Does this water dragon even want a bride?

Title: The Water Dragon’s Bride (Suijin no Hanayome)
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Shogakukan (JP), Viz Media (US)
Artist/Writer: Rei Toma
Serialized in: Cheese!
Translation: Abby Lehrke
Original Release Date: April 4, 2017
A review copy was provided by Viz Media.

Not to be confused with the Korean manhwa The Bride of the Water God, despite a few similarities in the set-up, The Water Dragon’s Bride could technically be called an isekai story but in a different vein than usual. Instead of being about a teenage/young adult male character sent to another world, Asahi is just a child when she is pulled through a pond into another time and/or place. She’s not a hero or predestined for anything great, honestly at this point it’s a mystery why this even happened. This isn’t a new type of isekai story but this set-up is much more common to shoujo stories and even then it’s been falling out of vogue in the past decade or so.

Once in this new place, Asahi is simultaneously confused, scared, and sacrificed to a water dragon god of the village she landed near. Asahi is so unlike the local village maidens previously sacrificed to the water dragon that he decides to keep her alive for the time, although it’s debatable if this is a good thing for Asahi or not. Even among the gods we see the water dragon seems particularly emotionless and uncaring; he neither understands even the basics of humanity nor seeks to understand. If the story does indeed intend to make Asahi his bride in a consensual, happy relationship then it has an entire range of mountains to climb to get to that point.

While events happen in this story, plot does not. There are several conflicts set-up in this first volume (Asahi’s desire to go home, or at least escape the water god, the village boy Subaru’s desire to save Asahi and have vengeance upon his mother for sacrificing her, etc) but the story seems unwilling to commit to any of these plot lines yet. This volume is also almost non-stop tragedy which, instead of being sad, almost comes off as tedious instead. Tragedy requires stakes; the short amount of time the reader sees Asahi at her home or the short happy moments she and Subaru share are not a great enough promise of what will happen if Asahi and Subaru scale these obstacles. Adding to this problem is that the narration in the story is clearly Asahi’s and sounds as if she is looking back at this part of her life a couple years or more, indicating that it’s going to be a very long time, if ever, before she gets to leave, which certainly affects the tension.

Similar to the story, the art is wispy and indistinct. Rei Toma’s artwork feels more like a general idea of current shoujo art trends (the eye shape, style of color and shading, etc) than anything distinct. There’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with it but there’s also nothing notable, eye-catching, or engaging in the art either, three things that any visual series should strive for.

Overall this manga feels wishy-washy; it has stakes but without any rewards or consequences greater than we’ve already seen. The characters are simply too young to do anything, I don’t dislike Asahi for being a bit bratty or Subaru for being unable to do much but it does hinder the story. The water dragon mentions to Asahi that maybe he’ll wait until she’s older and a timeskip could really help this series, aging the characters up would give them more agency and a better ability to handle a bad situation. But until that point, this story feels like it’s missing some key elements to make it an engaging tale.