“As it went on…I grew less and less sure. I knew it was wrong and I didn’t want to be doing it…but I thought maybe it was me who made it happen. Even though I was scared, even though I wanted to run…I stayed and I couldn’t figure out why.”
I’ve read a lot of difficult manga for Anime News Network, titles like Haru’s Curse and My Broken Mariko that deal frankly with trauma and abuse. Sensei’s Pious Lie is very much in the same vein and will likely be an uncomfortable read for most people with any experience with sexual abuse and abusive relationships. This is further exacerbated by how realistically its main characters are written, especially Misuzu.
Misuzu is what would commonly be characterized as an “imperfect victim”; in other words, what’s happening to her is very much sexual assault and coercion, but unlike stories that cast victims of these crimes as broken and pitiable, Misuzu is cynical and resentful. Readers probably won’t like her for the first portion of the book, and they might even outright hate her by the time she’s interacting with her male student Niizumi, a victim of a similar crime. We’re so used to the narrative that people who experience trauma gain a deeper sense of empathy for others that it’s easy to forget that anger, even when it’s misplaced, is just as likely. So when Misuzu is confronted with a teen boy who explained the context of his relationship with his employer’s wife and Misuzu rebukes his experience, it’s frustrating. As an adult, I was incredibly disappointed in her for not helping him when she could and disregarding him based on his gender. I understood her feelings based on her experiences, but I certainly didn’t like them.
Besides Misuzu’s gender bias, Sensei’s Pious Lie broaches a number of other hairy topics that we don’t often see in manga because it complicates the issues we want to be clean-cut, like consent. Misuzu was forcibly raped by her friend’s boyfriend (now fiancé) Hayafuji. She was otherwise inexperienced and the manga illustrates that Hayafuji specifically targets introverted virgins. What begins with a traumatizing encounter develops into an uncomfortable pseudo-relationship borne out of casual threats to reveal what happened. Misuzu hates Hayafuji and she hates how her body now responds to him leading to these blurry encounters where she’ll meet him on her lunch break and let him fool around with her in his car. Misuzu isn’t an active participant; we never see her touch him in a romantic or sexual way and she leaves each encounter angry with herself. Namely, Misuzu can’t pleasure herself and has grown fearful and distrustful of her own genitalia, which she sees as betraying her.
There are several instances throughout this first volume where, as the story expands its cast, it looks to interrogate the sexual politics of day-to-day interactions between students and adults. When is taking ownership of your sexuality empowering? One of Misuzu’s students, Midorikawa, is an active swimsuit model who has self-assurance beyond her years in what could be considered similar to the body positivity movement. Yet Misuzu thinks to herself that such confidence is a privilege; her student was gifted with a body that meets current beauty standards, after all, and she might feel differently if magazine staff and her peers weren’t telling her that she’s gorgeous. This same idea is mirrored by Mika, a girl who is on the chubby side but is willing to use her body if it’ll keep her boyfriend, or at least be considered as his “back-up.”
Visually, while Akane Torikai‘s art has a great amount of fluid emotion in its lines, there are enough lingering and detailed depictions of assault that it can be difficult to tell if the story is trying to be honest or lurid. There are multiple instances of blank-staring and tear-filled eyes following depictions of bare breasts or other non-consensual sexual activity. Basically, if there’s a chapter with an extended focus on Hayafuji, he’s probably going to assault someone and the manga is going to show all of it.
As a first volume, I think Sensei’s Pious Lie does a lot of interesting, if uncomfortable, things that make it worth a read. The length of the manga does give me pause – I’m not sure I’d be up for eight whole volumes (and this first one’s page count is on the higher end at over 300 pages) of Hayafuji destroying women’s lives. If you want to see a nuanced look at sexual relations that doesn’t shy away from the healthy and unhealthy approaches people experience, then there’s value to be found here, but it nonetheless remains a hard sell.