A story about two classmates who become friends, Sahoko and Rio. Rio is depressed and self-abusive and isn't loved by her "family" (which consists of her father, stepmother, and stepbrother), but Sahoko seems to be the bright spot in her life. Sahoko also seems to have a mysterious past and doesn't seem to have a good relationship with her parents; she lives with her aunt. It's also hinted at that Sahoko and Rio have met once before, when they were much younger...
This manga is the very embodiment of "mediocre". Nothing about it stands out, nothing about it influences any further thought after reading, nothing about it ever imprints any kind of memory or fondness in you. This will be a manga you read, and within a week or two completely forget. It isn't brilliant by any stretch of the imagination, though neither is it offensively bad. If this manga were a food it would be soy sauce and rice, something which doesn't inspire any emotion while eating and is generally a meal you might struggle to remember eating the very next morning.
The story in this
manga revolves around the main character, who is a girl who has serious childhood trauma and is abhorred by her stepmother. She lives with her stepmom, her father, who is lukewarm towards her because of his wife, and her stepbrother. This character's emotional progression is the sole focus of the narrative. She starts out as a cutter and a generally cynical and aloof character, and because she is supposed to be breathtakingly gorgeous in the manga, she is seen as alluring and mysterious by her peers. Her romantic interest in this manga is another girl who has a loving family and great friends. The main character falls in love with this girl for almost no reason whatsoever and later attracts her by being exceedingly needy and pushing herself into her lover's private space. The romance in this manga sucks. I understand that the manga is short and so the romance wasn't properly fleshed out, but even then it feels like the progression isn't natural or organic. Nothing about the story ever feels like something that I could see existing in this manga's universe rather than forced placements by the author. Arguably the best part of the story is the last half of the final chapter where two characters discuss fate and destiny, but even then it's heavy handed and overly whimsical.
The characters are mostly terrible. The main character is supposed to the focus of the story and her triumph over her demons is supposed to be the big, uplifting moment in the manga, however the character, with regard to how she is written and presented, could never even hope to evoke such emotions in anybody. There are quite a few reasons (mostly relating to the structure of the story) but the main one is that she simply isn't well written enough. Most of her character building is done through flashbacks and exposition which means that we never get a sense that she is really a character. I would have got just as much emotion out of reading a medical report about a patient who has overcome some disease, as I did with this manga. The main character's lover is a character who suffers from some vague and poorly defined psychological problems that are never explained nor properly understood. Most of the other characters are forgettable or annoying as well.
The art is stylised and pretty, typical of shoujo manga. It is never outright bad, though just milquetoast most of the time. It manages to be pleasant and never distract from the story. I dont think the characters are expressive enough, however, and most of the designs are virtually indistinguishable. Overall, if I had to sum it up, meh.
To this manga's credit, I liked that it was never overly melodramatic or weepy. The main characters are rational and thoughtful and aren't totally pathetic. So I enjoyed that. That being said, I had an abysmally boring time sitting through this manga. Most of it is very emotionally manipulative and it becomes very obnoxious very quickly.
Don't read it. In the time it takes to read this you can read 6 one-shots. In the time it takes to read this, go do that.
Pietà is a good example of what one could call a "psychological romance", most commonly found in josei manga: much like titles such as Houkago Hokenshitsu, the focus is on the characters' inner demons, how they relate to and influence each other, and general psychological development, rather than dealing mainly with relationships and their own conflicts. In that sense, the relationship is understood merely as an extension of the characters' intentions. While there's no inherent problem in regular, more romantic-oriented and idealized titles, an alternative take on the genre is always welcome.
The plot is quite simple and its progression straightforward. It doesn't need obstacles usually
found in romance stories such as rivals, society's or parent's disapproval, and convenient coincidences/misunderstandings. As previously stated, the relationship is not the problem here, it's mostly about Rio and Sahoko as individuals trying to heal each other and get healed. If you hate dragged out romances which don't seem to go anywhere or keeps running in circles, then you're in luck, but if you think this is necessary and want to see how the relationship progresses gradually, then... well, you're not in luck.
One of the characters' speeches is pretty interesting to notice. When asked about what exactly she is to Rio, Sahoko simply states that she doesn't care. Whether they are friends, lovers or engaged in a sort of mother and daughter relationship, it doesn't matter the least, as long as they remain together. Contrast this to the usual problem in romances of going from friends to lovers or the problems in maintaining the lovers status.
While the relationship between Rio and Sahoko is simple, it's also a very fascinating one due to the characters' traits. Sahoko is revealed to be distant to others, despite putting a cheerful facade in her daily life, and only reveals any sort of authentic negative reaction towards Rio's initially narcissistic behavior. Interestingly, that's what ends up attracting Sahoko to Rio, especially as she sees how Rio must deal with issues similar to those she herself faced some years before. And Rio, an apparently cold, egotistical "bad girl", is clinging at any chance for love and human contact, but is at the same time afraid of commitment, as she does not want to be hurt.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the manga's plot revolves pretty much around Rio, who has a complicated story and situation with her family, but that doesn't diminish Sahoko's role. She doesn't become a clueless girl madly in love who can't see anything else; rather, she finds in Rio the chance to meaningfully relate to another person as her emotional support. Granted, it would be more interesting if Sahoko's past was told in detail, but it's not vital.
So how about the rest of the characters, are they left as background filler? You can't do much in 5 chapters, right? Certainly, they don't have the same level of complexity and are not fleshed out enough so that the reader is empathetic to them, but they feel like real people, not walking stereotypes. For instance, Rio's father seems like the usual spineless father who doesn't care about his daughter, but he comes from a relationship with a manipulative woman and is completely clueless about what to do without someone to guide or order him around. Additionally, it's likely that he associates Rio to his previous wife and failed marriage. He just wants to forget it all and move forward... with another manipulative woman.
The art is simple, rough and with few background details. There are nearly no dramatic effects such as shining eyes and hatching, it's really just lines and curves in their brute form, pretty much like sketches. Such style is very appropriate for the down-to-earth storytelling with few idealizations, presenting the characters exactly how they are, and it works fantastically well in setting the somber atmosphere. While this may seem easy and simplistic, there's a lot of work and artistic vision in cutting off unnecessary details so that only the bare essence is left to be exposed. It achieves a balanced middle term between the exaggerated and the inexpressive.
Pietà is a very solid title, with a mature and straightforward approach to romance, but complex characters who provide fascinating interactions and psychological depth. Ultimately, whether you really enjoy it or not depends on how well you react to its concise storytelling. This approach has strengths and weaknesses, such as greater focus on the individuals at the cost of emotional investment on the relationship itself, so it's up to the reader's preferences. This is not one of those romance stories in which you go "Oh, how romantic!" and makes you cry when all ends well with the couple living happily ever after, but nevertheless it's worth giving it a shot.
(Reviewed for the club "Reviews for the unreviewed")