the gods lie. (神様がうそをつく。) is a single-volume, seinen, drama, romance manga that takes place during summer vacation and follows an eleven-year-old boy named Natsuru Nanao. Then he encounters a girl named Rio Suzumura who is the tallest girl in his class. Through chance encounters, they begin spending their summer together until one day Natsuru learns about Rio’s dark secret, altering the shape of their bond forever.
As I sat down to read this manga, I was somewhat aware of the fact that it was going to be sad and emotional. What I did not expect, was to be utterly floored by the depth of the narrative and its subtle exploration of various themes. This isn’t your typical novel where all the major themes are going to be laid out before you in an easy to consume format. This is distinctly a graphic novel; something that brilliantly utilises the artistic aspect of a manga to tell a story that is wholly character-driven. It’s not so much about the events or the tragedies that are explored here as much as it is about the solitary individuals that are affected and moulded by the experiences they are forced to undergo.
When the gods lie. begins, it feels like a soft, slice-of-life tale. We have a kid who is lonely and through a simple action alienates himself from his classmates, which then leads him to find companionship in an unlikely person. Yet, the more that we get to know about Natsuru and Rio, the more prevalent it becomes that the slice-of-life take is increasingly abnormal.
Natsuru resides in a single-parent household with his mum who is light novel author. Rio lives with her younger brother in an environment where her single-parent is mostly absent due to their occupation. They bond over the losses and the loneliness that they both share. I found their dialogue about one another’s personal history to be haunting. It created a small vortex in my gut that kept sucking away any semblance of happiness I felt by them discovering comfort in one another. There is just some facet about the gods lie. that triggers instincts in your brain to be on guard for the despair that is to come. Because of all these responses that I was undergoing, Natsuru and Rio started to feel precious to me; I wanted to protect them and to keep them safe.
The loneliness that Natsuru feels comes from being abandoned by one of his parents at a young age thanks to cancer. For Rio, it’s having both parents walk-out on her of their own volition. Parent A does it on a whim and Parent B does it for work. Abandonment in any form can create emotional feelings of inadequacy. It prevents us from building relationships out of fear of the people with whom we formulate those bonds with of walking out on us, or it makes us constantly question if there is something about us that pushes others away.
The same thing can be said when you’re dealing with loss and grief. Death is another form of abandonment. As a kid, it’s far more difficult to grasp it as this out-of-control or inevitable force of living; it’s not about them dying, but the fact that they’re gone. Most kids don’t recognise that these things just happen. Sometimes far sooner than not. At least with death there is no residual hope of the people returning that lingers behind to constantly taunt you or tease you.
The breath-taking artwork is what tells these kids’ stories. You can see the depth of their feelings eclipsed in a tear-soaked stare, or amid the fine lines around a half-forced smile. The mangaka uses expert placement and varying levels of shading to showcase the realm of grief, anxiety, fear, or plain and simple frustration, and occasionally even joy and warmth. The narrative is in the details. It’s actually a fundamental part of Japanese literature—the part that I’m such a humongous aficionado for—and being able to see it incorporated in a graphic novel was astounding to me. the gods lie. isn’t a manga that you can merely read to get the full-picture or the full bulk of the thematic power from. It’s one you have to take in visually and experience via its artistry.
The story in its entirety is not a happy one. It’s an exquisitely gut-punching, bittersweet telling of what happens when kids are forced to grow up too damn quickly. It’s a force of a nature that really puts into perspective the impact of tragedy and abandonment, and how those two things can influence the way those individuals will grow up. the gods lie. places before us the tremendous strength that a sole person’s kindness can make on those of us that are so terribly lost, broken, and defeated. Contrary to many reviews I’ve read, I don’t see it as “tragedy porn” or anything of the like. For me personally, it was graphic novel encapsulation of Japanese literature at its finest; one that uses the tools of penetratingly stunning drawings, simple dialogue, and sublimely subtle use of details to depict that not all moments of youth are light-hearted. Sometimes the essence of youth means learning the harsh reality of responsibility and the gratification of truth that resides within the most basic of lies.
If you enjoy Japanese works that are akin to Yōko Ogawa (The Housekeeper and the Professor), Julie Otsuka (When the Emperor was Divine), or Shuichi Yoshida (Parade), then I recommend that you read the gods lie. If you enjoy manga that are understated yet strongly evocative, then I believe you may enjoy this as well.
10 sunflowers outta 10.
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