Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Gods Lie
Sixth grader Natsuru Nanao is a relatively recent transplant to his town. He lives with his widowed novelist mother and loves playing soccer until his elderly coach ends up in the hospital. Faced with a new coach he doesn't like and a life that just isn't going the way he wants it to, he finds solace in befriending Rio Suzumura, a quiet and solitary girl in his class. The two of them forge a friendship and deeper relationship in their own little world where no adult has the power to hurt them and all lies have the potential to come true.
There are many different kinds of lies: small ones, harmful ones, and, most insidious, the ones you desperately want to believe. There comes a point during growing up when you begin to understand that last kind while still actively denying it, and sixth graders Natsuru and Suzumura are living it. Both sixth graders feel displaced from their own lives and their peers in general: Natsuru lives with his widowed mother, a light novel author, which just compounds the fact that he doesn't have a father by being an embarrassing profession. Suzumura, meanwhile, is trying to take care of her younger brother while they wait for their fisherman father to come back from Alaska. Both of them know that there's something more going on, but neither wants to believe it as they struggle to grow up while still remaining children.
Readers may recognize Kaori Ozaki as the author of Immortal Rain, which Tokyopop released eight volumes of in the early 2000s, and while the gods lie is a much newer work, it is still very recognizably hers – Ozaki appears to have a limited supply of character designs, and most of the cast bears a distinct resemblance to that of Immortal Rain. Once you put that aside, however, Ozaki has a delicate touch that allows for a lot of emotion in her work, largely seen in body language and facial expressions, which are deceptively simple. She also has a knack for background details, which help to provide context and clues for the story's denouement, so keep an eye on what is lying around the house or in the yard.
The tale itself is quietly heart-wrenching. While it does have a few “big” moments, most of the story is told in an almost matter-of-fact way, with Natsuru and Suzumura accepting their lives as they are even if they wish they might be different. For Natsuru, the breaking point comes not when his class' “princess” gets him ostracized from the girls, but when his soccer coach is hospitalized with cancer. This is a two-fold blow for him, since his father is dead and the new coach is much younger and has a much harsher instruction style that doesn't sit well with the boy. From his initial blunder about Natsuru's dad to later telling him that he'll never have the stamina to be a good soccer player because he was born in the wrong month, he earns Natsuru's quiet but fierce enmity. This leads to his friendship with Suzumura, who lives a completely different life, apparently living alone in a run-down house with her younger brother. Both children find acceptance in each other and a sense of a nuclear family that they lack with their respective parents, so when Natsuru is supposed to go to soccer camp over summer vacation, he instead runs away to live with the Suzumura children. Here the story takes on a sort of timeless feel as the children essentially play house, though we have the feeling that it is much less of a game for Suzumura than for Natsuru; he's “playing” and she's got someone else to depend upon, a role he clearly enjoys as it gives him more of a sense of purpose than he's had since his new coach made soccer less of a release for him.
The gods lie is both a coming-of-age story in the sense that both protagonists learn some things about the world and their lives in it, and also a quiet love story. It isn't a romance in the sense that Suzumura and Natsuru fall in love with each other, but rather of an understanding between them that is emotional in nature, a slow growth of mutual care and comfort. Neither feel supported by the father figures in their lives and both feel that they've been abandoned by their families, whether through literal abandonment, a workaholic parent (although it sounds more like the editor than Natsuru's mother), or death. In each other they find solace and the kind of family they wanted, and it wouldn't be a stretch to say that they see themselves as a couple with Suzumura's younger brother as their child. If their adults have left them to fend for themselves, they will become the grown-ups themselves, and the younger brother won't have to suffer the same betrayal.
When you're a child, the adults in your life can feel like your own personal gods. They feed you, clothe you, and take care of you, answering your wishes at their own whims. Sometimes they make you promises that they can't keep – and that can feel an awful lot like lying. Both children's fathers promised to return. Natsuru's coach promises to come back to the team. Everyone promises that things will be all right. The children want to believe them, and in terms of the book's final words, so do we. But sometimes the gods lie to us all, and we just have to take it on faith that not everything promised will be taken away or never fulfilled. The final chapter of Ozaki's book reminds us of that – the difference between lying and telling the truth in terms of something that you have no control over can simply come down to what you need to believe when the promise is given.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : B+
+ Beautiful, sensitive story told with skillful understatement. Nice details in the art, bittersweet in the best way.
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