Dokebi Bride, vol. 1-6
Story and Art by Marley
Translated by Michael Han (vol. 1-4), Ernest Woo (vol. 5), and Soyoung Jung (vol. 6)
Original Korean editions: Ecomix, 2004-2007
Paperback $9.99 US
ISBN-13: 978-1600090752 (vol. 1)
ISBN-13: 978-1600090769 (vol. 2)
ISBN-13: 978-1600090776 (vol. 3)
ISBN-13: 978-1600090783 (vol. 4)
ISBN-13: 978-1600090790 (vol. 5)
ISBN-13: 978-1600090806 (vol. 6)
Shin Sunbi has been born into a family of shamans. Like her mother and grandmother before her, she has the ability to see and communicate with spirits. Sunbi has been raised by her grandmother in a remote fishing village, but after her grandmother passes away, Sunbi moves to Seoul to join her father’s household. He remarried after her mother’s death and has a wife and stepdaughter. This is a transition that would be difficult even in the best of circumstances, and Sunbi’s situation is hardly that.
As Sunbi adapts (or mostly fails to adapt) to her new life, she encounters others who have an interest in the supernatural, including a professor of folklore, shamans, and her class president. And of course, her abilities get her into and out of various types of trouble. The story refuses, however, to settle neatly into a predictable “mystery of the week” pattern. And that’s because the real focus remains as much on Sunbi’s emotional life as her actual adventures.
Sunbi is not an entirely typical protagonist. Her anger at the world in general is not all that unusual; what’s unusual is the way her anger feels almost entirely earned. To compare this to another series–and one that I love, at that!–xxxHOLiC is very concerned with Watanuki’s socialization; over the course of the series he has to learn to let other people (Doumeki, Himawari, Yuuko, etc.) past his prickly edges. In Dokebi Bride, Sunbi is also not exactly blessed with shining people skills. But in her case, her prickly edges are a necessary defense against her difficult circumstances: most of the people in her life do not mean nearly as well as those close to Watanuki in xxxHOLiC. Marley takes a somewhat dimmer view of humanity than that. While I suspect Sunbi will eventually end up learning to deal a little better with other people, I don’t expect the series will ever have an after-school special feel.
The art in Dokebi Bride reflects its different tone. This isn’t a manhwa drawn in the typical art styles we see in sunjeong manhwa or shojo manga. It’s much less concerned with prettiness. The gorgeous covers are deceptive on this front, because the interior art–while interestingly detailed, especially in its depiction of traditional costumes–has rough edges. Some of those rough edges may be the result of Marley’s inexperience (this is apparently her first series), but I suspect others are intentional, like the frequent ugliness of characters’ expressions. Also, the characters’ figures themselves are drawn in slightly more realistic proportions than usual in sequential art. This is not a world filled with improbably willowy individuals; in fact, the opposite is true. (I am not sure whether the figures are actually a bit stumpy and short-legged, or whether my perspective is just entirely skewed because I’ve read too much CLAMP.)
In the end, I found this series more interesting than likable. I do appreciate that it veers away from many of the stylistic and narrative clichés of sunjeong manhwa and shoji. On the other hand, I’m quite fond of many of those clichés and often read manhwa and manga for the express purpose of seeing them used in new ways. So this ends up being one of those series that I have to be in just the right mood to read. It’s something for my library list rather than my to-buy list.
Dokebi Bride is published by Netcomics and appears to be in some sort of publishing limbo at present. No volumes or online chapters have been published since 2007. Perhaps it’s just as well I didn’t quite fall in love with this series–my odds of getting more any time soon appear to be rather low.
Many thanks to skg for the loan of the reading copies.