What They Say
What is Sunny? Sunny is a car. Sunny is a car you take on a drive with your mind. It takes you to the place of your dreams. Sunny is the story of beating the odds, in the ways that count. It’s the brand-new masterwork from Eisner Award-winner Taiyo Matsumoto, one of Japan’s most innovative and acclaimed manga artists. Translated by Tekkonkinkreet film director Michael Arias!
The fourth installment of this poignant series focused on the young lives of a group of foster children travels their trajectory from painful yearning to bittersweet belonging.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
If you don’t know Taiyo Matsumoto’s name, you should. Anime viewers who kept up with simulcasts from last year will know him best as the creator of the “Ping Pong” manga, whose loose style defines the animated adaptation. He is perhaps even more famous, however, for his manga “Tekkonkinkreet,” which turned into a beautiful albeit strange animated film in 2006. I admit that coming into “Sunny,” I had high expectations. As a whole, the series fulfills those expectations, but volume 4 ran into slight problems that previous volumes started to show signs of–problems of pacing and progression. (My assessment of those “problems” may be a little unfair, but I’ll get to that later.) Regardless, I feel that anyone who likes Japanese animation or comics, or even anyone who considers themselves an art enthusiast, must take a gander at Matsumoto’s work–and “Sunny” is a great place to start.
“Sunny” follows several kids and their caretakers in a slightly run-down orphanage called Star Kids Home as they deal with the psychological complexities of living “without a home.” Each chapter enters the psyche of one or two characters at a time, focusing on issues of childhood and belonging. As such, the chapters themselves are vignettes without much overlap (with the occasional exception of chapters focusing on Haruo and Sei). Matsumoto crafts characters that feel so alive that I connected with many of them instantly. Haruo and Sei, however, the manga’s debatably “main” characters, often outshine their housemates: volume 4 contains two chapters from Haruo’s perspective that I enjoyed more than any of the others. Haruo is the penultimate characterization of childhood without parents, so naturally, he makes for the focus of a story about orphans, but his effectiveness also comes from Matsumoto’s superb storytelling. Matsumoto simply has a love and attentiveness for Haruo’s wild, childish, well-meaning spirit that can’t be replicated with the other characters. In the first chapter of volume 4, Haruo steals a pencil case from a store for Junsuke, the latter of which kept begging their caretaker, Mr. Adachi, for a new one. Haruo is caught, and Mr. Adachi arrives to apologize to the store owner and pay for the pencil case. Mr. Adachi, of course, says that he will tell Haruo’s mother about the theft, and in a sudden and heart-wrenching moment of vulnerability, Haruo begs Mr. Adachi not to tell his mother, or “she’ll never let me live with her again.”
It’s moments of characterization and emotional impact that drive the series. Indeed, “Sunny” is full of heart, more than most other manga I’ve read. Despite this, reading “Sunny” is not totally an enjoyable experience. Oddly enough, I couldn’t put volume 4 down, and I read it in a rush: once begun, the setting’s realism sucks you in without letting go. But much like reading a slow, classical piece of literature, the layered meanings contained within the work make the enjoyment of analyzing it high, but the entertainment value of reading the work itself may be low. “Sunny” falls somewhere in-between high and low entertainment value, and I feel this has much to do with the format of the series.
Here, we get into what makes volume 4 of “Sunny” problematic. As a side note, I enjoy vignettes, and I even more so love slow pacing in anime/manga. I often lament how modern anime/manga moves at a lightning-fast pace, as opposed to older works which can spend multiple episodes diving into the psyche of an individual character without bogging down the story too much (such as in the 1999-version “Hunter x Hunter” as opposed to its recent anime adaptation). So when I say that “Sunny” is a little bit too slow-paced for my tastes, I am not exaggerating. I should specify what I mean by slow-paced: the individual vignettes themselves move at a reasonable pace, but with little over-arching plot connecting them, the progression of the series as a whole feels stalled. Or perhaps my complaining serves a certain point for Matsumoto, given the orphans of Star Kids Home are there for what must feel to them a permanent duration. Most of the children hope and claim that their parents will return for them and take them back home, but many of them also recognize their hopes as false ones. The result is that the children feel trapped, suffocated–to the point that Haruo and others often consider Star Kids Home a place to escape from–which could explain why Matsumoto made the decision not to create and/or advance an overarching “plot” over four volumes. The plot is stalled, made of realistic, tiny moments to mirror the down-to-Earth experiences of the children themselves. Is it brilliant? Yes. Is it entertaining? Maybe, for the first two or three volumes. By volume 4, though, the same formula with little driving plot begins to show its clear disadvantages: “Sunny” has gotten a little stale and needs something to happen.
New manga readers won’t know what to make of Matsumoto’s unique style and “Sunny’s” artsy-hip air, but more open-minded, experienced readers will recognize that “Sunny” is well-crafted, brilliant, and beautiful. Matsumoto creates highly realistic, highly sympathetic characters that drive the series, ex. in his characterization of Haruo. On the other hand, the vignette formula with little overarching plot is starting to make “Sunny” run out of steam, particularly by this 4th volume. You’ll probably still love the series, but at this point, chapters might begin to feel stranded from any main message.
P.S. Although a bit expensive, the packaging of each volume deserves the highest marks: not only is it in hardcover, but the pages feel thick and high-quality. The panels are rendered in beautiful, very dark ink, and there’s not a sign of advertisement, watermark, or credits at the beginning of the volume to detract from getting into the story. I wish every good manga series had this kind of treatment.
Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Viz
Release Date: October 21, 2014