Monday, October 3, 2011

A popular, but unfortunately out-of-print yuri classic: Pieta volume 1

Haruno Nanae's Pieta is an excellent choice if you want something dark, but not without a light at the end of the tunnel- a compelling mixture of realism and idealism about two broken people who meet by fate and, rather than drag each other even farther down, provide each other with salvation.

Sahoko is a recovering hikikomori living with her aunt. She seems well-adjusted at school, but she isn't able to completely open up to her gossip-loving classmates because she's self-conscious about her past. She comes from a loving family with no problems, but has a hard time interacting with them also.

The most popular (and infamous) girl at school, Rio, comes from starkly different circumstances. She lives in her family's big house while her father, stepmother, and two younger stepbrothers live in an apartment because her stepmother absolutely doesn't want to be around her. (Rio's father doesn't care either way, and her mother walked out on them years ago.) Rio's stepmother is a dark mirror of society's traditional ideal of the perfect woman: one who lives to maintain a catalogue-worthy household decorated with saccharine trinkets and, above all else, look like a flawlessly "normal" mother whose children lead flawlessly "normal" lives. Even though her first child resulted from a possibly unplanned pregnancy by a man who may not be Rio's father, from before she and Rio's father married (the story intentionally leaves it vague), she zeroes in on Rio as the one person in her family life who doesn't fit her Leave It To Beaver-like ideal. (Haruno Nanae loves skewering conventional expectations for gender roles and family life. See: Her depiction of Fujiko's family and "fiancee" in Double House.) When Rio was a child, her stepmother stuck her in a mental hospital at the first chance she got. No wonder Rio has issues. Thankfully, the psychologist Rio has been seeing since she was a kid and his psychiatrist wife both think of her as a daughter and look out for her as much as they can. Their presence provides a much-needed balance among the adult characters.

Even though Rio is normally cold and apathetic, she finds herself drawn to Sahoko and tries to befriend her. She only sees Sahoko as a security blanket/attractive girl at first, but starts to genuinely love her as they get to know each other more. Rio's jealous girlfriend tries to scare Sahoko away by telling her about the cutting scars on Rio's arms, but she only ends up getting dumped by Rio. Rio and Sahoko open up to each other more than they have around anyone else, and Rio's psychologist happily notes that "the ice around her heart has melted." One of my favorite moments is when Sahoko tells Rio about her past problems and finds that, now that someone outside of her family knows, her secret isn't nearly as dark and awful as she thought it was.

The downside to Rio opening up her heart to Sahoko is that she's vulnerable again. Her stepmother takes advantage of this, resulting in Rio jumping off a building right after Sahoko remembers how they first met.

What will happen!? Dun dun dun. Until next time~ More analysis will come with the next volume's review.

Story: A
Art: A-
Overall: A


Ojisan said...

This sounds excellent. Is it a translation that's out of print, or the original Japanese?

Katherine Hanson said...

@Ojisan- The original Japanese tankoubon is out of print. (Unfortunately, it hasn't been licensed, and has virtually no chance of being licensed in the future.) The English scanlation is easy to find.

Sheldor said...

I love the psychiatrist couple, they're an awesome unit! Pieta was a manga I tried really super early in my Yuri career but I dropped as it suffered terribly from not being Aoi Hana. Many series I read around that time met similar ends before I pulled myself up on my behaviour and reread most of them. Some where legitimately awful and deserving of being dropped but Pieta was not one of them! I'm glad I gave Pieta another chance because it's a well written story. The biggest hurdle for me was overcoming Pieta's emo-ness but for the most part the manga avoids falling into those traps. Heck, Pieta is kinda cute at times. Sahoko, if I recall, did get some development later on, especially when her own condition was revealed but it was of the too little, too late variety no? I remember she had one kickass line (I'm at work so I'm paraphrasing here) something like "So my rival is death." Haha, I thought that was a pretty killer line! Oh but I'm sure you'll give your opinions on that in your V2 review.

Anyway, nice review! It's so cool you review stuff like Pieta but it's kind of dumb that I still find it a novelty as you've been this awesome for a long time now :)

Anonymous said...

wonderful review of a yuri classic, thanks :)

Katherine Hanson said...

@Sheldor- Aww, thanks!

I love the psychiatrist couple also. Angst is tricky to write, but as you said, Pieta does a good job of handling it. Sahoko's development isn't as dramatic as Rio's, but...yes, more on that in my review of volume 2. ;-) (And I agree, Sahoko's "my rival is death" line was pretty bad ass.)

@Anon- Thank you! :-)