“The Men’s Bath/Nice to Meet You”
Whatever your tastes, I imagine Mori Kaoru supplied some kind of service in these chapters of Otoyomegatari. Manservice, cat service, the usual service (hubba, hubba), food service… The woman sure knows her way around ink and paper.
“The Men’s Bath” isn’t really a full chapter, more along the lines of a numbered omake, so Mori-sensei can’t be accused of providing equal time, but it is a funny little diversion. Most of the fun comes at the expense of Mr. Smith, who’s quite unprepared for the somewhat… savage nature of the proverbial Turkish bath. I was put in mind of seeing the legendary travel writer Rick Steves visit one, and one got the sense that they haven’t changed all that much in the last century or so.
The bulk of the story continues to focus on Anis, who’s attraction to the women’s bath and a particular woman she saw there is growing all the time. She’s still lonely at home (the look that magnificent huge Persian cat gives her when her hug goes on a little too long is one of the all-time great feline expressions in manga), and her husband is growing increasingly uneasy about her ever-more frequent bathhouse visits.
It’ll be interesting to see where Mori-sensei takes this story. Anis’ husband seems like a genuinely decent man who loves his wife, but the bird in a gilded cage motif is growing more pronounced with each panel. And it’s obvious that Anis’ feelings about the woman who “reminds me of a cat” amount to much more than wanting to be friends. That woman’s name turns out to be Shirin, and she’s a wife and mother who’s family business is the dyeing shop near the village gate. She’s an infrequent visitor to the baths for reasons of finance (they’re a bit pricey, it seems) and is endowed in such a way that even Anis can’t help but stare and say “they’re quite impressive”. Given the exchange that follows, where Anis notes that her own breasts didn’t grow after the birth of her son, it seems likely that this physical difference is more than a matter of Mori drawing something beautiful as she can, but a symbolically important, er, development.
In the end Anis and Shirin agree to meet at the baths every day after it rains, and this relationship seems certain to be the center of this arc for as long as it lasts. I still don’t find it as compelling as prior arcs, to be honest, and I’d still much rather be spending time with Amira and Karluk. But there’s no denying that this story is providing Mori an opportunity to deliver some of her most staggeringly beautiful artwork yet, and that can’t be anything but a very good thing.