Boy, it’s been a long time since the last chapter of Otoyomegatari – almost six months, in fact (Mori-sensei makes note of the sabbatical in her intro page). And given that this is really the only manga I’m covering at the moment (Chihayafuru is… on a personal hiatus, let’s say, and I grew weary of the long gaps between releases of Mix), that means no manga at all on LiA for almost all of 2017 so far. I don’t like that situation and I’d very much like it to change in the second half of the year. That of course would likely mean Otoyomegatari is being published more regularly, but I’m also considering the Rurouni Kenshin “Hokkaido-hen” (delayed till summer). And with the second half of the year looking very lean indeed for anime, I could use some high-quality to manga to bolster the schedule.
In Otoyomegatari I’ve sure as hell got one. This series remains as charming and stunningly beautiful as the day it started, even if some of the plot detours have taken away from the overall experience just a hair. “Wild Game” represents a return to basics in one sense – for the first time in a good long while we have a chapter devoted entirely to one of the main couple. But it’s rare for Mori-sensei to focus exclusively on the guys as she does here, and as far as I can remember this is the first time Karluk has voluntarily separated himself from Amir and commanded the stage.
That said, this chapter is very much an extension of a theme – Karluk’s struggle with being a child married to a beautiful and supremely capable woman. Karluk is a remarkably capable and enterprising boy himself, but it’s understandable that this would be an issue for him – there are certain obvious aspects of the husband role that he isn’t yet able (or at least ready) to fulfil . And he’s already been given a harsh reminder that another role traditionally crucial for the husband in this time and place, that of protector, is a big ask for him as well.
That’s why it’s quite ironic that Karluk should end up temporarily living with Azel and Amir’s other brothers to learn archery, since it was they who were partly responsible for Karluk having to defend his family in a life and death situation. Indeed, this comes up in conversation between Karluk and Azel when Azel inquires as to why the boy is so anxious to learn bow and arrow skills – Karluk doesn’t quite let slip the real reason, but the truth is awkwardly obvious to both of them. This is an important element of Otoyomegatari, because while marriages with large age differences were common in this setting it was rare for a boy this young to marry a woman Amir’s age. Karluk – for now – is forever desperate to become a proper mate for Amir, too much so to realize that she loves him dearly exactly as he is.
For Azel and his brothers, scraping out a life effectively in exile, hunting wild game is a matter of survival – but even in Karluk’s village this is generally the only way meat will be had, since the livestock are far too valuable to be butchered except in very rare instances. But for Karluk, protestations aside, that’s not what this is really about – it’s about feeling like a man worthy of a woman like Amir, and feeling able to protect his family should the need arise. And Mori gives some none-too-subtle foreshadowing that it will indeed – in historical fiction like Otoyomegatari, students of history can always have an idea of what twists may be down the road…