The Gods Lie
By Kaori Ozaki
Translation: Melissa Tanaka
A complicated truth that every child eventually has to figure out is that all the adults they look up to are flawed individuals who will even betray their trust from time to time. It’s a painful lesson to learn, even within the most stable and supportive family environment. But the main protagonists of The Gods Lie are brought together by similar personal loss, which renders the lesson all the more heartwrenching during the latter half of the book. It’s a heady mix of budding romance, death, and abandonment, compressed into an intimate domestic drama that takes place over the course of one summer. But Kaori Ozaki uses a delicate touch that preserves the essential sweetness of her characters.
The two youngsters at the center of the story start out as typical manga archetypes. 6th grader Natsuru Nanao loves soccer. But he hasn’t yet learned to comport himself around girls, and they’ve in turn mostly snubbed him. But he takes notice of reserved tall girl Rio Suzumura. The two strike up a friendship when Natsuru asks her to adopt an abandoned kitten he found under a bridge, since he's unable to keep it. Rio and her younger brother Yuuta live alone and unsupervised in a rickety old house because their father apparently spends long stretches in the Pacific Northwest as a commercial fisherman. This strikes a chord with Natsuru, since he’s being currently raised as an only child by an overworked single mother.
Matters come to a head when Natsuru’s beloved coach is hospitalized and he finds himself clashing with the new coach’s diametrically different teaching style. When summer break arrives, he lies to his mom and ditches soccer camp. With nowhere else to go, he ends up moving into Rio and Yuuta's house. Now, manga readers will recognize some of the tropes of this living arrangement. There are the awkwardly intimate sleeping situations, Japanese bathing humor, learning how to socialize at the dining table. There’s even scenes involving the requisite summer festival and visit to the beach. On the surface, Ozaki’s own controlled linework doesn't vary much from the conventional seinen style.
However, these elements aren’t exploited to generate the usual silly misunderstandings found in much commercial manga. Both Rio and Natsuru approach playing house with the quiet earnestness of children struggling to find their place in the world. Both are able to find a sense of purpose in their lives by substituting for teach others absent parental figures. As they settle into their respective roles, a tranquility they’ve been desperately craving descends on the household. It isn’t long before both feel something approaching love.
Summer has to end eventually, and a series of unexpected revelations throws the makeshift family into turmoil. Rio and Natsuru’s house playing serves as a temporary respite from the actual complications adults face in daily life. Coming to terms with this messiness is an inevitable part of growing up. But as Rio and Natsuru also learn, so is keeping as much of the messiness at bay for the sake of protecting the happiness of the people under their care.