As I started reading this chapter of Otoyomegatari, what struck me (as I think it would most anyone) was the eagle. Seriously – who gets out of bed in the morning and thinks they can draw that? At times like that I understand why any studio would be somewhat terrified to try and bring this series to the screen (though there are far more cynical reasons why it hasn’t happened), but even so, how I long to see it. As beautiful as Mori-sensei’s drawing is, her characters are no less important in making “A Bride’s Story” a masterpiece.
In many ways, this arc is the one that Otoyomegatari has been building towards from the beginning of the series. Right from the start Mori has been dancing around the elephant in the room – namely, Karluk’s sense of inadequacy as a husband for Amir. She frequently hints at the depth of the issue but has never confronted it head-on like this. It’s wonderful that she can draw a manga built around a woman as strong, resourceful and remarkable as Amir. But if you’re going to also give us a 12 year-old husband and make him remarkable in his own right, you can’t avoid this subject forever. Karluk is too perceptive to not feel the way he does.
It’s quite appropriate that this should all have come to a head with Karluk going to stay with Amir’s brothers, because it was when her family attacked Karluk’s village that this issue was most directly addressed before now. Azel and his siblings are important to this story, and important to Amir. In having them be the ones to take Karluk aside and help him come to terms with his desire to grow stronger, Amir is extending an olive branch to her family (though it was of course Karluk’s idea) – this is a new connection forming between estranged siblings. It’s also an opportunity for Karluk to prove to Amir’s family that he really is the man to be at Amir’s side.
This arc is also an opportunity for Mori-sensei to show she can be brilliant at a male bonding arc, and she might as well because she’s already proved it with just about everything else over the course of Otoyomegatari. Azel and his brothers are clearly the right ones to lead Karluk on this journey – their relationship can be rougher and more honest than with his own male relatives, but they aren’t cruel to him – just firm. And if they weren’t, that would crush Karluk – because the last thing he wants is those stronger than him treating him like a child.
The life the brothers lead in the wilds is a hard one, especially with winter coming. They hunt, and what livestock seems unlikely to survive the winter they butcher – a task they leave mostly to Karluk. And they hunt not just with bows, but eagles – and this too they teach Karluk. With eagles, the female is bigger and stronger than the male – a fact which hits a little too close to home when Azel shares it with Karluk. Of all Mori-sensei’s impressive artistic skills, I think the way she draws animals may be the most stunning – and these eagles are no exception.
The climactic juncture here, however, comes when Amir arrives for her weekly visit to Karluk. Everything that’s right and wrong in their relationship is on display here. Right is love, which will in the end surely conquer all the wrongs – it’s obvious that the love these two share is deep and profound. But it’s still a protective sort of love with Amir, maybe even maternal – and the more tender she is with Karluk, the deeper it wounds him. For Karluk to ask Amir to reduce her visits to monthly hurts her, but it hurts him too. But as Baimar observes, what Karluk wants is for Amir to see him growing into a man – and it’s hard for her to do that when they’re never apart for long. As painful as this turn is, it’s another stage in Karluk’s growth – into “the husband Amir deserves”, as Karluk sees it. What he can’t see yet is that in the larger sense he already is, but that realization, too, will come with maturity.