The Water Dragon’s Bride Volume 6 by Rei Toma
One would not normally expect a fantasy series about a girl from modern day Japan falling through worlds to end up in a quasi-medieval land where the lives of humans revolve around appeasing gods to contain a dense philosophical exploration of what it means to be human, with a side meditation on man’s inhumanity to man, but that’s exactly what the reader gets in The Water Dragon’s Bride. Toma’s masterful storytelling is on full display in the 6th volume, where there’s a dramatic emotional breakthrough with Asahi and her Water Dragon God.
All along the Water Dragon God has been transformed bit by bit due to his close exposure to humans. He doesn’t exactly understand humanity yet, but he’s a great deal more sensitive and caring than the person he was in the first volume who just sat back and let a young Asahi starve to death because the concept of providing food did not occur to him. When the Water Dragon God continues to see that the other humans are going to still persist in trying to control Asahi due to her standing as priestess, he decides that she can’t remain in the human world, and she needs to exist by his side with no more pain. The solution the Water Dragon God hits on is to trap Asagi in a bubble in his world, where she experiences a day of her being a normal high school girl with Subaru over and over again until she begins to sense that something is wrong with her fake new existence. I’m always in awe at what Toma can do with her minimalist yet highly effective approach to illustration. Seeing Asagi trapped in her bubble in the world of the Gods while they discuss her is visually arresting, as the formless world is intercut with scenes of the dream in modern Japan that Asagi slowly realizes is not real.
The power dynamic between Asagi and the Water Dragon God is so unequal, but she manages to break his spell, raising a question about how much power she actually has over him. So much of this volume is expressed through the internal thoughts of the characters, with brief dialog that evokes all of the unsaid emotions as seen Asagi and the Water Dragon God share a “Good Morning” greeting after she breaks out of her water bubble. He decides after his attempt to trap Asagi in a dream that he will set things back on their original path, but can Asagi really go home again after everything she’s experienced? I’m genuinely not sure what to expect from this series next, which makes it such a pleasure to read.