The Golden Sheep
金のひつじ (Kin no Hitsuji)
Seinen – Drama, romance, slice-of-life
3 Volumes (complete)
Tsugu is excited to move back to where she lived during elementary school. After all, it’s a chance to reunite with her three close friends Sora, Yuushin, and Asari. When they all arrive to greet her, Tsugu wants to pick up right where they all left off. But she’s about to discover how much has changed in six years.
The Golden Sheep is fine, but it’s not a golden work.
The Golden Sheep deals with some heavy topics. These are all things any teenager or adult has heard of (and maybe dealt with unfortunately), but it starts off like a depressing newscast.
Tsugu moved away with her family and had to leave her close friends behind. But after six years, they’re returning, and Tsugu hopes to meet her three best friends again. Sora was the one who liked to draw, Yuushin was the stand-up leader type, and Asari aka Sally tend to have traditionally feminine traits and preferences. She sends them each a letter notifying them of her arrival, and Tsugu is so happy when they all show up! Not only that, she will be attending the same school as the other three! And as long as Tsugu has her friends and her trusty guitar, even the fact that five people have to share a small two-bedroom apartment won’t bother her.
But while Tsugu doesn’t pick up on the clues at first, readers get to see what’s really going on with Tsugu’s friends. Asari is heavily crushing on Yuushin, and she is jealous of how Tsugu naturally hangs around Yuushin. Sora, meanwhile, is being bullied… by Yuushin. So while Tsugu hoped the four of them would go right back to being BFFs, she eventually learns that’s not going to happen.
It doesn’t really take her long to realize this. That’s partially because the manga is only three volumes long and also because Yuushin’s torment of Sora is not that subtle. In fact, the manga opens with Sora attempting to commit suicide by smoke inhalation inside a car but Tsugu swooping in and destroying the windows. Then the manga flashes back slightly in time to Tsugu’s arrival and spends most of its first volume catching up to that point.
Of course, readers are going to instantly dislike Yuushin and Asari. Yuushin has no problem with Sora being beat up by him or others. Asari also begins bullying Tsugu, although in a much subtler manner. Eventually, Tsugu decides she’s had enough and invites Sora to run away to the big city.
The Golden Sheep is a bit hard to describe. At its core, it’s a story of things changing versus remaining the same. We see this theme most clearly through the gang’s friendship, but it’s also evident through their dreams and parental relationships. In the end, those dreams and relationships are, at least in part, going to be left up for readers to decide. This series is but a snapshot in their lives, and their future is still full of possibilities.
Whether you like more open-ended works or not, the manga struggles once it hits the midpoint. As Sora rediscovers his self-worth, much is made about his new (perhaps reawakened?) feelings for Tsugu. Yuushin rushes to return to the world of boxing. Tsugu happily drifts along. And Asari is severely downgraded in importance compared to the other three. A big reason? She ends up as the only one in town for a while! I don’t necessarily think The Golden Sheep needed another volume or two, but the pacing is just… off. At one point, a famous celebrity stops by Tsugu and Sora’s workplace, and someone just so happens to see it air and just so happens to be nearby.
Plus, while the second volume seems like the romance angle is going to be explored more, it’s not. This may be especially disappointing to those who were hoping to hang their hat on something else besides the likely possibility of Yuushin/Asari being forgiven for their behavior toward Sora/Tsugu. Not saying there should be no such thing as second chances, but a little more comeuppance and the others finding extra happiness are not going to be uncommon hopes for readers. The third volume is a little better than the second, but the extra, unrelated story? Ooof. Another melancholy story.
Anyway, the manga does provide some context for the bullies’ behavior, and Sora has his own regrets as well. None of these provides an excuse for the behavior, but their background does provide some context for the broken friendships. Tsugu, on the other hand, is a bit of a free spirit, and even though she’s presented as the lead, she’s almost an enigma. She tends to have fewer-than-expected monologues, and it can be hard to register without further confirmation if she’s is really a fun-lovin’ rocker girl or if she’s acting since she knows more than she lets on.
The art makes some of the hard-hitting topics easier to digest, as it’s not too violent or explicit. Plus, just as teenagers can be both adult-like and child-like, there is a healthy dose of youthfulness in The Golden Sheep. Sora, for instance, will likely be memorable for his love of anime, and I’m sure manga fans can relate to the post-movie afterglow of seeing their favorite work at the theater. Meanwhile, Tsugu references several real-life bands like AC/DC, so that helps add to the realism of the story versus a parody like “BC/EC”. Because, overall, this is not meant to be that much of a manga-like work. Sure, there are the big eyes and goofy faces, but this is the type of story that could be a live action show. There are some pages reserved for characters exploring their passion, and Ozaki draws the bullying scenes in ways that may hit too close to home. That being said, while the manga art is clear and bright, this is not a tale where the art is the make-it-or-break-it factor. Readers are going to remember the story, and maybe some scenes like the opening or reuniting under the titular sheep statute, but there isn’t a lot of subtext to the visuals that will leave a long-lasting impression versus discussing the characters’ actions.
No honorifics are used. Western name order is used. A couple of terms are kept, but most things are adapted if possible. The manga incorporates Tsugu’s sometimes-accent with words like “yer”. Asari’s nickname of “Sally” is kept. (It’s in kanji in the original.) There’s an Easter egg in the first chapter, and the username is in English in the original, which is a slightly different spelling than used in the English version of Ozaki’s work she’s referencing. There aren’t a lot of cultural aspects to the series, so I don’t have much to say.
The Golden Sheep meanders at times, but it’s short enough (with generally thick volumes) that it isn’t a huge investment in time or money if it doesn’t strike a chord with you. But while there are other plot points, the focus is limited to teenage rebellion and forgiveness. It does an amicable job at that, but it lacks the “something more” that hooks readers.
Vertical, Inc. also published Ozaki’s The Gods Lie. while Tokyopop partially released her Immortal Rain manga.