Akane Torikai – a manga creator whose star is rapidly rising in Japan – makes her English language debut with Sensei’s Pious Lie this month. Misuzu Hara is a quiet, reserved 24-year-old high school teacher whose world is turned upside down after her friend’s fiancé rapes her. Her attempt to connect with one of her students, himself a victim of sexual trauma, results in an unlikely romance, and the repercussions of these events affect everyone around them in often unpredicatable ways.
As you can gather, this series covers several sensitive topics that many readers will be able to relate to. As far as it has progressed in many ways, Japan still has a way to go when it comes to gender equality for women. Torikai is brutally blunt with her assessments on how the power structure is balanced and the impact it has on women. But what makes it extra effective is pairing this issue together with a high school setting where various students are discovering themselves in ways that play into this issue.
Misuzu is a complex leading character whose outlook has been severely impacted by the rape she suffered at the hands of her friend’s fiancé. This is further complicated by her continuing to see him and having somewhat of an attraction to him despite his aggressiveness and emotional blackmail. Her conflicting emotions as a result lead her to have a very negative outlook on women’s position in society with her even considering the possibility that she was somehow to blame for what happened to her. When she has a meeting with one her students Nizuma – who has been the subject of gossip that he has been having an affair with an older woman – and finds the rumours about him are true, she is quick to suggest he brush it under the rug.
Nizuma is also a complicated figure, having been forced into partaking in the affair by an older woman at his part-time job and is struggling with a mixture of guilt and confusion. As a result, he has a fear of the female private area he cannot explain. Upon hearing this, Misuzu theorises it is because of his inherent guilt over the unfair power men have over woman and it is something he’ll just have to live with. As someone who is still growing up, Nizuma can’t fathom this idea as he still believes men and women are equal. This exchange is what sets the spark for the growing chemistry between the pair with the clash of outlooks and ideologies being frankly discussed with no sugar-coating. These are issues that require an author like Torikai who is not afraid to pull her punches.
Additionally, Torikai is a terrific artist. This is a very raw work that doesn’t intend to glamorise any of the topics at hand, which in the hands of another artist may well have been the case. There are plenty of scenes that depict intense and abhorrent actions that are very honestly depicted. This is further enhanced by Torikai’s skill at expressing emotions, with Misuzu in particular conveying powerful expressions of guilt and disgust.
This is strong opening volume that does a tremendous job of exploring both adolescence and female inequality in Japan. Torikai is definitely a creator manga fans need to keep an eye on.
Sensei’s Pious Lie 1 is out 28 April from Vertical (9781647291129, p/b, £20.99)
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