Kaori Ozaki is best known for her previous stand-alone piece the gods lie – a deeply moving story about young love and child abandonment. Three years on, we have a new English language release from Vertical of her latest series – The Golden Sheep. Tsugu Miikura, a high schooler who loves to play guitar, due to family circumstances, moved away from the rural town where she had spent her childhood. After several years, she’s back in her old hometown. She reunites with her childhood friends – Sora, Yuushin, and Asari – the friends she’d buried a time capsule with back in elementary school. Tsugu is overjoyed to be with her friends once more, but the bonds that she thought would never change have in fact started to grow major cracks…
As has been established in her previous works, Ozaki pulls no punches when it comes to emotional impact. It helps that she has a brilliant grasp of how the minds of younger people work. The main theme of the manga being the impact of distance and moving away provides a perfect backdrop to explore some difficult themes that many can relate to. Her main characters have all grown up to be very different people which allows her to cover a variety of issues that impact young people. Her portrayal of bullying is particularly harrowing with Sora receiving some brutal treatment from a former friend which crosses over into the sadistic side of things, and Tsugu herself being ostracised because of simple misunderstandings.
Ozaki also doesn’t waste anytime getting inside the head of those dishing out the bullying. Whilst it is never to the point of saying their behaviour is acceptable, the reader is given a clear look inside the head of the bullies and at how they justify their actions. Yuushin finds himself in a situation where he has no positive father figure in his life which leads him to falling in with the wrong crowd and Asari is paranoid over her long-term crush to the point where she feels the need to ostracise her friend for simple misunderstandings. It’s only the first volume and Ozaki has already put together a great cast of well-rounded characters.
Ozaki continues to excel in the art department with a style that favours subtly over the more exaggerated approach that is mainly used in manga. Yuushin in particular is a perfect character for her approach as he internalises a lot of his emotions and presents a rather cold exterior. On the other end of the spectrum, Tsugu is a character who wears her heart on her sleeve and is at the core of many of the heavier moments of the volume. Ozaki may have a subtle approach, but it will hit you like a ton of bricks when the emotional moments happen.
This is a fantastic opening volume and another example of why Ozaki is one to watch. Fans new and old should definitely check it out.
The Golden Sheep is out 26 September from Vertical
9781947194809 – P/B – £10.99