“Meeting the Batan”
Normally the most adorable couple in the universe arm-wrestling would be the headline, but that’s not the case here.
For my money, Otoyomegatari is the best manga running (though with hundreds of them out there, that’s obviously narrowed down to the ones I read). In terms of art I think it’s almost a slam-dunk, but Mori-sensei has also done incredibly writing here, creating some of the most appealing characters in years and some of the best slice-of-life romance to boot.
Now, though, she’s upping the ante – there’s plot happening, and it’s serious stuff. This is a risky change for the series and one I wasn’t 100% convinced would ever happen, but now that it is I think it’s proving quite gripping. The attachments formed with the characters (obviously Karluk and Amira most especially) are so strong now that with the prospect of bad times ahead, it’s impossible not to be very worried for them.
As usual, the trouble stems from two sources – Amira’s Halgal Clan and the Russians. As was foreshadowed in the last chapter, the Halgal Clan is in dire straits – the bride they married off to the Numaji clan has died and with no other girl to send, their grazing privileges have been taken away (that was why they tried to steal Amira back). For a nomadic tribe in this time and place, no grazing land is a catastrophe – and Amira’s father has decided the only way to get grazing land is to take it by force.
That’s all bad enough, but this is where the politics of the time come into play. The old man has decided to ally with distant relatives the Batan, who’ve joined forced with the Russians – and dangle Russian weaponry in front on him as an enticement to join up. The old man is desperate for revenge against Karluk’s family as well as the land he plans to take from them. But Azel sees the truth of the matter – the Batan are vile and corrupt and there are huge hidden costs to their too-good-to-be-true offer. As Azel says, the Russians have introduced these weapons so that the local tribes will kill each other off with them – and his brothers agree with him. But what does that mean when the will of the family patriarch is absolute law?
I’m not exactly sure where this is headed, but the warm and appealing scene at the end of the chapter featuring Karluk and Amira only heightens the sense of dread. No doubt with the armaments the Batan offered the Halgal could wipe Karluk’s village off the map, but I suspect Azel is going to prevent that from happening one way or the other (more out of a sense of protecting his own clan’s future than concern over the act itself, it must be said). Whether that means a warning to Karluk’s family or an outright rebellion against his father I don’t know, but there’s definitely going to be blood shed here – I expect things to get pretty ugly. I’m worried for Karluk and Amira, but not Otoyomegatari – Mori has handled everything else so flawlessly that I’m fully confident she’ll tell this tale brilliantly as well, however it goes.