'Sunny' ,by Taiyo Matsumoto, is one of my most anticipated manga titles of this year. I absolutely adore Matsumoto's 'Tekkonkinkreet' and regard it as a masterpiece. 'Blue Spring' didn't quite live up to my expectations, but the experience wasn't able to put a dent in the vast amount of faith I had in Matsumoto's talent that 'Tekkonkinkreet' brought on. Since hearing of Matsumoto's new series running in IKKI magazine(which has spawned some of my favorite manga), I have been (im)patiently waiting for my chance to read it. Then Viz Media came through with the license announcement last Fall, fulfilling my manga reading desires. I really had no idea what to expect given the short, vague synopsis I read, but my enjoyment of volume one just reinforces my confidence in faith based purchases and Taiyo Matsumoto's ability as a manga author.
In the garden of the Star Kids Home lies a beat up old Nissan Sunny. To the kids of the group home, it is more than just a rusting hunk of metal. It is their clubhouse, their safe haven, and their escape through imagination. To Haruo, it is a place where he can look at porno mags, pretend he is a racecar driver, or just take a nap. To the older kids, it is a place to talk, have a smoke, and just be away from the adults. In Taiyo Matsumoto's 'Sunny', we get to take a look at the daily lives of the foster kids at Star Kids Home, and how they all gravitate towards that old Nissan Sunny.
This is a pure, "jump right in-style" slice-of-life manga. We are just thrust right in to these kids lives as foster children and left to learn about all the details naturally as the story moves forward. I can see how that may sound confusing and unappealing, but it really works in this case. You don't need to be hand-fed a robotic narrative for the story to be good. Just take it slow, understand what slice-of-life is, and it all flows quite nicely. At this point, I've expressed my thoughts on daily life stories over several blog posts, so this may seem redundant, but I'm going to say it all again. I'm fully aware of how and why normal, seemingly mundane daily life events could be boring to read about for some, but for reasons I can't fully or properly explain in words, this type of manga really clicks with me. When things slow down and aren't dictated by an overbearing plot, I can connect more with the characters, appreciate what they appreciate, and almost feel like I am there with them. I especially felt this in 'Sunny' while the kids were playing in their clubhouse car. Don't be afraid to slow down and try slice-of-life books, because you get to experience a whole other side of the characters and the atmosphere that you don't usually get from story driven manga.
There are several interesting characters that live at Star Kids Home, but the one that stands out most for me is Haruo, nicknamed "White" for his white hair(as you can see on the cover featured above). He probably gets the most attention and detail in this first volume, but doesn't monopolize the book with his presence nor screen time. The other characters get plenty of love, but we get to know Haruo just a little more. We get to know where he came from and how much he has changed since then, who he has a crush on, and see several of his daydream sequences while playing in the Nissan Sunny. But one of the most telling scenes was when the house-master's grandson, Makio, came for a visit. You can tell that Haruo looks up to Makio greatly and tries to keep Makio all to himself during his visit. He even confided in him his conflicting feelings on visiting his mother. He does want to visit with her, but he also doesn't. He loves and looks forward to seeing her, but he only gets to see her three times a year and each time he has to say goodbye is painful. So by not seeing her at all, he would avoid that pain altogether. I loved this scene and think it was really well written. Conflicting feelings are so strange but so real. I hope more of the kids get this level of characterization in future volumes. I'm especially interested in Sei, a new boy from Yokohama who makes it known that he doesn't feel at home at the Star Kids Home.
I love Taiyo Matsumoto's art and I think he is in top form for 'Sunny'. Maybe at his best. He still uses his signature, strange, unsymmetrical style that I've seen from 'Tekkonkinkreet' and 'Blue Spring', but somehow I find 'Sunny' to be a lot less chaotic and a lot more coherent. Possible due to the more realistic and clean setting, because he definitely didn't water down his art at all. I think this is a good chance for readers that have previously been scared off by his unconventional style to get into his work. It is easier to read and easier to appreciate the beauty in how different it is from the norm. We also get several stunning, full-color pages that really blew me away. They were a real treat and I hope we get some in volume two as well.
These last few days waiting in anticipating for this book to arrive, I thought I might have been letting my excitement get the better of me and setting myself up for disappointment. That worry was unfounded though. Taiyo Matsumoto put out a truly compelling first volume and Viz presented it in an amazing hardcover that is now one of the jewels of my collection. I'll be preordering volume two for sure and its November release date can't get here soon enough.