The Water Dragon’s Bride
水神の生贄（はなよめ）(Suijin no Hanayome)
Shoujo – Fantasy, historical, isekai, romance, supernatural
11 Volumes (complete)
Little Asahi was just enjoying her life when suddenly, she finds herself in a place where people dress in old-fashioned clothing and there are no signs of technology anywhere. A young boy comes to her aid, but other villagers decide to sacrifice the strange-looking Asahi to their deity. Any hopes of all this being just a nightmare start to fade when she comes face-to-face with the Water Dragon God himself — and he declares Asahi his bride!
Being transported to another world (or time) is a common plot in fiction. They may be revered or feared in this other world. They could even get a marriage proposal shortly after they arrive. What isn’t so common is that the person being spirited away and betrothed is a little kid who is nearly killed upon landing in this strange place.
I don’t think her age is ever revealed, but Asahi is about 7 years old when water comes out of a small pond at her house and takes her to what appears to be feudal Japan. Subaru, a boy about her age, finds her and takes her to his village. His mother and sister are reluctant to take Asahi in (who still thinks she’s just out in rural Japan), but then Subaru’s mother decides to take her to the town festival. But Asahi discovers this isn’t a festival but a ritual — a ritual in which she’s presumably going to drown to death. Subaru arrives too late to save her, but Asahi opens her eyes and sees a strange figure in front of her: the Water Dragon God. The Water Dragon God laughs at the absurdity of humans sacrificing each other, but whether it’s because of the absurdity, Asahi’s hair and age, or just a whim, he declares her his bride. Subaru, meanwhile, is furious with his mother and swears to get revenge at both her and the Water Dragon God.
But a combination of luck, interference by other Gods, and inner strength leads Subaru to saving Asahi. She still has to visit the mostly-disinterested Water Dragon God because of pressure from the villagers, who now fear and revere her for being connected to the Water Dragon God. Under the watch of her caretaker, Tomohiko, time passes, and the story moves out of this prequel-like phase to when Asahi is a teenager.
With a setup like this, a time skip was almost guaranteed. But the years in between are narrated by Asahi immediately after the time skip, explaining the little progress they’ve made the few days they’ve met each year. For me, the biggest weakness was this time skip. It almost felt like The Water Dragon’s Bride was an adaptation of a manga or anime, as there was something that was just… missing. Several years passed with almost no development, but then their relationship — as well as the situation in this land — just seem to flip on a dime. One of the main things that Asahi and Subaru learn is that the gods don’t really care about people or what goes on the world; people might as well be animals in a zoo or dolls at a museum. So when shortly after the time skip Asahi thinks to herself that she knew the Water Dragon God would come… I didn’t buy it. It didn’t work for me since we didn’t see this gradual changing but pick up when the change had already begun.
That’s not to say the Water Dragon God suddenly sees Asahi as his bride. Asahi tries to get the Water Dragon God to understand humans’ lifestyles and perspectives, and he tries to understand the foreign emotions that rise to the surface now and then. This involves the Water Dragon God stop being a recluse and seeing more of the world because of Asahi. It’s a little like The World is Still Beautiful in this aspect: that the world (and its people) has its positives even though it has flaws. Meanwhile, Subaru continues to be dedicated to Asahi, and he also knows the Water Dragon God’s identity and personality.
And this leads me into another disappointment, this scene:
Without spoiling anything, I will say this dark Subaru never emerges. He does make it plain and clear that Asahi >> everyone else, but I thought we’d see more of a yandere side to spice up the story. In fact, he’s almost too kind for most of the manga. Young Subaru sees the previous brides’ skeletons in the water and gives them a proper burial. He leaves his village and is first in line to protect Asahi whenever she’s in danger. His feelings for her are romantic in nature, but he never acts upon them. The main reason is because he knows she longs to return home, and then later, it’s because he realizes the Water Dragon God is changing because of Asahi. So Subaru is mostly stuck in a supportive role despite being a significant character.
But even though Asahi has an important position, not everyone is supportive of her like Subaru is. Various people still target Asahi for one reason or another, and usually somebody has to bail her out. It’s a consequence of having grown up in a time period where women didn’t have a lot of power, and plus no one is going to let someone blessed by a god learn self defense. But through it all, even as Asahi becomes more attached to this other world, she still misses her family.
In regards to the whole spiriting away, Toma has some interesting twists that play into Asahi’s longing for Japan as well as the plot late in the manga. I enjoyed these surprises. Eventually, the story explains a bit about how the heroine traveled through space-time, and this information factors into the ending. But in terms of the overall how and why… The Water Dragon’s Bride opts for a simple conclusion, forcing readers to come up with their own explanations.
In fact, it’s like every time the manga had the choice to go more dark, more sophisticated, or more intriguing, it took a couple of steps then did a U-turn onto the easier path — usually more Asahi x Water God moments. For example, one of the more intriguing parts of the story is that Asahi learns she is not the only one to have been spirited away. It’s part of the reason why going back weighs so heavily on her mind. But, like several other aspects of the story, Toma doesn’t dive further into this. But more fluff might be welcome if the relationship developed more naturally, but it’s a lot of Asahi and the Water Dragon God just observing each other.
Also, while on the topic of dark: there are a few dramatic moments and images of war, but the latter is seen from afar and doesn’t involve anybody close to Asahi. Outside of one or two sexual references, the manga stays on the younger side of its recommended age rating (13+). So it is good that while the Water Dragon God could be the domineering type because of his status, he’s not. A few other characters take on a more antagonistic role, but not all of them remain a threat to the leads and their relationship. This, again, means that the manga loses some of its edge.
The best part of the art is when the Water Dragon God uses his powers. As his name suggests, dragons make up a large part of his spells, but his magic casts also involve swimming fish. Other gods are are featured, but there aren’t other spirits or supernatural festivals a la Kamisama Kiss. So unlike other similar time travel manga, the manga isn’t a visual powerhouse. The feudal setting means that locations and fashion are pretty plain, and Asahi’s special powers don’t put on a spectacular display since it’s just rain. Heck, the Water Dragon God’s home is plain, nothing at all like you’d might expect an underwater home of a god to be.
Toma’s actual style and layouts tend to be quite pretty, and some of the two-page spreads are striking. This is the type of story where instead of looking at all the busy content, readers are meant to concentrate on the characters, looking for any subtle change in their expression. Despite Asahi’s red hair (which looks pink on the covers), she doesn’t look a whole lot like Nakaba of Dawn of the Arcana, but Water Dragon God does bear a striking resemblance to Loki. Which is good, as it’s nice not to have characters be expys from other series, plus Loki wasn’t the male lead, so that adds to the different feel of The Water Dragon’s Bride. But by now, Toma is an experienced artist, so it is nice to look at. The manga isn’t graphic, at least nothing that pushes its T rating to the limit. It’s almost surprising there wasn’t more sexual content or violence considering Asahi’s position and the state of the world, but the opening volume does have a couple of scenes that are supposed to stick with readers as much as they will remain in the characters’ heads.
In Japan, the English title is given as The Dragon’s Bride. Either way, both titles miss out on one of those kanji vs furigana moments. The 生贄 in the title is not how to write bride in Japanese. It’s pronounced ikenie, sacrifice. So while the title alludes to the fact that Asahi is both the sacrifice for the Water Dragon God as well as his bride. Note that the 水神 is literally Water God (Suijin), but he’s often associated with or portrayed as a dragon.
No honorifics are used. This could have been a series where a translator kept the Japanese names/titles like Suijin. This would have avoided the use of the word “God” and also debates as to whether the feminine-looking Earth God should be called Earth Goddess. Some manga don’t give their deities a gender since they’re, well, divine, but considering the Water Dragon God casually says he’ll make Asahi his bride, we can assume this isn’t the case here. One of those times where there’s no right or wrong but if you give the same script to different translators, there could be big differences in the stylistic choices.
That pretty much applies to the whole series, as this goes for a more mass market appeal, as most Viz Media releases tend to be.
While I was initially intrigued by The Water Dragon’s Bride, my enthusiasm had all but fizzled by the ending. The ending is not out of left field and tries to tie things together, which is good. However, the story had gone flat well before that and continues to the finale. It’s a stark contrast to the dark undertones of the opening.
Viz Media also released Toma’s Dawn of the Arcana.