Manwha Review – Bride of the Water God (volumes 1-4)

Bride of the Water God, Vol. 1

I bought this for my niece because the cover looked great and I was told it would be fine for someone her age, but I wanted to read it first before I gave it to her.

The artwork, overall, is beautiful. Just like the cover, I found most of it pleasing to the eyes. There were instances of things like awkwardly long torsos or stiff poses, but for a comic I would say it’s better than average in the art department.

The story is what really hurt it. The basic plot is something we’ve probably all seen before: Somehow girl ends up with powerful guy, powerful guy is kind of a jerk but he has a heart of gold really (or so we’re always told in these kinds of stories). Everything felt incredibly rushed. For example, it probably wasn’t even ten pages in and she had been sacrificed. So, as you can imagine, when she’s calling for her mom later on because she misses home it feels incredibly flat. We didn’t spend any time with her family, how could we feel invested in her mother? Or any other family member?

Characters just popped up out of nowhere, announced themselves, and then were gone often, and sometimes they looked similar to other characters and it would get confusing. I guess Soah had a female friend in Suguk, but I don’t know what her name was, and she looked a bit like Soah to me so I wasn’t always sure who it was.

What this book really needed was to slow down. I can’t help but imagine what it would have been like if the entire first volume was spent setting up the fact that she was going to be sacrificed, and how horrible that was for her, her family and the village. If we got to see the people suffering and why they would make such a decision. And then, maybe at the end of the first volume, she ends up in Suguk. It would have given the reader time to get engrossed in the story and understand what’s going on. If I hadn’t read the summary for volume 1, I think I would have been extremely confused. I was confused at points even when I did know what was supposed to be happening.

I think the author might have been so excited to get into the cliche ‘love triangle’ portion that the rest of the story suffered. Very little actually happens, and yet the entire volume bounces around in a hectic dance of mini-scenes. She’s in Suguk meeting the water god? Oh wait, suddenly three new people. Who are they? We get some names thrown at us and I guess they’re characters now, even though I couldn’t tell you a thing about any of them.

Then maybe she’s suddenly getting lost and stumbles upon another new character. And at one point suddenly she’s going out with her friends or something, and suddenly dog. Just just appears and happens out of nowhere constantly. This story needed to stop and focus on one area for a little bit, establish that, and then move onto other things once it had a solid foundation.

From my understanding this is her first attempt at storytelling, and you can tell. It’s possible she’s improved her skill, so I plan on reading the next couple of volumes to see (I have 1-4). There are some cute asides/jokes in it, it’s just doesn’t have a strong enough narrative.

Bride of the Water God, Volume 2 (v. 2)

In the art department, it still looks pretty good as a whole. The main problems I have are that it can be hard to tell what’s going on when there’s action, and it can be hard to tell where characters are actually supposed to be. I am getting the kind of feeling like they’re floating around in space, because you can have panel after panel of nothing behind them. There needs to be more establishing shots that give a clear understanding of where they are. I barely ever have a clear idea of where they’re standing beyond what the character might say.

The story-telling has improved from the first volume, while the story itself hasn’t really. In this volume it finally slowed down to give it some focus. I had a better idea of what was going on, and there weren’t new characters being constantly shoved in my face. Some characters started to get some more backstory to them. So, it was a noticeable improvement in that way. The story itself, on the other hand, was sort of cliche and didn’t go very far. She spends most of the time trying to figure out if Habaek and Mui are the same person. It goes slow enough now that I can keep up with what’s supposed to be happening for the most part (although it still has issues with lack of transitions and bouncing around), but it really doesn’t take advantage of its setup.

I wish this this artist had been paired up with a good writer who could have taken the exact same ideas and made them incredible. I feel like she’s just interested in a love triangle and everything “big” about the story gets pushed into the background. The fact that Soah has been separated from her family and is in a new world is barely felt at all. As is being surrounded by dangerous gods. ‘Plot points’ always seem to come back around to how it effects her love interests, rather than being explored or developed on their own.

While I wasn’t wowed by the story in this volume, I did feel better about it than the last volume. If the author continues learning and improving with each volume I could see how she became very popular, because the art is quite nice to look at (mostly just needing more backgrounds, better establishing of the area around the characters, and better transitions). Long ago I read the first volume of “From Eroica With Love”, and while that series had a mediocre start the author learned quickly and at about the third volume I couldn’t put it down. This is Mi-Kyung Yun’s first try, and I can see improvements in the pacing in the second volume. While I’m not invested in the romance, I do hope that I see her honing her skills more in the next volumes, because there’s a lot of promising raw talent in her.

Bride of the Water God Volume 3

Like with the second volume, the story itself hasn’t really improved but the pacing is better than the first volume. In this volume, there’s more melodrama as Soah is sent back home and her memories are taken away. Of course, she’ll only remember Habaek if she really loved him. That’s pretty much it.

I got really confused with the part with Yeon-Hwa. When Soah goes back home, the villagers accuse their family of running some sort of scam to get money, and because of that she’s hated by the villagers. Of course, Habaek is hoping that she’ll remember his name when she sees him. Then, suddenly, there’s a girl telling/singing stories to kids and acting as a musician to earn money. Habaek appears to her and starts following her around.

I thought maybe this girl was supposed to be Soah, taking on another name and changing her look a bit to try and earn a living because the village hated her, and figured that’s why Habaek followed her all over. But then she ends up in jail and then she’s out of the story? I’m so confused. What did she have to do with anything? Why did Habaek follow her around? I have no idea.

The story still suffers a lot from obsession over who everyone loves and nothing else. For example, after three volumes, I couldn’t tell you a single thing that Soah is interested in. Hobbies or whatever. All that matters is who she thinks is hot. Same with Habaek. I can’t tell you anything about what he likes to do except be grumpy. As you can imagine, the same could be said for all the other characters, too.

There has been far too much saving of damsels in distress. In this volume in particular I felt like women were getting grabbed and guys were demanding ‘you know what’ before someone would dive in and save them. I’d like to see some of these characters take more initiative. Oddly enough, Yeon-Hwa probably showed the most initiative and I don’t even know why she existed. We can at least see her holding a job and demanding pay, even going as far as trying to rob people. With everyone else things mostly seem to just happen to them and they react.

Even with her being with her family we still see almost nothing of them, and when we do see something it’s pretty flat. I wish Soah would at least say something like, “Yeah, Dad, I kind of do hate you for selling me off” instead of puttering around passively. At least it would show some feeling besides pining for someone.

The artwork is the same as the last couple volumes. Nice, but also not necessarily good at showing backgrounds and space around characters. There’s often a lot of nothing behind characters.

Bride of the Water God Volume 4

So, this is the last volume I have and I don’t think I’ll be continuing on with the series. I enjoy the artwork, but the author needed a lot of help on this series. This volume dove back into being more confusing again. For example, Mui and Soah were talking when she was back at home. Suddenly, a girl who wasn’t there in the previous panels is clinging to Soah’s leg and yelling at Mui. I had no idea who she was or where she came from. It was only later that I figured out she’s probably Soah’s little sister. Who I didn’t know existed. It’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with this series. Because things aren’t set up, characters just appear and we’re told how they connect to Soah and that’s it. We aren’t shown anything to establish how they feel about each other.

Dong-Young appears and is apparently a childhood friend of Soah who is of a higher status and loves her. He proposed to her in the last volume and in this volume she accepts. There’s a bunch of melodrama about Mui being jealous that she’s going to marry someone else and wondering if they really love each other and such.

The story needed a big overhaul. She really needed a good writer to help her pull things together. Everything is flat because the story doesn’t do anything for characters to earn their accolades. Habaek/Mui talks about being deeply in love with Soah, and Soah is supposed to be in love with him, but what have they ever done? They’ve sort of grumped at each other a couple of times and that’s it. Does he even know her last name? (Does she have a last name?) We’re told how characters feel about each other but aren’t shown it.

Same with Dong-Young. He just appears out of nowhere and we’re told he’s her childhood friend, and that’s about the extent of his character. He exists to be a plot point and make Mui jealous. He just pops out of nowhere suddenly and we’re informed of their history, and there’s no feeling of a real connection at all because we never see them as childhood friends or anything.

Once again the story bounces back and forth between flashbacks and current times and it’s hard to tell what’s happening sometimes.

I haven’t talked about it before but I’m going to address the translation here. I do this all the time so I feel fairly confident talking about it. I should probably say I’m addressing the ‘localization’ in particular. I don’t know Korean and I haven’t seen the original comics, so I can’t say how accurate the translations is. It seems like it’s pretty competent.

There’s occasionally some awkwardly worded phrases. Generally, when translating something like this, I consider the goal to be making it sound smooth enough that it doesn’t sound like it’s a translation. I’m not talking about leaving honorifics like “-nim” in, though. That’s a choice, and something I’ve done in the past with certain translations.

There are places in the dialogue where it feels a bit too directly translated. To explain, usually what I do is I translate and then I smooth it out. This means cutting out awkward words to make it sound more like what someone would say (and it’s done even more extensively in subbing, because then people have a limited amount of time to read the text when it appears on the screen). So, to examine a bit of dialogue, here’s a line from the book:
“Sorry to say this, but I’m not going to back off. She was mine first.”

In this situation, Mui is arguing with Dong-Young over who Soah should be with. It’s perfectly understandable, but the wordiness of it takes away from the impact it could have, and it sounds more like a direct translation than how someone would speak in English. You could say the exact same thing something like this:

“Sorry, but I’m not backing off. She was mine first.”

Or something along those lines. It’s more direct, curt, and probably reflects the character more.

Does that mean I’m saying the localizer did a bad job? Not really. It sounds like an easy job but it’s not. It’s constantly balancing how much you want to change the original text, often worrying about losing the meaning or straying too far from the source, and using a lot of your gut feelings when it comes to what it sounds like. This can be especially painful when you love a work or have a lot of respect for it and don’t want to change anything. It’s more like an art than a science, and you want to do the original work justice.

I’ve also heard horror stories before about people translating/working on manga who were getting painfully underpaid, and to make anything close to a living wage they’d have to churn out a ridiculous amount of pages in a day. I have no idea what the job market is looking like in this field right now since I freelance and make my own schedule, but I could imagine there’s still some amount of expecting people work for low pay out of love for comics.

So in these volumes you do see lines that sound like a direct translation, but it is generally understandable (when you aren’t confused by the story itself, anyway).

The author has been pretty successful and made many more volumes of work since these. I hope she got some help with her storytelling in that time. Paired up with a good writer she could make some pretty incredible works. I’m not completely turned off from reading any of her works in the future, but I will stop reading this one and maybe check her out again with one of the later works.

I give it about a 6/10. The art is great, but it’s confusing and cliche. The author has a lot of potential that hasn’t been fully taken advantage of.

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