Well, that was certainly an Otoyomegatari chapter unlike any other so far. But never let it be said that Mori-sensei is a conservative mangaka – she tests the rules and follows her own path when it comes to format more than most others in the field, and this series has been no exception.
What we got a whole lot of from Mori in this chapter is manservice, which apart from the occasional torso shot of Karluk (which hardly counts) is rather cutting against the grain for her. Most of it comes courtesy Amira’s brother Azel, last seen in the dramatic chapters featuring the raid where he and his clan tried to steal Amira back from Karluk and his village. Azel didn’t seem like the bad guy there – it was his father who was the villain of the piece – and this is reinforced by the portrayal of him here as a rather sober and modest fellow taking care of the family horse herd (no small job).
Mori-sensei does venture onto more familiar territory with scenery porn and animal art, both of which she delivers with more style and beauty than any mangaka working today. Horses are a fine subject for her discerning eye, both in motion and at rest, alone or moving as a pack. There is a larger point to the chapter besides all the pretty though, and that’s the trouble brewing on the horizon as a result of the family lacking sufficient grazing land for their horses (sheep occupying most of the available land, seemingly). Azel’s father, in the opinion of he and his brothers, seems to be gearing up to try and take more land by force – not an uncommon mode of acquisition in this time and place.
It’s interesting and well-presented, and it goes without saying that it’s gorgeous. But there’s always a bit of mixed emotions when we get an Otoyomegatari chapter that’s slightly off-topic, because we see new chapters rarely enough that one passing by without any Amira or Karluk is a bit sad. That’s especially the case given the explosive nature of their relationship in the last chapter, maybe the best in the entire series. But it’s been an open question as to whether Mori was going to spin a larger plot that tied all her “Young Bride’s Stories” together, and this chapter may be the strongest evidence yet that the answer is yes.