Two notes before I begin. For starts, I now do reviews on Tuesday, so look forward to that. Secondly, this is an ongoing manga. I’ll be reviewing what’s out of it (the first four volumes), but there’s definitely more to come. Anyway, with that out of the way… This week, I’m reviewing Otoyomegatari. It’s done by Mori Kaoru, who has also done Emma… Which I’ve heard of, but never read. From what I understand, it’s another historical piece though, so that’s kind of the niche Mori Kaoru writes in. Whereas Emma was a Victorian era romance, the setting for Otoyomegatari is a bit more unique (and I think more enjoyable for that). It takes place in 1800s central Asia.
I know, I know. It sounds a little weird. I mean, of all places and times to do a slice of life manga, why pick 19th century central Asia? It’s certainly different enough, but… It was just crazy enough to work. One thing Mori Kaoru does really well, from what I’ve seen, is to weave a very historically believable picture for the reader. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know the first damned thing about central Asian culture in that time period, but the picture the author paints is very believable and even interesting.
It’s a slice of life manga, so there’s not really a big emphasis on plot. The story starts with an event to marry Amir and Karluk, the main characters. They’re central asian nomadic people… Actually, nearly everyone in this manga is, except for Henry Smith, an English researcher living with Karluk’s family. He’s researching the customs and practices of the nomads here. Anyway after that event the story follows the lives of Amir and Karluk, and the various people they meet during their daily lives. If it sounds boring… I’m not going to lie, most people probably would find it boring. However, the setting is just so different than anything I’ve ever read before, and that alone keeps it quite interesting.
The characters are okay. Unlike a lot of slice of life stuff I read or watch, the characters don’t really make this story. They’re not particularly incredible or amazing in any way. They can be fairly enjoyable in their own right, and it’s not too hard to become attached to some of these characters. From the strong but sometimes vulnerable Amir, to the mature but still childish Karluk. Even Henry Smith in all his nerdy glory is fun to watch. They’re put into fairly interesting situations and sometimes the stories can span multiple chapters. While Amir and Karluk are the main characters, there are stretches of chapters where other characters will take the spotlight. For example, some of the more recent chapters have been focusing on Henry and his journey to Ankara. So the perspective can shift from time to time, but the story still feels the same.
I know I always say my artistic knowledge is bad and I probably wouldn’t be able to recognize some of the finer points of art if my life depended on it. Despite that, I like what I like and I know what I like. Otoyomegatari’s art is something I really like. The author does a wonderful job of really bringing the settings to life with how much detail is put into the characters and background. Everything looks really expressive and vibrant. The art is definitely my favorite part of Otoyomegatari. More than any other aspect of the manga, I think the art really drives home the uniqueness of the setting, and gives the reader a good appreciation for 19th century central Asia in a way I don’t think most people have experienced. It’s really something different, and in the best way I can think of.
Otoyomegatari is presented quite simply. The characters and plot are quite easy to follow. I suppose the only problem I can see is that you’ll confuse the characters from time to time. I read a lot of manga, and one thing I’ve noticed is that there are a lot of common names used in a lot of places. While that’s confusing sometimes, Otoyomegatari is confusing because the names are a little bit bizarre to me. Off the top of my head, I can really only think of four characters in the manga by name. I suppose I’m just not used to the names, but sometimes the author will bring up minor characters up again and I kind of have to sit for a minute and think ‘okay, this is who this is’. A major part of that is some characters just don’t have enough impact when they enter the scene, so if they leave and come back you’re kind of grasping to figure out who they are. That’s probably my only criticism of the presentation. Otherwise, the art and characters, along with the very basic and simple situations, make for a very enjoyable read. And, oddly enough, a read I think people of all ages could enjoy.