The Gods Lie.

By Kaori Ozaki | Published by Vertical, Inc.

gods-lieThe Gods Lie is a seinen one-shot by Kaori Ozaki, who also brought us Immortal Rain, which I liked very much. Even though it was released recently, Ozaki’s clean and clear artwork somehow conveys a more vintage feeling, a bit like a Miyazaki movie.

Natsuru Nanao is in sixth grade and dreams of becoming a soccer star. The girls in his class have ignored him ever since he rejected the princess of the group, so he’s surprised when Rio Suzumura actually acknowledges his presence. After his beloved soccer coach is hospitalized, the negative and demanding replacement causes Nanao to bail on soccer camp and he ends up spending a lot of time over summer vacation with Suzumura and her little brother, Yuuto (and Tofu, the kitten they have rescued). Nanao lives with his mother, since his father died when he was little, but soon discovers that Suzumura and Yuuto are living on their own after their father took off to earn money fishing in Alaska.

Over the course of the volume, Nanao makes some bittersweet discoveries about life. The new coach causes him to doubt his dreams of soccer stardom. He learns that one of his teammates already has a different career path plotted out. He falls in love with Suzumura and stands by her when her dad fails to return by the summer festival like he promised. He discovers her terrible secret. And, lastly, he begins to understand why “the gods lie.”

I think in this case, the gods of the title are taking the form of parents, and how they might appear to a young kid. Suzumura’s dad has lied to his children, but Nanao reflects that his dad had lied to him, too, promising that he’d surely get better if Nanao was a good boy. People who love you can lie to you, sometimes because they don’t want you to be sad, sometimes because they are assholes who are unworthy of your love. That’s life.

What I like best is that Ozaki lets Nanao take in these revelations without destroying his capacity to dream, or ending the book on a thoroughly depressing note. Indeed, the conclusion is downright hopeful. In the end, I enjoyed The Gods Lie very much, and particularly recommend reading it somewhat slowly, to really evoke that leisurely summer vacation feel.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Immortal Rain 3-5 by Kaori Ozaki: A-

It’s been a year since I read the first two volumes of Immortal Rain, and though I was initially somewhat lost when I started the third, the heartbreaking nature of Rain’s backstory immediately pulled me back in.

Hints had been sprinkled through the first two volumes, but here we get the whole, terrible story. We learn about Rain’s relationship with Freya—the woman he once loved—and with Yuca, the friend with a dark secret that would ultimately lead to Freya’s death and Rain being cursed with immortality. Yuca is similarly cursed himself, being reborn over and over again while conscious of the memories of all his past lives. He’s ready for this cycle to end—ready for the whole world to end, in fact—and so has chosen Rain to be his perpetual executioner.

It’s Rain’s task to wait for Yuca’s rebirth, which he’s been doing for 600 years so far. If Rain feels like humanity is worth saving, then he must kill Yuca to protect them. If he should weary of humanity and the way they treat him, he can join forces with Yuca and work to end the world. Gentle soul that he is, Rain detests this duty but is resigned to it.

But then Machika comes along to complicate things, saving Rain from his loneliness but promising future sorrow. “Being with you hurts,” he tells her. “It hurts. Because you remind me of sadness.” Later he says, “You’ll disappear so quickly.” It’s one of those doomed immortal-mortal romances all over again, like Buffy and Angel or The Doctor and Rose, and I love it to bits. It’s especially satisfying that they confess their love for each other in the fourth volume, without playing any of those delaying games shoujo series often employ. In this world, loving each other isn’t enough to guarantee a happy ending.

In fact, it’s his love for Machika that weakens Rain’s resolve. He was prepared to kill Yuca—and his own heart—over and over again forever if not for her, but now he has found love. At the same time, if he doesn’t fulfill his duty and Yuca is allowed to run free, what does this mean for the world? When Yuca actually does return and Rain is unable to defeat him, Machika roams the world for a year, refusing to believe all evidence that Rain is dead and determined to find him.

It’s all very dramatic and poignant, and I enjoy it quite a lot, but sometimes it seems a little… surface-y. I can’t really explain it better than that. It’s such a quick read, and while everything seems to make sense while it’s happening, upon reflection one wonders, “Well, why does Rain love Machika?” It just doesn’t feel like we’ve had enough time with these characters when they weren’t running for their lives. This isn’t to say that their romance feels unbelievable, just that I wish this story were unfolding somewhat more slowly. The fact that some of Rain’s foes are kids is also an unwelcome note of silly in a series that otherwise has a serious, almost seinen, kind of feeling to it.

In the year since my first review, there’s been nary a peep from TOKYOPOP regarding the future of this series. The series doesn’t come out too quickly in Japan—the latest is still the tenth volume, which was released in October 2009—so it’s frustrating being so close to having all of what’s currently available. I hope that, even if these volumes never merit a print release, they’ll be available via the publisher’s new print-on-demand feature. We shall see!

Immortal Rain 1-2 by Kaori Ozaki: A-

immortalrain1Machika Balfaltin’s grandfather, Zol, was a renowned bounty hunter/assassin, but there was one man he could never catch: Methuselah, an immortal with a price on his head. Machika, like your typical fourteen-year-old, is convinced that she can do anything and is determined to settle her grandfather’s unfinished business. Her attempt to capture Methuselah goes wrong, however, when a rival group of bounty hunters swoops in to take the credit. Methuselah allows himself to be hauled off to jail, whereupon Machika breaks him out because he’s her prey. Of course, now there’s a price on her head, too, so she’s got to leave town. From there, Machika and Methuselah, who reveals that his name is actually Rain Jewlitt, get into a series of adventures usually involving people trying to nab Rain and figure out the secret of immortality, which is portrayed as much more of a curse than a blessing.

While the adventures are interesting enough, it’s the bond between the two characters that’s really the most fascinating aspect of Immortal Rain. Machika still maintains that she’s going to kill Rain one day, but quickly grows frustrated with his passivity regarding his fate and soon nurtures a desire to help him, including finding a way to make him human again. Initially, Rain attempts to keep his distance. He likes people but, as he puts it, “eventually everyone must leave this earth at a speed I can’t keep up with.” When he tries to refuse Machika’s help, it hurts her, but he’s reluctant to keep her with him because her life is so vulnerable. “So… would you hold me like I’m glass? I won’t break,” she replies. It’s clear that he’s unaccustomed to someone showing such fierce concern for his present rather than the promise of an unlimited future that he represents, and by the end of volume two he seems to have finally accepted her as a companion.

immortalrain2In addition to creating this pair of likable characters, Ozaki also parcels out bits of Rain’s backstory with a sure hand. Obscure hints and scraps of information offered in volume one are already taking shape into something that makes more sense by volume two, suggesting that answers will continue to be furnished at a satisfying rate. It would seem that he was somehow involved in some scientific experiments 600 years ago—the remnants of which are being excavated by a company that employs Sharem, an intriguing villainess who is initially introduced as a high-kicking ice queen but is gradually revealed to have inner pain of her own—and is destined to meet someone from that time who’s on the verge of being reincarnated. Too, he was once in love with a dark-haired woman whose violin is his most treasured possession.

Missteps are few, but there are a couple of bothersome things in these first two volumes. First, while a lot of the humor is genuinely amusing (I especially adore anything having to do with Machika’s pet, Kiki), some of it falls flat, especially the inept Evans siblings who attempt to capture Rain with a thoroughly ill-conceived plan involving a train, a bridge, and a 12-year-old girl piloting a mecha. Also, while less of a problem in volume two, volume one contains some passages of narration that don’t make much sense. Here’s an example:

Look. Even if you open your ears you can’t hear… the sound of the heart… if only just once.

That sounds like the kind of poorly translated English you’d find on a t-shirt in Shinjuku!

Another great point in Immortal Rain’s favor is Ozaki’s incredibly appealing art. Although the series runs in the shoujo magazine Wings and Rain technically qualifies as a bishounen, the art fosters more of a shounen adventure feeling, creating an almost palpable sense of the wide world around the central characters. The nonverbal storytelling is also great, especially in Rain’s expressive reactions to some of the things Machika says and does. Somehow, his eyes manage to convey fondness, loneliness, regret, and puzzlement simultaneously; the effect is quite lovely.

I look forward to seeing how the story develops in subsequent volumes, although I do wonder whether TOKYOPOP intends to continue releasing the series. They’ve released eight volumes in English so far, and while new volumes in Japan appear at a rate of one per year there are still ten of them out now with no US solicitation of volume nine on the horizon. It may not be time to fret quite yet, but there’s definitely reason for concern.