One of the latest new series to get localized by Vertical Comics is Kaori Ozaki’s The Golden Sheep. It stars Tsugu Miikura, a high school student who moves back to her hometown after years away. All her old friends are still there, but they’ve changed a lot in Tsugu’s time away. Vol. 1 introduces this core group of characters, flashing back to their younger selves while also showing who they’ve become. It’s a relatable story about the passage of time, but is it good?
Given this manga’s character-driven nature, it’s no surprise that its success hinges almost entirely on the quality of its cast and their interactions. Fortunately, both are among the manga’s strong suits. Tsugu in particular is very effectively established, and quickly at that. Her excitement, confusion, and sadness all shine through believably, and her character arc across the volume is well-paced. She’s an effective point of entry figure as well. She has no more context with which to understand how her friends have changed over time than readers do, so we get to wonder and speculate alongside her.
Speaking of Tsugu’s friends, Sora is the most compelling character in the series thus far. He’s a shy boy who’s been the victim of constant bullying from another member of the childhood friend clique, Yuushin. We get a great sense of Sora’s mental state and social life through his brief conversations with others. His attitude and learned helplessness both ring true, and the scenes of him getting tormented are easily the book’s most affecting. Ozaki does a great job conveying various shades of awkwardness, reluctance, and anxiety through the dialogue, both from Sora and others.
With all that said, there are still some cons to how the story is delivered. The largest is probably the pacing of the concluding chapters. They’re a bit rushed, with Tsugu making big decisions in reaction to stress factors that we’ve barely had enough page-time to digest. The very beginning also feels a bit clumsy. The opening is in media res, providing a glimpse at a crucial plot point from the second half that probably would have packed more emotional intensity if it hadn’t already been shown (even if only briefly) beforehand. As far as characters go, we also don’t get much sense of who Asari is as a person or what about her has changed since childhood.
Art-wise, this volume’s best panels are of characters’ faces. They’re very emotive and often carry the full weight of conveying significant information in panels with no text whatsoever. There are also some nice sequences depicting slow motions, such as Tsugu unclenching her hand to let ribbons fly out on the wind. The manga’s backgrounds can feel a bit flat though; the world doesn’t always feel especially lived in or like a place the characters actually interact with on a tactile level.
All in all, The Golden Sheep Vol. 1 is an effective start to the series that makes me interested to see where it goes from here. The character writing is great and the facial expressions are quite affecting. There are some choices made that don’t feel like the most effective ones possible for telling the story, but this is still an enjoyable read.