I don’t resent authors seeing their manga get anime adaptations, believe me – it’s a big deal for them. But every time I see an adaptation of something mediocre, formulaic or worse (and more and more often these days it’s not even from a manga in the first place), I seethe a little. There are so, so many brilliant manga out there screaming for anime – Spirit Circle, Hi Score Girl (sob), et al. But none are better than Otoyomegatari, because, let’s face it – there’s just not much that is. I’ve heard all the reasons why it hasn’t gotten an adaptation – lack of commercial hook, impossibility of doing the art justice, all of it. But in the end, none of them are reason enough. This series has won almost every major award for manga, and for good reason – it’s unbelievably great. And it screams out to be adapted.
I’ll keep the faith that maybe, someday, Otoyomegatari will get an anime (like almost every other Manga Taisho winner has). In the meantime we do at least have Mori-sensei’s manga to console us, and it continues to be a marvel not just of peerless art, but masterful storytelling. Admittedly Mori is on strong turf here – the Karluk-Amir canon is without a doubt Otoyomegatari’s best face forward – but she’s really been on a roll with these last several chapters.
It marks something fairly new for Mori to be focusing on male bonding of this sort, not jut in this series but her entire catalogue. But that’s a good thing, because she’s (naturally) really good at it, and also because it’s great to see an author of her brilliance push herself by tackling new themes. Otoyomegatari is not primarily a Karluk coming-of-age story, but that is one of its major threads, and up to this point the dominant influences in his life have been women. As mature and resourceful a boy as Karluk is, he needs the experience of learning how to be a man from other men – and this sojourn to the wilderness with Amir’s kin is proving to be elemental in Karluk’s growth in ways he probably never imagined when he decided to pursue it (which was an act of exceptional maturity in itself, it should be noted).
Among the many skills Karluk is learning among the Halgal men is falconry of course – in this chapter it’s mounted falconry, which considering the birds weigh upwards of 13 pounds is no mean feat for a small boy. Mori-sensei’s mastery of animal forms is no less total than that of humans, of course, and she gives is a stunning confrontation between Karluk’s falcon and a fox – one which ends with Karluk’s first kill, and a very riled-up raptor that Karluk must soothe before he can retrieve it.
The most significant scene of the chapter, though, comes when Karluk goes to Amir’s cousin Joruk to get his
boot quiver (cracked due to stiffening from the cold) repaired. Karluk blithely asks the young man whether he or his relatives intend to marry – innocently unaware that under the circumstances, that’s a loaded question. Joruk’s conceals his barbs in good humor, and that’s mostly how they’re intended I think – but there’s a definite twinge of genuine envy in them. Karluk has something Joruk and his kin will likely never have – partly due to the transgressions of their father, partly due to Azel’s earlier imperiousness, but generally due to circumstances beyond their control.
Joruk’s pointed question of “If the guy is younger, how is he supposed to make his wife actually fall in love with him?” – in whatever spirit it’s intended – is far too on-point when it comes to Karluk’s insecurities for his comfort. Karluk knows that Amir loves him, certainly – but is she in love with him yet? That question haunts his thoughts, surely, and likely will for some time. Karluk is plenty empathetic and clever enough to understand the Halgals’ plight and to feel for them, but it also makes him appreciate what he has – an amazing wife who he knows is devoted to him, whatever his self-doubts. The arc, really, is about a noble child wanting to become a better man for the sake of a strong and proud woman he loves – and there’s a narrative purity to that which really shines through in Mori’s writing.
The art is, of course, effectively a character in Mori-sensei’s story in its own right – incredibly expressive as well as being exquisitely detailed. What comes across in reading Otoyomegatari is that there are no frames, no images that are simply good enough – Mori seems acutely aware of the emotional picture her images paint. The glint of the fox’s teeth as it bares them, Joruk’s wry smile and sad eyes, Karluk’s feet as he crawls under his furs, the ribbed supports of the yurt – one senses that Mori has a finished picture in her mind before her pens ever hit the page, and doesn’t rest until the two are matched to the tiniest detail. She’s an artist and a writer of almost peerless talent, and it’s a genuine privilege to be able to enjoy her work when she’s at the peak of her powers.