Masterful storytelling that can only exist in the manga medium.
“Misuzu Hara is a quiet, reserved 24-year-old high school teacher whose world is turned upside down after her friend’s fiancé rapes her. Her attempt to bond with one of her students, who has himself been the victim of sexual trauma, leads to an unlikely romance, and the ramifications of these events impact everyone around her in often unpredictable ways.” (Kodanscha)
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*This review covers Kodansha’s first two omnibus releases
As a general rule, it is considered bad form to delve into a person’s private life to shape their work – merit and exploration should be focused on the art itself, unless said project is based solely on personal experience. However, many readers will have a hard time brushing aside the fact that Akana Torikai is married to mangaka Inio Asano (Goodnight Pun Pun, Downfall, Nijigahara Holograph), a mangaka who (at this point) has enjoyed a longer and more prominent career Has. . It’s difficult to ignore this connection since “Sensei’s pious lie” resonates so much with what makes Asano such a popular cult icon within the manga. At the same time, Akane Torikai has a very unique perspective on the subject of abuse, and even if the flow and sense of tragedy are comparable to Asano’s work, Torikai tells her heartbreaking story in a way that’s still her own.
Sticking with the Asano comparisons, Sensei’s Pious Lie thrives on uncomfortable themes and has an unabashed way of addressing mental health issues. There is no real “hero” within the work as both teacher Misuzu Hara and student Niizuma suffer from abuse but manifest it in really unhealthy ways. Hara continues to allow her abuse to continue while hooking up with a student, and Niizuma uses others to fill the void and test his own limits after his incident with his employer’s wife. These are unsympathetic characters, but their impact on the reader is profound, as the complexity and hopelessness of their situations inspire a sense of tragic sympathy. To make a more blunt interpretation, the series is “Misery Porn” at its most compelling and intelligent that, after two volumes, the reader is forced to believe that there may not be any redeeming arcs, but rather further doom and humiliation. One cannot help but think of the phrase “misery loves company” when looking at the work of Torikai and Asano (from an artistic critique).
The other major comparison between the two creators is in terms of artistic styling. Were it not for the subtle (but important) difference between the two creators, one could confuse the works of one with the other. This is far from a negative sentiment as the art is viscerally expressive and the way Torikai is able to explore her characters’ emotions and sexuality through art is magnificent in her execution. Araki undoubtedly knows how to time an outburst with devastating lines or thoughts to truly bring home the sense of despair or grief her subjects are feeling
Where Torikai’s voice becomes prominent and clear is in approaching abuse issues from a woman’s perspective. As easy as it is to point out the similarities between the two married mangakas, “Sensei’s Pious Lie” isn’t a story for Asano to tell. This should not be confused with the material being only accessible to a female audience, but a statement of the book’s strength in exploring the psyche of a troubled woman. There are many subjects to be further explained and explored, it is a complex and confrontational read, the nuances of which differ from a direct comparison with Asano.
Personally, Asano’s work always leaves me pretty devastated, but his themes mostly revolve around how tragedy and mental health affect men. In comparison, “Sensei’s Pious Lies” still hits those heartbreaking beats, but there was a slight break as I hadn’t experienced the kind of abuse explored on the sides in my own fights. Sure, the book is accessible to anyone who can stomach it, but the issues it touches on are likely to affect women more than men in general. At the same time, Sensei’s Pious Lie offers a unique insight that other Misery masters like Inio Asano and Shuzo Oshimi lack, yet it should be welcomed by those who love exploring human fragility.
Obviously, given the graphic nature of Sensei’s Pious Lie and the realization that there may not be a silver lining for the characters, the work will only appeal to certain readers. But for those infatuated with the works of Inio Asano (I know there are many of you out there), Akane Torikai has equally earned the same obsessive fanbase. Volume 3 is coming out soon and I can’t wait, this is masterful storytelling at its finest that can only come in manga format. Make sure you check it out.