Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary Vol. 002

Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. Yen Press has released Volume 2 of the Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Asuna joins forces with the Sleeping Knights guild in their quest to defeat a major boss, but inwardly, she struggles with her ongoing attachment to the VRMMO game. When the time for battle arrives, will she be ready? And when Yuuki’s secret is revealed, what will the consequences be?

The Review

Asuna’s mom makes only a brief appearance at the beginning of this volume, as if to remind readers about Asuna’s horrible real life, and then the rest follows Asuna’s interaction with Yuuki’s six-person guild inside New Aincrad. No sooner have the Sleeping Knights explained their goal of having their names inscribed on the Monument of Swordsmen than Asuna is fighting alongside them.

As in Volume 1, the manga follows the anime storyline fairly closely. That means battle scenes make up the majority of these chapters. The fight sequences are occasionally difficult to follow, but one advantage the manga has over the anime is the Background Guide, which provides better understanding on player strategy and interaction within New Aincrad. With action driving the plot so quickly forward, readers don’t really get a chance to know the Sleeping Knights as individuals, with the obvious exception of Yuuki. I had trouble remembering the names of the five non-Yuuki Knights, and the only one who left any sort of impression was Siune, mainly because she pairs up with Asuna to provide backup support.

Collaborating with the Sleeping Knights brings out a different Asuna than we’ve seen in other groups. Within SAO, she was at the vanguard as one of her guild’s top fighters. The skills of the Sleeping Knights, however, far exceed hers so she can’t play the role of elite swordswoman. As such, even though Yuuki recruited Asuna based on her fighting skills, Asuna winds up as group strategist, guiding them past the hazards inside and out of the boss’ chamber, while Yuuki takes the flashy part of ultimate fighter.

Extras include embedded Background Guide notes, the title page in color, a bonus mini-manga about Asuna’s friends preparing food, afterword manga, and sketch from Reki Kawahara.

In Summary

If you like fight scenes and confrontations, you will get your fill as Asuna and the six Sleeping Knights strive to take down the 27th Floor Boss ahead of the other guilds. While Asuna does play a key role, Yuuki is the MVP of the battle. This volume focuses almost entirely on external challenges best faced with a sword, but as it closes, it looks like the struggles ahead are shifting toward the internal type.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 3

Fans of Satsuki Yoshino’s Barakamon can now get even more Handa-centric comedy. Yen Press has released Handa-Kun, a prequel series which chronicles the high school days of our favorite genius calligrapher. Read on for my review of Volume 3. (Click here for reviews of other volumes).

Back cover blurb

With the masses conspiring against him, wasn’t it merely a matter of time before poor Handa-kun came to grievous bodily harm? But maybe a bout of amnesia is just what the doctor ordered. Forgetting himself, won’t Handa-kun escape his greatest enemy of all? Uhhhh…maybe not.

The Review

In the previous volume, Yoshino-sensei introduced a couple new male characters; in this volume, we get new female characters. The first is Sawako Tennouji, the student council president. While it doesn’t look like she will be appearing as regularly as the self-declared “Handa Army” (i.e., Aizawa, Reo, Tsutsui, and Kondou), that doesn’t make her any less wacky. An extreme manhater, she wears a boys uniform and commands the admiration of the student council and all the girls at school. Not surprisingly, she sets her sights on destroying Handa, but she’s interesting in how readily she uses slander to take him down. It’s inevitable that she’ll fall victim to HND syndrome, but things take an unexpected twist when she inadvertently causes Handa to lose his memory.

In most manga, this would result in consternation; in Handa’s case, it’s a chance to see the student he would’ve been if he didn’t think everyone hated him. While he no longer has a persecution complex, Handa’s delusions take another form. Tennouji quickly drops from the foreground to be replaced by the Handa Army, who are unable to cope with the perky new Handa. The funniest part of this chapter is when the entire school rejects Handa because they think he’s another fake.

After the amnesia chapter, we have a chapter with Kawafuji, the one person who sees Handa as he actually is. A trip to the game center starts as an attempt to help Handa recover from the extreme methods used to recover his memories, but it quickly devolves into Kawafuji laughing at his friend’s expense. The Handa of Barakamon is notoriously inept at anything but calligraphy, and this chapter brings some of that physical humor to Handa-kun.

Then another person gets a glimpse of the real Handa. Enter Tsugumi, a schoolmate with a talent for palm-reading. She, like Tennouji, looks like a relatively minor character, and most of the energy from this arc comes from the reactions of the Handa Army. However, her reading of Handa’s future and how she interprets it should be hilarious to Barakamon fans.

Extras include bonus manga, translation notes, and an installment of “Handa-Kun News.”

In Summary

A man-hating student president and a fortune-telling classmate join the cast, but it’s still the wild comments of the Aizawa, Reo, Tsutsui, and Kondou foursome that carry this series. However, a bout of amnesia changes things up by bringing out a completely different side of Handa, and a trip to the game center with Kawafuji provides a refreshing break from the Handa-enthralled masses.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Little Monster Vol. 13

There’s the type of shojo manga where a girl really can envision herself as the heroine. And then there are those where the characters are constantly going off the deep end. My Little Monster falls into the latter category, and if your taste in high school romance leans toward the improbable and wacky, this title might be up your alley. Kodansha  has released Volume 13 of the English translation, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Shizuku and Haru have their happy ending, but what about their friends and family? Everyone is the hero of his or her own story. Sasayan, Natsume, Iyo, Yuzan—they all have their own tales to tell. What paths will they follow? Find out in this final volume of My Little Monster! Includes over 60 pages of extras after the story!

The Review

My Little Monster’s main arc ended in Volume 12, but the story isn’t quite over yet. Robico-sensei follows up with a hefty final volume comprised of four extra chapters and material from the My Little Monster Fan Book. While these extra chapters focus on the supporting cast, Shizuku/Haru fans should still pick this volume up because the setting for Extra Chapter 4 is Haru and Shizuku’s wedding. Given Haru’s family background, it winds up a huge western-style affair, and we get a rare chance to see Shizuku dressed up and out of her trademark pigtails.

Aside from the wedding portion, Extra Chapter 4 is also interesting because it follows the POV of younger brother Takaya, now a high school student. Though he appeared numerous times in the series, he rarely spoke or showed emotion. This story offers a look into his thoughts about his sister but, more importantly, delves into his surprisingly passionate feelings for the woman he’s in love with.

Love is also the theme for Extra Chapters 1 and 2, which focus on Sasayan and Iyo, respectively. Extra Chapter 1 revisits a number of past Natsume/Sasayan moments through Sasayan’s eyes. Extra Chapter 2, which is set shortly after the series end, is about Iyo’s obsession with “the red string of destiny” and an impromptu date with Yuzan.

Extra Chapter 3, which focuses on Yuzan, is a bit more complicated. It’s set just before Haru and Shizuku’s wedding so we get a glimpse of Yuzan’s political career, but much of the narrative has to do with the far past. If you’ve wanted more of the dysfunctional Yoshida family dynamic, this story is for you.

Following the extra chapters is the fan book material. Detailed character profiles for everyone from Shizuku to Sasayan’s baseball teammates make up the majority of this section, but it also includes mini-manga about Natsume’s daily life and the origins of the Kaimei Academy foursome. There are several four-panel comics, a couple games, and an overview of how the manga is produced as well.

In Summary

Past, present, and future are all covered in more than 200 pages of post-series extras. Four extra chapters focus on Sasayan, Iyo, Yuzan, and Takaya, but we get a pretty good idea of the entire cast’s happily ever when everyone convenes for Haru and Shizuku’s wedding. And if you’re interested in character details like Yamaken’s blood type, you’ll find it all in the fan book material at the very end.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 11

The contrast between city and rural life has been a source of entertainment since the time of Aesop’s fables. It remains a popular subject in manga and anime today, and joining the ranks of Silver Nina, Non Non Biyori, and Silver Spoon is Yen Press’ series Barakamon. Read on for my review of Volume 11! (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Damn it!! I’m getting married and leaving this crazy island!!!! (teary)

Handa’s parents’ true motivation for coming to the island is made clear-an arranged m-m-m-marriage?!!

Will handsome young calligrapher Seishuu Handa find the resolve to meet his fate?!

Add in a fight with the neighboring village’s own handsome young guy, Kazuma Higashino, and Hiroshi’s spate of delinquency, and you get the super-chaotic Volume 11 of this hot ‘n’ hearty island comedy, Barakamon!

The Review

The last volume left readers dangling with Handa’s parents springing a marriage meeting on him. It was the sort of event I thought would launch a new multi-chapter  trip to Tokyo for Handa. As it turns out, the whole marriage meeting issue gets resolved in a single chapter. While I’m surprised it wrapped up so quickly, the villagers’ reactions to the prospect of Handa marrying are pretty funny, and Yoshino-sensei does an excellent job of keeping readers intrigued about the woman who wants to marry Handa.

Then the focus switches to Hiroshi. The uber-ordinary teen has been sharing the role of anguished young man with Handa of late, and when he receives the results of his job interview, he gets super-charged fuel for despair. The ever-suffering Hiroshi generally doesn’t blow his top so to see him unleash a once-every-three-years rampage upon Miwa, Tama, and Handa is a hilarious sight.

After torturing Hiroshi about his future, the plot shifts to Handa and his past in an unexpected encounter with a former middle school classmate outside Handa’s house. “Dash” Higashino and his grudge against Handa over Handa’s house is a lot funnier if you’ve read the Handa-Kun prequel. However, even without knowing anything about their history, readers can still laugh at the way Dash goads Handa into a bet. Handa once more devolves into clueless city boy as he attempts to prove he can grow vegetables, but there is a shift from other Handa the Idiot episodes. While he still plays the fool, his actions this time are motivated by the attachment that’s grown between him and the village.

Extras include a bonus one-page manga, translation notes, and another installment of “Barakamon News.”

In Summary

The threat to Handa’s carefree bachelor life disappears almost as soon as it arises. While the marriage meeting arc is disappointingly brief, Yoshino-sensei follows up with a hilarious Hiroshi wild phase episode before launching into an arc involving a former Handa classmate. While it’s entertaining even if you aren’t familiar with their past relationship, it’s a lot funnier if you’ve read the Handa-Kun prequel.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 1

Most romances in Viz Media’s Shojo Beat line are targeted toward a high school audience, but Everyone’s Getting Married is actually aimed toward older readers. It’s twenty-something angst instead of teen angst, and you can read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back Cover Blurb

Successful career woman Asuka Takanashi has an old-fashioned dream of getting married and becoming a housewife. After her long-term boyfriend breaks up with her to pursue his own career goals, she encounters popular newscaster Ryu Nanami. Asuka and Ryu get along well, but the last thing he wants is to ever get married. This levelheaded pair who want the opposite things in life should never get involved, except…

The Review

Everyone’s Getting Married is a bit different than most Shojo Beat titles because it’s more josei than shojo. The character designs would suit a high school group, but the cast members are in their mid-20s, have well-established careers, and have had prior romantic relationships. And while shojo manga occasionally ends with a wedding, the heroine rarely thinks of marriage at the start. Here, however, marriage is the goal from the get-go.

It even opens with a wedding. Main character Asuka Takanashi is at that stage of life where her peers are getting married, and she thinks her own wedding is fast approaching–until her 30-year-old live-in boyfriend abruptly ends their five year relationship. As such, she’s thrust back into the world of couples mixers and matchmaking events.

Being back on the dating market isn’t horrible, but it is frustrating. Asuka wants not only a husband but one who will let her be a full-time housewife, and most of her prospects want a working wife. As such, her coworker’s roommate Ryu Nanami doesn’t even make the list. While the handsome newscaster respects Asuka’s reasons for wanting to be a homemaker, he declares in no uncertain terms that he’d “rather die than get married.”

The story reads like a contemporary Harlequin romance. The cast is small, and the plot focuses almost exclusively on Asuka and Ryu’s developing relationship. When the story does diverge from them, it usually shifts to their mutual friends Ono and Rio who are in the opposite situation (he wants to get married, she doesn’t). Other than being very good at her real estate career, Asuka’s a rather ordinary person. Ryu, on the other hand, has near celebrity status and a sexual reputation to go with it. But even though they are polar opposites in their views on marriage, they, of course, fall in love. The things that draw them together are kind of weak, but Miyazono’s illustrations do a fine job conveying their conflicting emotions and depicting the sparks that ultimately fly.

By the way, the series rating is “Mature,” but even though Ryu sleeps around and has a habit of kissing people when he’s waking up, there’s nothing graphic in the bedroom scenes (at least for now).

In Summary

Everyone’s Getting Married is a romance with an oft-used theme. Our heroine wants commitment; the guy she’s fallen for doesn’t believe in marriage. Aside from Asuka’s old-fashioned dream of becoming a housewife and mother, the story doesn’t have much originality, although that may change as we learn more about Ryu’s past relationships.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 10

The contrast between city and rural life has been a source of entertainment since the time of Aesop’s fables. It remains a popular subject in manga and anime today, and joining the ranks of Silver Nina, Non Non Biyori, and Silver Spoon is Yen Press’ series Barakamon. Read on for my review of Volume 10! (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

The cold north wind sets in on the island and handsome young calligrapher Seishuu Handa longs for his winter clothes. But instead of Kawafuji making the delivery, Handa’s parents decide to make their island debut–and come bearing much more than just winter clothes!

The Review

Our young calligrapher has been on the island a while now, long enough for the seasons to change. Volume 10 opens with the approach of fall and some goofy fun in preparation for cold weather. Then Handa makes the seemingly innocuous move of requesting that his winter clothes be sent to the island. The next thing he knows, his parents make that delivery in person. Thus, the island gets another invasion of city folk.

While there are the usual comic elements of rural life assaulting urban sensibilities, interactions go beyond simple culture shock thanks to two tagalongs. Apparently, when you are a master calligrapher, you can’t go anywhere without your agent watching your every move, and Seimei Handa’s agent just happens to be another member of the Kawafuji family. With Takao Kawafuji rounding out the roster, we have two artist-agent teams of different generations plus two parent-child relationships that provide plenty of fodder for insight, strife, and insecurity. The father-son calligraphy battle in the schoolhouse is particularly fun and clever. Not only does it demonstrate the differences between Handa and his dad as artists, it also brings the islanders in as participants.

Inserted in the midst of the Handa/Kawafuji family trip, we get a completely Hiroshi-centric chapter. Those who follow the Handa-Kun spinoff will not only enjoy the similar four-frames per page format but the string of misinterpretations that characterize the narrative. Given all the grief Hiroshi suffers at his village, it’s nice to see him appreciated at school (even if he doesn’t realize it).

Extras include character introductions, a bonus one-page manga, translation notes, and another installment of “Barakamon News.”

In Summary

It’s family bonding time on the island! Mrs. Handa provides an even more extreme level of Tokyoite-meets-country shock, but bumpkin humor aside, Yoshino-sensei explores our wacky characters from an intriguing new angle as parent-child relationships and expectations takes center stage.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Noragami Stray Stories Vol. #01

The Noragami Universe includes a manga series and anime. Now a spinoff manga  Noragami: Stray Stories has been released in English!

Back Cover Blurb

In a tale as epic as Noragami, sometimes details get overlooked, like how do shinki normally find employment? Is Yato ever useful? What happens when a god is targeted by a serial killer? Find the answers to these questions and more in this collection of short stories from Noragami creator Adachitoka!

The Review

According to the author’s afterword, Noragami Stray Stories are “diversions” from the main Noragami story. Indeed, the seven stories, each about 20 pages long, are the sort of short, fun works often included as a bonus in a volume of manga. However, as Adachitoka-sensei puts it, it was supposed to be a one-time thing and somehow turned into a series. Thus, these stories make up their own collection instead of being tacked on as extras in another book.

But even though Adachitoka-sensei refers to the stories as “a series,” they are standalone works. The only element connecting them is that they make fun of Yato. Readers unfamiliar with the Noragami Universe will probably get some jokes, like the ridiculously long fall in “A Story of a Fallen Man,” but this collection will be best enjoyed and appreciated by Noragami fans.

As mentioned above, the collection pokes fun at Yato. He might be a warrior god, but he’s not taking on malevolent spirits here. He only wields his sword twice, once to cut ties with a stalker office lady in “A Story of the Other Side of the Screen” and later to cut another idiot’s ties with bad luck in “A Story of a Fallen Man.” He gets roasted by his current and former shinki in “A Story of Exploring the Mind of a Shinki” and fails in an idol-style audition to become one of the Seven Gods of Fortune in “A Story of a Nameless God Making His Way Up In The World.” He also falls victim to a mortal swindler in “A Story of Mutual Deception” and the repeated murder attempts of a wannabe serial killer in “A Story of Conforming to Temporary Stereotypes.” Yato has a lot of weaknesses and quirks for a main character, and the mangaka doesn’t hesitate to capitalize on them in the name of comedy.

Other characters that figure largely in the stories are Yukine and Hiyori and the warrior god Bishamonten and her shinki Kazuma. Yukine and Hiyori serve mainly to call out Yato’s idiocy for what it is. As for the Kazuma/Bishamonten appearances, they mainly highlight Kazuma’s obsession for his god and provide blatant fanservice.

Extras include a character lineup, early sketches of Noragami characters, and translation notes.

In Summary

If you’re not familiar with the Noragami Universe, Stray Stories probably isn’t the best place to start. However, if you’re an existing fan, this collection will be a lighthearted addition to your library. There’s no overarching quest or storyline; these are just a bunch of silly one shots portraying Yato at his least dignified and most desperate.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sherlock: A Study in Pink Vol. #01

Sherlock Holmes has had many incarnations throughout the years, but Benedict Cumberbatch’s hyperpaced version in the TV show Sherlock truly stands apart. And now a manga adaption of the series is available in English from Titan Comics!

Back Cover Blurb

The Japanese Sherlock Manga comes to the USA and UK for the first time ever! Adapting the episodes of the smash-hit BBC America/Hartswood Films TV show that sees Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) tackling brain-teasing crimes in modern-day London, this stunning manga is presented in its original right-to-left reading order, and in the full chapters as originally serialised. Each oversized issue comes with a selection of BRAND-NEW covers by some of the best Sherlock artists around! #1 kicks things off with a 52pp special. Meet Sherlock and Watson for the first time… all over again!

The Review

I’ve reviewed one other comic adaption of a live action series (Game of Thrones), and while it had some good points, the art was a serious letdown. As such, I had reservations about Titan Comics’ release of A Study in Pink. It turns out I needn’t have worried. Mangaka Jay does an excellent job of rendering Benedict Cumberbatch’s and Martin Freeman’s likenesses such that they are not only recognizable but convey the essence of their unique Sherlock and Watson.

For those unfamiliar with the Sherlock television series, it is a modern-day take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective. A Study in Pink is based upon A Study in Scarlet, the first of the Doyle novels, but it is much faster paced and loaded with tongue in cheek humor. Our present day Sherlock is a self-proclaimed high functioning sociopath who sends snarky group texts while Watson is an Afghanistan veteran who blogs at the insistence of his therapist. As in the original, both men are struggling to pay the rent on their own, and a mutual acquaintance introduces them as potential flatmates. But while this Holmes has amazing powers of deduction like the original, his brilliance comes with an unfiltered mouth and a peculiar temperament. When Sherlock goes into a giddy excitement at a string of serial suicides, Dr. Watson gets swept into the first of his mysteries with his new roommate.

The manga adaption is not a scene-by-scene storyboard of the series, but it is quite faithful to the original script. In other words, if you’ve seen the series, you won’t get any new insights, but you will get to enjoy Cumberbatch’s Sherlock in a different media format. Regarding the format, Titan has chosen to release A Study in Pink in six parts, the first of which is 52 pages. I personally prefer my manga installments to be thicker than that, but the pages are supposedly oversized (I had a digital review copy so I can’t say what the actual dimensions are) which might make up for the thinner issues. At any rate, Jay-sensei certainly had enough space to narrate the story such that it flows beautifully and delivers an impact at the dramatic points. When we get our first glimpse of Sherlock, it’s a wonderful full-page close-up of his face. And while Cumberbatch fans might be most interested in those drawings, Jay-sensei’s artwork maintains a high level of quality in expression and realism throughout.

In Summary

A Study in Pink is definitely an excellent work in terms of pacing, artwork, and storytelling. In regard to the story, however, it doesn’t add anything to the television script from which it was based. So if you’re an existing fan who simply wants the TV series distilled into manga format or just a lot of black and white drawings of actors Cumberbatch and Freeman, this will fit the bill. If you’re a comic/manga reader who’s never heard of Cumberbatch or Sherlock, give it a try. Even if you’re not a mystery buff, you might just find yourself hooked into the fandom.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Heiress and the Chauffeur Vol. 1

A forbidden love between master and servant… That theme has formed the basis of many a romance, including Viz Media’s newly released historical manga, The Heiress and the Chauffeur.

Back Cover Blurb

Sayaka wears a crimson ribbon that signals she is at the top of her class, and her classmates all revere her. So when Narutaki ignores decorum and breaks school rules to protect Sayaka, will she stand by him or dismiss him as the school demands?

The Review

When I first read the title, I thought The Heiress and the Chauffeur was going to be a Japanese version of Downton Abbey. After all, Heiress takes place during the same time period as Downton, and its main characters are a very rich young lady and her servant. But whereas Downton was all about portraying the class differences in early 20th century British society with painstaking accuracy, Heiress‘ Taisho-era setting mainly seems an excuse to have a butler-type romance in period costume. The heroine Sayaka Yoshimura might attend a finishing school where they wear hakama uniforms, but she and her classmates have sensibilities more aligned with modern teens. Among the cast is a gaggle of self-proclaimed fans of Sayaka’s 22-year-old chauffeur Narutaki, and one fan in particular practically oozes otaku.

The cause of all their excitement, aside from Narutaki’s and Sayaka’s good looks, are the rumors that the two are having a forbidden love affair. Sayaka calls them nonsense; as far as she’s concerned, Narutaki’s a brother figure. That sentiment, however, is not mutual. Thus, we have a one-sided love on Narutaki’s part, a love he demonstrates by helping Sayaka through the various scrapes she gets into. And though Sayaka cherishes him as a friend, she’s utterly oblivious to his actual feelings.

This work is Ishihara-sensei’s debut series, and the manga does have a first-timer’s feel to it. Chapter 1 was originally a one-shot, and the illustrations are cramped because of all the details crammed in to complete the story arc. But even the panels of the subsequent chapters tend to be overcrowded, which is a shame because I really do enjoy Heiress‘ period costumes. Sayaka’s character profile also feels overloaded. She’s an heiress, she’s lame, she’s from an upstart family, she’s the “Crimson Lily” of her school, she’s ignored by her dad, and on and on. Narutaki’s, on the other hand, is a bit on the lean side for a leading man. He’s handsome, charming and in love with Sayaka just because. Fortunately, his previous place of employment is a bit of a mystery, which makes him somewhat more interesting.

This volume contains four chapters, each with its own arc. Despite their misadventures in those chapters, Sayaka and Narutaki’s relationship doesn’t really go anywhere, and given that Heiress is only a two-volume series, I wonder how far this romance will actually manage to progress.

Extras include an author afterward and the short bonus stories “Luca and the Bandit” and “The Promise from Four Years Ago.”

In Summary

If you’re looking for a historical romance with spot-on details, you’re better off looking elsewhere. But if you like devoted bishounen in servant attire longing for a love that cannot be, Heiress is worth a try. It does have its dramatic and poignant moments but for the most part stays a lighthearted story of one-sided affection.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Gods Lie

Most manga I read are series titles, but I recently had a chance to review The Gods Lie, a single volume work released by Vertical Comics. It’s a contemporary tale of first love amidst tragic circumstances, and you can read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

Natsuru Nanao, a 6th grader who lives alone with his mother, strikes up an unlikely friendship with the reserved and driven Rio Suzumura. Natsuru plays hookey from soccer camp that summer, and instead of telling the truth to his mother, he spends all his time with Rio and her kid brother at their rickety house, where a dark secret threatens to upend their fragile happiness.

The Review

When I read the title of The Gods Lie, I thought the phrase had an accusatory tone. As it turns out, the nuance of the words is actually more sympathetic. Our main character is Natsuru Narao who’s recently moved out of Tokyo. For the most part, he’s a typical sixth grader: loves playing on the soccer team, gets along with other boys, and doesn’t understand girls. However, he has his sore spots, and when a new coach openly pities the fact that he’s small and doesn’t have a dad, he ditches soccer camp. Not wanting to explain things to his mom, he instead hides out at the rickety home of his reserved classmate Rio Suzumura and her kid brother Yuuta, where he discovers she’s hiding a much more serious secret of her own.

The manga doesn’t include an age rating, but even though the protagonist is eleven, I would put The Gods Lie in the “13 and Up” category. In addition to themes of child neglect, there are disturbing images when Natsuru stumbles upon the secret in Rio’s garden. And even though both kids are in elementary school, they bear the weight of adult responsibilities.

Rio is a standard character for her situation. The oldest child of a deadbeat dad, she struggles to make ends meet, keep up appearances, and care for her younger brother, even as she clings to her father’s promise that he’ll return home. As for Natsuru, he’s the only son of a widow, and while having a single mom isn’t that unusual, they don’t have a typical parent-child relationship. When Natsuru’s mom is first introduced, I wasn’t sure who she was because he calls her by her first name and treats her like an older sister. He also grabs her breasts, which seems a bizarre habit. Boob-groping aside, he’s a likable kid, and his personal experience with disappointment and tragedy allow him to empathize with Rio more than others would.

Mingled in the midst of secrets and messy circumstances is also a story of first love. With Natsuru staying with Rio and helping to watch Yuuta, it starts off as a very realistic game of playing house. The interesting thing is that the more Rio falls for Natsuru, the more childlike she becomes. In essence, he allows her to put down the role of adult and be the twelve-year-old she really is. As for Natsuru, he wants desperately to save Rio, but because he’s also only a kid himself, his efforts fall short. Even so, there’s beauty in the moments of escape he creates for her and Yuuta. Ozaki-sensei’s shojo-style illustrations are about average overall, but the character expressions convey an amazing depth of emotion.

In Summary

The Gods Lie is part issues story and part young romance. While the ultimate outcome to the situation at the Suzumura household is predictable, Natsuru’s struggle to change Rio’s reality tugs on the heartstrings. And although melancholy dominates the mood, the manga manages to end on a hopeful note.

First published at the Fandom Post.