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.
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.
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.