The manga graphic novel is nothing new, it originated in Japan many decades ago. Unfortunately few manga graphic novels (especially not music related manga novels) get translated into English so an audience outside Japan can’t enjoy them. The Golden Sheep itself began its life in 2018 as a Japanese release and was written in Japanese and is translated in Japanese as “Kin no hitsuji”.
Apart from the black and white artwork, manga novels are different from graphic novels for several reasons. The Golden Sheep (like Hebrew and Arabic language writings) is written from right to left and is therefore read from a western perspective, back to front. The British Museum manga exhibition earlier this year, as well as celebrating the magnificence of manga, also taught visitors that there are certain key rules readers need to understand before they begin reading manga. For example, one begins reading the upper right frame and ends with at the lower end frame. Furthermore, symbols and signs (Manpu) are used to convey movement and emotions. Changes in mood and context are reflected in shape and thought bubbles (fukidashi). Manga books also make much use of sound effects and screentone. If one is not familiar with these rules, one will not fully grasp the plot and enjoy the complete reading experience. The Golden Sheep is not exempt from these rules.
The opening scene is of a smashed front screen of a car and a smashed guitar with main character Tsugu and her male friend Sora. Prior to this, Sora had gone to buy some meat. Little in terms of spoilers are giving away; one must read on to learn of the developments that led to these events. Tsugu and her Mum have moved into a public housing block in Osaka, Japan with other female members of her mothers’ family. This is not a move they wanted to make. The housing is extremely cramped for “five girls are in a two-bedroom”. This move came about because Tsugu’s father is now with “the stars”. Tsugu has had to move away from her friends. Her friends (Sally, Sora and Yuushin) are upset about this too and made her a handmade and heartfelt card asking Tsugu not to forget them. Whilst Tsugu is disheartened, her passion for music keeps her spirits alive.
The first thing Tsugu unpacks is her electric guitar and amp. As soon as she begins to plug in and play, her mother rebukes her saying that she could not play the guitar through the amp as they were now living in public housing. Nonetheless, the removal man is impressed, asking her, “Was that GNR you were playing?” Despite being geographically isolated from her friends, Tsugu still goes to the same school as them and continues to meet with them at the place they had always met: Sheep Park, where they talk about manga art amongst other things. However, school could be better, it doesn’t have a Rock Music Club. Music quickly proves to be a salvation for Tsugu as she uploads music videos of herself playing Deep Purple’s “Burn”. We learn that Sora is a deft manga artist, but is self-conscious when his friends see his more explicit drawings. Sora listens intently to Tsugu’s guitar playing through his headphones with a built in amp. He is genuinely impressed and says he could see her playing at Budokan concert arena in Tokyo. We also learn that six and a half years ago at Sheep Park, the four friends made wishes and hoped soon that they would come true (after all they read a book that they would come true in seven years and seven months’ time).
However, additional weight is added to the troubles Tsugu has to carry. Not everyone is as passionate about Tsugu’s music as Sora is and she receives nasty online comments about her guitar playing. The relationship between Yuushin and Sora deteriorates and Yuushin (who used to defend his peers against bullies) takes on darker characteristics. Despite this, Tsugu does not give up on her music and continues to impress Sora (this time with Led Zeppelin). After exciting and tense storylines, we come full circle with the opening scene. Sora tries to take his own life. He is unsuccessful. The meat in the introduction was intended as his last meal. We learn the reasons to Yuushin’s increasingly dark character. Sora blames himself for not being a better friend to Yuushin and that as a result of this, he himself had been dealt with several rounds of bad karma.
Following this, Sora and Tsugu decide to run away to Tokyo. How they decided was unclear. They initially tried to toss for it, but found this was easier said than done, especially when using a 100-yen coin to decide; they could not decide which side of the coin was “heads”. In Tokyo, we learn that Tsugu’s father is not with “the stars” but living in the Japanese capital. It is also revealed that he was not a reliable figurehead; he would often fly off to America, allegedly to “collect guitars”. Nonetheless, when Tsygu comes into contact with him, he offers to “replace the neck on the (Tsygu’s) guitar” and “check the wiring”. Her father also advises her and Sora of a place to stay called “Honest Croquettes”. Tsugu and Sora’s adventures, for the time being, end here.
As previously mentioned, manga relies upon readers being able to apply manga reading rules. More is assumed and less is explained than in graphic novels. There are a lot of elements to this story with many side stories too. Some tally up at the end of part one; others do not. One is left with an inpatient craving to find out how these other elements tie-up in part two. The success of The Golden Sheep series will depend upon how well and imaginatively these elements synchronise. Based upon The Golden Sheep (part one), one genuinely hopes and expects to see more music-related manga books translated into the English language.
The Golden Sheep (part one) can be purchased at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/609192/the-golden-sheep-1-by-kaori-ozaki/