Manga Read Along: Red River Vol. 3 – The Damsel’s in Distress

Oh my, oh my, oh my. I forgot just how uncomfortable some these story arcs could be. This volume is divided between the conclusion to the business with Zuwa the barbarian and a new arc that pits Yuri against the foe that is almost as persistent as Queen Nakia– sexual assault. When I committed to review the entire series there was a volume that I really was dreading talking about because of this issue and completely forgot how early other instances of Yuri narrowly escaping an attempted rape start cropping up.

After escaping the temple with Zuwa hot on her heels, Yuri bumps into a bearded man. He is Tito’s father and is still laboring under the misconception that Yuri killed his son. Talos wants vengeance but instead of killing her himself, he decides to give her one chance to prove her innocence in a trial combat. He might let her live if she can slay Zuwa and he even gives her choice of weapons from his smithy so she doesn’t have to face him unarmed.

Yuri doesn’t balk at his terms as she believes herself culpable in Tito’s death and that this something she’d have to do sooner or later anyway as part of the reason she stayed was to avenge her friend. There are many fine swords to choose from but Yuri selects a rusty iron dagger from the workshop. When Zuwa catches up with her, she flees to the city wall, not quite ready to attack a man with the strength of rampaging bear.

Kail and the sisters, that have deduced that Yuri is still alive and in danger, arrive at Talos’s smithy just after she leaves. Kail tries to explain that she was innocent all along but Talos had doubts from the beginning concerning her guilt. The real reason he sent her to face Zuwa was to test if she really was Ishtar in mortal guise. Choosing the iron dagger gives him great confidence that will triumph over the much stronger man.

Kail follows her to the wall, only to look on in horror as Zuwa corners Yuri. He’s too far away to do anything to save her. Yuri lashes out with her dagger and when her blade crosses against Zuwa’s bronze sword, his shatters like it was made of glass. Iron is much tougher and rare metal and Talos is one of the few that knows the secret of how to make it. Yuri is feeling confident after disarming him and attacks again. Zuwa is still stronger than she is and tosses her like a rag-doll. He looms over her while standing on one of the parapets. Yuri stabs the blade into the parapet and the bricks crumble into dust beneath his feet, and he tumbles to his death just as dawn breaks.

Yuri stands on battlements with her knife raised high and the Hittites gather around the body below. It’s a really cool moment that pops visually as Yuri poses triumphantly. Now that she had killed one of their most hated enemies, people have few doubts that she is a living goddess. This is really a moment of glory for her as it shows both her bravery and resourcefulness. Slowly but surely, Yuri is growing tougher and more mature. Kail is relieved that she survived the ordeal and the sisters beg her forgiveness now that they know the truth. Yuri isn’t one to hold grudges (even when she should with the sole exception of Queen Nakia), but Kail wants to hire them to be Yuri’s bodyguard and personal attendants – a great honor to serve a royal concubine. Talos pledges that his iron working skills are hers to command and Kail’s by extension, making the Hittites the most technologically powerful kingdom in the region.

They return to Hattusa and Kail receives great praise from his father. The secret of iron-working comes none too soon for the Hittites as it looks like they are about to go to war with the Mitanni empire. The king has summoned all of Kail’s brothers from all corners of the kingdom to lead the war effort, including his favorite half-brother Zannanza. The king orders Kail to take Yuri into battle with him against the Mitanni as her presence will boost morale.

In the meantime, Yuri is doing her part to learn how to ride and fight with a sword. The sisters are also trying to teach her how to be more feminine and act like a princess, but Yuri refuses. She believes that she is just so plain and ugly that it’s pointless to dress her in fancy silks. This is something that has always bothered me about her. It’s supposed to be part of her appeal as an every girl. Her personality is so broadly drawn that you can believe that she is just like you. Frumpy just like you are, Japanese teenage girl who is reading manga rather than going on dates. Objectively, Yuri is not significantly less attractive any other woman so this attitude she has towards herself is a bit baffling. The only way she physically differs from other female characters is that some of them are older and Yuri is the only one with fluffy 80’s hair. How is she maintaining that thing without any hairspray anyway?

When Zannanza, Kail’s brother by another mother, arrives, he wants to meet Kail’s new woman, this creature who must be extraordinarily beautiful to convince his brother to take her as concubine. Zannanza mistakes Hadi, the eldest of the three sisters, for the woman in question.

As the brothers make preparations for war, Yuri becomes increasingly distraught due to her developing feelings toward Kail as a powerful prince is out of her league. Kail seeks her out as she is mopping alone later and admits to her that he is not happy that his father has ordered her onto the battlefield. They are thinking only of her strategic value when Kail is worried about her safety. He alone knows the truth, that she is not a goddess but a misplaced time traveler forced to survive in an extraordinary situation. He doesn’t want her to face anymore danger for his sake and offers her a chance to get out the coming war. If she doesn’t want to remain with him, he can find a way to protect her from his father’s ambitions by sending her away from the city. Yuri is conflicted but elects to stay, promising to herself that she will safeguard her heart from the prince’s charms.

Oh, honey. You aren’t very genre-savvy are you? I’ve read (and written) enough romance novels to know that saying “I will not fall in love with X!” is like challenging the gods of love. Sure enough, you will fall in love with X. It’s the romance genre equivalent of the skeptic in horror fiction. The person who denies that there is maniac living in the abandoned house on the hill is always the first to be dismembered by a chainsaw. Her vow lasts all of two panels as they share a passionate kiss.

Queen Nakia is not happy at all. Her machinations backfired during the siege as the victory over the barbarians and Yuri’s miraculous resurrection and slaying of Zuwa only bolstered Kail’s reputation and standing at court. Now that Kail and his brother have joined forces, any victories they might win during the campaign against the Mitanni will only grow Kail’s influence and he might even end up replacing the crown prince as heir to the throne. She is desperate to drive a wedge between their alliance.

Zannanza, after being around Yuri while assisting in her sword training, becomes a little taken with her. He understands that what she lacks in looks, she makes up for in character. His fascination grows when they are invited to a royal feast in the king’s palace. The other princes are in attendance and Kail’s retinue of just Yuri is Spartan compared to the other royal sons who have a gaggle of wives and concubines. Yuri comes in a plain stolla and Nakia almost kicks of her out for daring to appear before the court in shabby garments. The sisters, fearing that this might happen, brought a beautiful gown and have Yuri change into that. When she makes her reappearance, every eye is drawn to her and even Kail is stunned by how nicely she cleans up. Nakia’s notices Zannanza’s desirous look and knows she’s found her wedge.

Here’s where is starts to get uncomfortable. Ilbani, Kail’s advisor, also notices Zannanza’s infatuation and corners him at the party to politely tells him to find a woman of his own and stay away from Yuri. Nakia sends him a goblet full of her magic mind control water mixed with wine and after he drinks it, she whispers in his ear to go take what he wants. After the party, he sneaks into Yuri’s room as she’s undressing and tackles her when she tries to run. Yuri screams and Kail comes running. When he bursts into her chambers to find her pinned under Zannanza, Kail socks him one. Zannanza grabs the struggling Yuri and jumps with her off the balcony. He flees the city with his captive on horseback. Yuri is afraid but notices his crazy eyes and immediately suspects he’s under Nakia’s influence.

Kail has to beg his father for permission to chase after his half-brother. It’s a great humiliation for him to let a private squabble turn into a public affair and gives his reputation in the court a black eye. He rides for several days, always just missing Zannanza and Yuri as they pass through cities and towns, but he does gather enough information to determine that they are headed for a city on border the Hittites share with the Mitanni.

A badly dehydrated Yuri tries to reason Zannanza but her pleas fall on deaf ears. As soon as they arrive at their destination, he gets them and room and starts ripping her clothes off. She begs him not to but he promises that he will love her more than man and even make her his legitimate wife, something that Kail can’t commit to. He also admits that he is seething with jealousy towards Kail, a legitimate royal heir who enjoys a position far above Zannanza, a royal bastard who’s not in the line of succession.

This is a very uncomfortable scene made more by Yuri’s internal monologue where she expresses her disgust with what is happening to her and her helpless for not being able to fight him off. Unfortunately, this not the last time this is going to happen, and this is not even worst instance of attempted rape. If my memory serves me right, she is going to be nearly assaulted by about four different men with far worse motives than Zannanza. Some of them try it multiple times. What I find most bothersome about the over reliance of this trope is how easily these guys get let off the hook for their actions. Yuri reconciles with most of them and there doesn’t appear to be any lasting repercussions for it. While I don’t think Shinohara is eroticizing it per say, it is almost like she’s passing this off as ‘men can’t help themselves so it’s big deal.’

Luckily, before Zannanza can finish what he started, the Mitanni attack the city and set fire to the inn. Zannanza and Yuri flee but they are quickly surrounded by Mitanni soldiers. Zannanza tries to fight but he is so cloudy-headed from the mind control water he can only offer a weak defense. Yuri pile drives him and he spits up the magic water. With sanity returned, he is ashamed of what he nearly did and starts fighting like an enraged bear. He kills many invaders but he’s still one man against an army. Zannanza bids Yuri to pick up a sword and put her skills to the test. Fighting back to back, they send the Mitanni into retreat and capture one soldier that they threat until he gives up the extent of their battle plans.

They learn that the attack is spearheaded by Prince Mattiwaza, the Mittani’s most brutal general. He’s also the second guy who’s going to manhandle Yuri. The volume ends with Yuri having the grim thought that if the Mitanni succeed in their raid, and it looks like they will as the Hittites were ill-prepared for the attack, they will have a foothold to enter Hittite territory from.

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