Everything Stays But It Changes in The Golden Sheep

When it came to reading about the issues that young teens would deal with in high school in manga, I’d first come across stories aimed at a young female demographic. These stories would focus on protagonists just starting in high school, wanting to change their image so that they fit in with their peers and perhaps, find love; all in the hopes of becoming mature and independent adults. Their life isn’t perfect, but with the support of their friends and loved ones, they manage.

As entertaining as these stories are, they didn’t leave me with huge expectations of what life should be when I was attending high school. I couldn’t imagine myself having a boyfriend or learning how to wear makeup because those things didn’t interest me in the slightest. These romantic high school manga stories seemed more like beautifully wrapped dreams than reality.

I’ve always been drawn to the stories where the author was careful in crafting a story that fuels an emotional response towards their characters and that doesn’t always end nicely with a happy ending from the get-go.

The Golden Sheep Vol. 1, Kaori Ozaki, Vertical Comics.

Kaori Ozaki’s The Golden Sheep introduces us to Tsugu Miikura who returns to her old hometown and is reunited with her old childhood friends, Sora, Yuushin and Asari. Even though she’s overjoyed to be with them, she never would have expected how much they all had changed over time.

Ozaki’s latest manga series flips the convention of the new transfer student, who used to be a good friend of the protagonist(s), in a high school idea. Instead of having a cast of characters who react to an old acquaintance’s new personality and identity, the story uses Tsugu as a catalyst to reveal how time and circumstance can change the people she thought she knew. The narrative uses Tsugu as the primary point of view but also switches to give insight into the relationships of the other characters.

Screencap from The Golden Sheep Vol. 1, Kaori Ozaki, Vertical Comics.

After having read a bunch of slice-of-life teen drama manga, it’s intuitive to know what could have been done to avoid bullying – effective communication between people allows for better understanding between people and eliminates doubt and fear to confuse someone into believing falsehoods or disillusions they create in their head. It opens dialogue for a relationship to re-establish respect and rebuild trust between friends.  

But as the manga shows us, nothing is ever simple in life.

It’s difficult to approach people in discovering the truth because our emotions can push us to defend ourselves and our best interests.

For instance, Asari, whose nickname is Sally, appears to be a soft-spoken individual who tries to fit in with the rest of the girls in her class as well as Tsugu and co. She avoids letting her friends see her father who she deems as uncool.

In comparison to Sally, Tsugu is an outgoing girl, aspiring to become a musician who plays the guitar. She does her best to hang out with her old childhood friends and babysit her older sister’s children.

Screencap from The Golden Sheep Vol. 1, Kaori Ozaki, Vertical Comics.

Sally is jealous of Tsugu’s relationship with their mutual friend, Yuushin, whom she had a crush on since nursery school. Tsugu knows about Sally’s crush and treats Yuushin normally. Although Sally knows that Tsugu can be clueless when it comes to love and crushes and feels that it was wrong to isolate Tsugu at school, she still acts upon her emotions when she sees Tsugu’s interactions with Yuushin. Sally perceives them to be flirting and wants to punish Tsugu for betraying their friendship. Therefore, Sally plays horrible pranks on Tsugu like sticking a sanitary napkin onto the back of Tsugu’s skirt or even stealing Tsugu’s shoes and throwing them into the river.

As much as Tsugu wants to talk to Sally about their misunderstandings, there is never a perfect moment for her to do so and coincidental occurrences sabotage any sentiment to resolve conflicts.

Screencap from The Golden Sheep Vol. 1, Kaori Ozaki, Vertical Comics.

Another example in the manga is Yuushin’s transformation from a rule-respecting diligent student to Sora’s aggressive tormentor due to a family scandal and to what the reader can interpret is Sora’s abandonment of Yuushin in his darkest moments.

If either party had the courage to talk and confide to one another or an adult about their troubles, it would lessen the burdens on their hearts and minds. Gaining perspective on the issues from an outside source, who is completely neutral in their opinion, gives a fresh look into a situation and can inspire better solutions to the issue.

But because this is a story about the struggles of teenagers who are learning to become better people, there needs to be conflict that can push the protagonists to make a leap of faith to change the things around them. The drama wouldn’t be as entertaining if the obvious solutions could easily be put into action. It’s the reason why I enjoy these types of stories but at the same time, I’m annoyed by them.

The first volume of The Golden Sheep does a solid job of taking the high school theme and flipping its conventions to make an albeit dramatic yet realistic take on teenagers growing up and growing apart. Bullying is a staple in these stories that also affects us in real life. It is a sensitive topic for those involved and can be difficult to talk about, but it’s not impossible to solve.

(Originally posted on Foster a Child to Excel in Society (F.A.C.E.S)’s blog in December 2019. Edited on February 5, 2020.)

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