Kaori Ozaki has had some previous exposure to English reading manga audiences for her previous fantasy series Immortal Rain. Her latest work The Gods Lie however is very much grounded in reality as she presents a moving five-chapter story exploring how three Japanese children spend their summer together.
Natsuru Nanao is a 6th grader who lives alone with his mother and has just transferred to a new school after moving from Tokyo. An early blunder in his school year leads him to be ostracised by the female contingent of his class, but it doesn’t concern him as he is more focused on his main passion: soccer. However, he ends up striking 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 younger brother at their rickety house, where a dark secret threatens to upend their fragile happiness.
Like several of Vertical’s recent drama titles, The Gods Lie is a very honest and hard-hitting read that does not pull its punches when examining its themes. Whilst it is very much a coming-of-age love story at its core with the main focus being on Natsuru connecting with Rio on a far deeper level than any of his other peers, Ozaki takes the story much further, covering a multitude of themes – particularly child abandonment and coming to terms with death. The latter particularly runs through the majority of the narrative with Natsuru, having already lost his father at a young age, now facing a similar situation as his beloved football coach is slowly succumbing to cancer. Combined with the effect of his rather aggressive stand in-coach, this leads to his passion for the sport fading whilst his mother who is also juggling the responsibilities of a demanding writing job and raising a child by herself also been coming to terms with the loss of her partner and whether she can successfully raise Natsuru without him.
It verges into spoiler territory when discussing coming to terms with death as far as Rio and her younger brother are concerned, but I will say Ozaki does a great job of building up suspense in regards to why they are living in a house by themselves and the eventual reveal is both shocking and a real gut-buster at the same time. The best theme got across though is the effectiveness of white lies and if they are ever worth it (Natsuru’s father’s promise that he would recover, both Natsuru’s mother and his football coach’s assurance that his coach will survive his bout with cancer, and Rio’s father’s promise that he’ll be back from fishing in Alaska with all the real crab they can eat). They’re all told for similar reasons to provide temporary comfort, but Ozaki makes it clear that none of them work out in the long-term.
Ozaki is also an extremely talented artist to boot. Whilst there are a few examples of the zany over-exaggerated reactions that you expect in manga (mainly from Rio’s younger brother), there is a lot of subtlety to her work which really adds impact to several scenes (no spoilers again, but when Rio meets someone important she hasn’t seen in a long time, Ozaki manages to convey her emotions in a strong manner by only showing parts of her facial expressions and body language that is far more impactful than if she had just put her entire face out there). But when the occasion calls for heavy emotion laid fully out, there are plenty of strong examples of that too.
If you’re after a done-in-one manga and are looking for something new in the manga romance genre (whilst being prepared for an emotional barrage) I cannot recommend The Gods Lie strongly enough.
The Gods Lie by Kaori Ozaki is published 21 April by Vertical
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