Review by Win Wiacek
Manga maestro Kaori Ozaki started her professional comics making at in 1993, aged fifteen. Since then she has become a byword for smart, compelling, sensitive storytelling, whether in the realms of high-flying fantasy or in more grounded, rationalistic human scaled stories.
Originally published in Japan as Kin no Hitsuji, The Golden Sheep falls into the latter category. It examines bonds of friendship, burdens of family, dreams of success and the eternal youthful drive to escape and get away from the past. The serial began in September 2017 and ran until April 2019.
Childhood friendships are pure and earnest and wholehearted, but as Tsugu Miikura discovers, not always clearheaded or totally open. Growing up in a rural mountain community, she and classmates Sora, Yuushin and Asari swore lifelong fidelity – even burying a time-capsule of their secret wishes for the future in their favourite spot – but when the Miikuras moved to Osaka things changed. Now, six years later, with her dad gone, the large brood have been forced to move back and live with an aunt.
Although on the surface the high school pals are just bigger, there are deeply hidden and constantly growing divisions. Big city girl Tsugu now talks funny and has become a world-class rock guitarist, but doesn’t believe her soul is any different. Nevertheless, she can’t understand what has happened to her besties.
Studious Asari is superficially the same, but shows signs of becoming a really mean and backbiting sneak, whilst manga-obsessed, anime-loving Sora is now sullen, perpetually skips school and has frequent accidents that leave him battered and bruised. The biggest change is valiant Yuushin. Once a noble, honest, champion of the underdog, he’s become a cool, aloof bad boy leading a pack of young thugs and possibly even involved in criminal acts. As Tsugu attempts to resume her place in the group, the changes they’ve all experienced push her further away from them and even her own family.
When she thwarts a suicide attempt by one of her beloved companions – at huge personal cost – she decides to run away to Tokyo with the despondent survivor. Penniless and without shelter, they skirt the fringes of a sordid world, only to stumble into another shocking surprise to her already-reeling sense of self and worth.
Alternating winning jolly charm with moving glimpses of the crisis besetting Japan’s directionless youth, The Golden Sheep promises to become a classic modern romance and survival testament for Young Adults: a book with lots to say and in a most captivating manner.