So, this is not anime. It’s a break-away from what I usually write.
It’s manga. More specifically, The Gods Lie
The Gods Lie is a 2013 manga written and illustrated by Kaori Ozaki. The story follows eleven-year-old Natsuru, a grade-schooler who dreams of one day being a succesful footballer. In amongst this he meets a girl, Rio, and her younger brother, Yuuta. From this, the story develops, along with their friendship. What they mean to each other. And, what they understand of themselves. It’s a coming of age story, where the characters are forced to come of age faster than what might be considered comfortable.
Why am I writing about this? Why not stick to anime? After all, I have read comparatively fewer manga.
It’s because I feel compelled to write something in relation to The Gods Lie, even when considering my lack of experience with the medium. The reason being: The Gods Lie is a beautiful piece of work. In the short time it took to read it emotionally impacted me harder than most literature 20x its length. Is that alone not worthy of words?
What does it mean to be youthful? Simply… being a child? Youth in that objective, factual manner? I don’t think so. A person who is eighty can be youthful, can they not?
The Gods Lie is an exploration in youth.
For the most part, I find it hard to recall the majority of my days being eleven, or any younger for that matter. Of course there are particular days I remember. Days with images, and smells, and feelings that preside over the rest. Yet, they are not a representation of my eleven-year-old self. Nothing is, because I am no longer that person. Still, who I was, is part of who I am. Experience is the foundation of identity, right?
Experience is a big factor in The Gods Lie, most of all, how that affects Rio and her brother. Good experience is naturally different to bad experience. It is often easier to forget the good, whereas the bad always seem to hang around in the most desolate and obscure of places, just waiting to strike at the most inopportune moments.
Rio’s mother left her. Rio’s father ran away, spouting insidious lies. She was left to take care of her infirm grandfather and young brother. After her grandfather suffers a fall, its Rio’s decision to bury him in the garden. Now, whilst this may not be the correct decision, to Rio it seemed the most rational one, given what was at stake. We instinctively can’t hold this against her. She was doing what – at the time – she thought for the best, for her ‘family.’
Coinciding with this, is the need for secrecy; Trust in Rio from Natsuru, the one thing she thinks he does not have.
Secrets are a huge aspect of youth. How many secrets did you ‘keep’ when you were younger? Often meaningless things that if let loose would have little to no effect. Though, maybe more serious matters that require diligence, the kind of diligence we inherently do not have at such a young age. Natsuru feels this. Knowing what he knows of Rio’s grandfather is too much of a burden for him. Momentarily, he flees, leaving Rio thinking she has been abandoned… once again, causing her to slide into a depression. It is this desire for secrecy that both builds relationships, and tears them down. Natsuru doesn’t know what to do. He’s out of his depth, despite the strong feelings of ‘love’ he has for Rio.
Like Rio, Natsuru does his best. He needs time to collect his thoughts. And, ultimately the decision he comes to (in running away) is far-fetched and as irrational as Rio’s was in burying her grandfather in the garden. Yet, as children, you don’t think about those things all too deeply. This is what makes youth so exciting, and also so dangerously unexpected. Innocence is something to be cherished, until the point we’re required to abandon it.
To children friendship is everything. We understand this equally as well as each other. Rio has no friends. All of her burdens are carried only by herself, without anyone to help lift that stifling weight – of which Rio carries a substantial amount.
Natsuru on the other hand, has friends. Friends that are interested in the same things he is. Friends he can have fun with, experience things with. With this in mind, he is – in some sense – blind to the issues and the hardships of Rio; and people like her, despite how truly caring he might actually be. This is something Natsuru comes to realise as his friendship develops with Rio – that things are not always as they seem, no matter how sturdy the walls people build are. Eventually there has to be a person to bring those walls down. A person to peer inside for the first time, and reveal the intricacies of the interior.
Because… what is friendship? What quantifies it? Shared experience? If so, Rio and Natsuru can honestly see into each other equally as well. They both – in a roundabouts way – have no father. They both feel misunderstood. It’s this that pulls them together, creating a bond that will be hard to be break. Something very last page tells us this.
In the eventuality Natsuru and Rio had not met, what would either of them be like? What would have happened? After all, one small moment can change everything. Who knows if Rio would have been able to cope without Natsuru’s companionship. And, Natsuru, without anyone to talk with, where might those destructive feelings have gone? Because, Natsuru needed to close with another person, not to just play football. This desire was visualised in him holding on to his mother’s chest – a rather unsubtle way of going about it. Rio came to provide him with this support.
BElieving in a Person
When I was growing up, I never had anyone to talk to, not about any matters that were in any sense personal. Sure, I had friends. Though, the kind you ride bikes with. The kind you play video games with. The kind you explore fields and farms with. Nobody I could confess to. Nobody I could feel truly comfortable around.
Not like the kind of relationship Rio and Natsuru develop.
In those circumstances, a relationship like that is all but necessary – to be able to have confidence and trust in another person. And, to be able to see yourself in growing clarity because of this. Natsuru without Rio – he can’t share his deepest thoughts with his football buddies. Rio without Natsuru – she can’t share those secrets and that sadness with her young brother, despite how much she might want to.
They come to have each other for this. This single notion means more than most other things ever can. For, if nurtured right, that kind of friendship is everlasting. The kind that stays strong through thick and thin, through whatever is thrown at them. Both of them need to feel this stability in their lives. Lives that have otherwise being anything but stable. It is their friendship, their ability to believe in each other that grounds them, that enables them to see once again.
What We’re Truly Left With
The Gods Lie, is without question a beautiful manga. Even considering my lack of exposure to manga in general, I can say this with some certainty, and some passion. It alone implores me to read more manga like it – more manga that makes me feel the things The Gods Lie did. Things that are neither entirely happy, nor sad. Things that exist in a world of their own. Things that are left to be deciphered, to have meaning ascribed to them. This ‘greyness’ is a treasured part of storytelling as I understand it. It brings personal judgement into the matter. It makes you question your own life. What higher praise is there?
What can we learn from The Gods Lie?
One of the most obvious things is compassion and understanding. To get rid of those rash judgments that rule over the days. And, to understand that we all have far more in common than might be first realised. Sure, to forge these relationships, time and effort is required. But, in the end we’ll end up with something luminous; just as in, The Gods Lie.
Have you read The Gods Lie? What are your thoughts on it?
Thanks for reading, as always!
-Chris (Follow me on Twitter, below)