Some of you may remember The Gods Lie, a single volume manga by Kaori Ozaki that Vertical Comics released in 2016. It was a powerful, thought-provoking story that I will never forget. Today I’m here to review Ozaki’s latest series, The Golden Sheep, to see if it can capture the same feelings as The Gods Lie.
The story begins with high schooler Tsugu Miikura returning to her hometown several years after her family moved away. Although Tsugu is nervous about returning to her old home, she’s eager to reunite with childhood friends Sora, Yuushin and Asari. Tsugu firmly believes that in all the time she’s been gone, nothing will have changed, but while things seem fine on the surface they’re frighteningly different underneath…
It’s not long before cracks begin to show in the friendships between the cast. Asari is jealous of Tsugu after she immediately becomes close to Yuushin again (whom Asari’s had a longtime crush on) and does her best as a ‘popular girl’ to get the rest of their classmates to ignore Asari. Meanwhile, Yuushin puts on a peaceful facade around Tsugu but secretly he’s been bullying Sora, to the point of Sora attempting suicide at the beginning of the volume. Sora’s the only one not to have been changed by the passage of time, and as Tsugu grows lonely she spends more and more time with Sora – but will she be able to get to the bottom of why he tried to kill himself?
This first volume of The Golden Sheep is a rollercoaster of emotions. Although it opens with Sora attempting to end his life and being saved by Tsugu, it then flashes back to Tsugu’s return to the town. This lays the groundwork to connect the dots of what’s been happening while Tsugu’s been away.
Even when just talking about Tsugu there’s a lot to take in. She’s part of a large family (five girls, including their mom) and it’s implied that her father’s no longer with them – although he isn’t dead, as it turns out. Tsugu’s father taught her how to play guitar, a hobby she loves and has continued to this day. If things get rough, she always has her music, a sentiment I can personally get behind.
Once you bring Tsugu’s friends into the mix, everything becomes that much more messy but not in a bad way. Each of these characters has a story to tell, a hardship that shaped them into who they are today, and that’s a story worth reading.
In many ways The Golden Sheep reminded me of O Maidens in Your Savage Season or a Mari Okada work in general. The way the cast are depicted, their lives up until this point and how things develop are very reminiscent of Okada’s way of storytelling. The balance of comedy moments with deep, mature topics that the author doesn’t shy away from is very similar. If you’re a fan of Okada’s work then you’re sure to enjoy Kaori Ozaki’s.
Another aspect I really liked about The Golden Sheep is how clean the artwork is. It’s very expressive and most panels are focused on the faces of the cast. While backgrounds are more often than not empty, Ozaki instead pours detail into her characters – and for a story like this one, I think it pays off. Of course when scenes do have backgrounds, they’re well drawn, it’s just that they’re not at the forefront of the mangaka’s mind as they were in The Gods Lie. Perhaps this is because more is conveyed via the characters than the setting this time around.
The only minor issue I have with this first volume is that there’s a very simple solution to Sora’s problems, but it’s not one the series acknowledges. Perhaps the direction it takes at the end of the volume is a little more true to life than I’d expect but even so, I’m going to need some convincing of that when we reach Volume 2.
This volume of The Golden Sheep comes to the West thanks to Vertical Comics and has been translated by Daniel Komen. The translation reads well and is problem-free. The release itself is what you expect from Vertical except for the matte (almost plastic-y feeling) cover which I’m not a huge fan of. It feels as though the cover has been cheaply printed and this kind of effect is easily scuffed up. The Golden Sheep has finished in Japan at three volumes and Vertical currently have Volume 2 scheduled for release in December, with #3 following in March 2020.
Overall, The Golden Sheep is off to an intriguing start. Mangaka Kaori Ozaki has crafted yet another thought-provoking and emotional tale that leaves you wondering what’s going to happen next to the cast. If you’re a fan of deeper slice-of-life stories, then this one belongs in your collection.