community and bring much-needed rain. Not only is Soah surprised to be rescued by the Water God – instead of killed – she never imagined she’d be a welcomed guest in Habaek’s magical kingdom, where an exciting new life awaits her. Habaek, the mysterious Water God, is cursed to live in the form of a little boy during the day – while he turns back to his true adult self at night. His new human bride, Soah, thinks that she’s been married to a child and has no idea that the attractive ‘Mui’ is actually the indecisive adult Habaek. Surrounded by a cast of colorful elemental gods and their servants, Soah is tempted by flirtations from both ‘Mui’ and the rascal Huye. Things get even more complicated after Tae-eul-jin-in spills a surprising secret, and Soah audaciously plots to uncover the truth for herself.
Two volumes in, I can say without reservation this is an absolutely outstanding series thus far. Korean creator Mi-Kyung Yun is spinning a really engrossing tale and her art is remarkably beautiful. The first couple of pages of each volume have been in color with the remainder of the pages in black and white. The opening page (in color) of the second volume is nothing short of stunning (honestly, it should be framed and hanging on a wall as an oversized print).
Bride of the Water God features a very interesting mix of characters. Soah is the protagonist, a human who finds herself in the land of the gods, and the Water God Habaek is the one to whom she is sacrificed. The other principles are Murah – the Goddess of Cheongyo Mountain, Mu-san-shin-yeo (she goes by Yohee), the Fire God Judong, Huye, Tae-eul-jin-in, and Seowangmo, Habaek’s mother.
Soah is chosen by her village to be the sacrifice to the Water God Habaek in order to bring rain and end a great drought. In some respects this might seem a great honor as one would expect the villagers to seek to offer their most beautiful maiden. Sacrificing anything less than the most beautiful of the eligible candidates would certainly seem like an insult to the Water God, and it wouldn’t make sense for the villagers to risk his wrath when they so desperately need his favor. Soah does not see things from this particular view. She clearly feels betrayed and the value of her life unappreciated, but to her credit she does not try to escape the duty. Yet her thoughts indicate she doesn’t care what happens to the village once she has been set afloat the ocean to wait for the Water God to claim her.
When Soah is first introduced to the gods (after being discovered on the shore by Yuk-Oh, who is in charge of the palace where Habaek resides), she initially mistakes Huye for the Water God. Her thoughts upon glimpsing him from behind filter back to whispers she heard from some of the villagers – “They say once you see him, you never forget him.” “I heard he’s a terrifying monster.” “Yes, I also heard he eats people.” Yet when he turns and shows his face, her thoughts quickly change – “The god, this being, is beautiful … “ Yuk-Oh introduces Huye (Soah is disappointed he isn’t who she thought he was) and then presents Habaek, who turns out to be a young boy. Habaek is rather rude to her initially (he even insults her beauty in later conversation, saying he “told the humans to offer the most beautiful woman”, and that he “won’t let it rain for five hundred years”).
Soah encounters Tae-eul-jin-in when she becomes lost while wandering around the palace. He introduces himself as a doctor and inventor. Soah learns from him that it has not yet rained. She rushes back to Habaek and admonishes him for not fulfilling his end of the bargain. Habaek belittles humans for being selfish and thinking they can so easily sacrifice just one and they themselves can then be safe and live. Soah withdraws, upset that she allowed herself to be tricked by his childish looks and forgot he was an ill-tempered god.
Soah learns much later in conversation with Murah that Habaek has given rain. She also discovers Habaek had previous brides. In another encounter with Tae-eul-hin-in, Soah learns that Nakbin was Habaek’s first bride and he loved her very much, but she died.
While Soah is enjoying a walk in the forest along with Habaek and the other gods, she is attacked by a crocodile-like creature. Huye takes the bite intended for Soah and then slays the creature. Soah twists her ankle during the encounter so Huye decides to carry her. Habaek is clearly irritated that he was powerless to help Soah.
The Water God Habaek is an interesting case. While Habaek may seem to be hard and insensitive, he is something of a tortured soul. He is stuck in child’s form during the day (where he has no powers) and is free to regain his adult form (and powers) during the hours of the night (it hasn’t been revealed as yet how and why this came to be). When in his natural adult form, Habaek is known as Mui. Habaek doesn’t initially reveal his situation to Soah, and when he later meets her as Mui, he leads her to believe that he (Mui) is Habaek’s cousin.
When it is revealed Habaek’s mother, Seowangmo, is coming for a visit, Judong tells Soah Seowangmo is the Goddess of Punishment and Torture (but he tells her she shouldn’t worry because Seowangmo is also the Goddess of Love and Beauty – then again, she is also the Goddess of Disease so … ). Soah is very frightened when she is brought for an official audience with her. Habaek is not pleased with her interest in his bride and angrily orders Soah to go off with Yohee while he remains to speak with his mother.
Following her second meeting with Mui, Tae-eul-jin-in reveals to Soah that Habaek and Mui are one and the same. He tells her she can ask the others if she doesn’t believe him. When she does make such an inquiry, Murah tells Soah not to believe Tae-eul-jin-in.
Seowangmo wants Habaek to send Soah back, but decides it is her responsibility as a mother to help the couple when Habaek tells her that he is deeply in love with Soah. She gives her servant two potions, one for Habaek and one for Soah. Unfortunately, her servant mixes them up and Habaek receives the wrong one. Soah decides to ask Mui directly if he and Habaek are actually the same person, but she discovers him half-conscious on the floor. She kneels to help him and Mui, in a disoriented state, embraces her and calls her Nakbin. Soah is confused regarding his behavior since she knows Nakbin was Habaek’s bride.
Soah later asks Tae-eul-jin-in if he was being truthful about Mui. He guesses Murah told her not to believe him and tells her that Murah has feelings for Habaek and therefore has no reason to like or help Soah. When Soah relates the events of the prior evening to Judong and Murah, Judong accuses her of liking Mui. Murah says Judong is being ridiculous because if Soah really does like him, it would be a true betrayal of Habaek. Some time later, Soah has the realization that not only was she shocked to hear Mui calling out Nakbin’s name when he embraced her, but that she is also jealous of her.
While most of the other gods appear to each have their own hidden agenda (Murah, for instance, is in love with Habaek and certainly sees Soah as an obstacle, just as she did with Nakbin), Huye is the biggest mystery. He is very kind to Soah on several occasions, even going so far as to tell her that if she has a problem, she can tell him and he will help anytime. He appears to have some interest in Soah which may or may not be altogether honorable. It is alluded to in a brief flashback that he and one of Habaek’s brides (Nakbin in all likelihood) may have been more than just friends. Habaek is trusting of Huye (he tells him on one occasion that “he is the last one and if you betray me I’ll never forgive you”) and yet seems to have some apprehension in regards to Huye’s intentions with Soah. Huye presents Soah with a comb during a visit to the night market as a belated welcoming gift. Mui remarks to Soah that a man giving a lady a comb as a gift means he’s proposing for marriage. It isn’t clear if Mui is being truthful in this instance or simply gauging her reaction.
Soah is a very conflicted character. She is both strong and weak. She considers herself to be a phony bride (this harkens back in part to her not caring what happens to the village). When Mui tells her to go back, that he will help her to return home, Soah tells him that she is never going back because Habaek loves her deeply (this occurs the evening following her meeting Seowangmo – prior to Tae-eul-jin-in telling her that Mui and Habaek are one and the same). She twists a few of the comments Habaek made to her upon their initial meeting and tells Mui that Habaek said she “looked very nice”, implied that he called her “the most beautiful woman” and that he told her he would protect her for the rest of her life (it is after this meeting that Habaek tells his mother, in his second audience with her, that he deeply loves Soah). Soah wonders that had Huye been Habaek when she first encountered him whether she would have fallen in love with him. She finds herself attracted to Mui (even though she is uncertain about his being Habaek – and she is unsure whether she wants that to be the truth or not). When Mui asks on the night of their first meeting if she is afraid of Habaek and why she didn’t run away, Soah relates a tale told by her grandmother where Habaek grieved over a person who drowned and turned them into a water lily so such a thing wouldn’t happen again. She concludes by saying she wasn’t scared because she believes anyone who would grieve so much for a person’s death can’t be such a bad person. She is very frightened when she meets Habaek’s mother, but after seeing how coldly Habaek greets her, she realizes that Seowangmo perhaps seemed very lonely. When Soah finds Mui collapsed on the floor (and after he embraces her and calls her Nakbin), she rushes to Tae-eul-hin-in’s room and locates medication he administered days before to Habaek. She can’t get Mui to swallow it from the bottle in his now unconscious state so she puts it in her own mouth and administers it to him in that manner. It is moments such as these that help define her as a highly intriguing and empathetic character.
Overall, this is a very complex tale with two primary characters that seem reluctant to trust not only in themselves, but the other as well -- two characters who are searching for the sanctuary and contentment they may only find with each other. There are clearly many challenges that remain ahead, certainly in the form of the goddess Murah and likely from Huye as well when his intentions become known. I’m most definitely looking forward to future volumes to see how the story continues to play out. In conclusion, I have to say this is really an exceptional and entertaining manwha series. Honestly, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
5 zombies (out of 5)

(as a bonus, here is the first page of the second volume that should be a framed print -- minus the text of course)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm loving the manhwa, it's beautifuly drawn and the narrative has a good flow, though I was confused at the lastest chapter on why he will kill himself when he will remember Soah....