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Sunny Vol. #01 Hardcover Manga Review

6 min read

The newest series from critically acclaimed manga author Taiyo Matsumoto comes to us from Viz in an absolutely gorgeous hardcover release that will prove to be tough to beat!

Creative Staff
Story: Taiyo Matsumoto
Art: Taiyo Matsumoto
Translation/Adaptation: Michael Arias

What They Say
The latest manga masterpiece from the Eisner Award-winning creator of Tekkonkinkreet.
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.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Taking cues from Yen Press’ release of A Bride’s Story, Sunny is presented a 6×8½ hardcover displaying Matsumoto’s artwork with the look and feel of a pastel painting on canvas. It shows off Matsumoto’s leanings toward a more fine arts style rather than what we’ve come to know as being atypical of manga. It’s just gorgeous! I’m such a sucker for his art that I’ve found myself just gawking at the presentation of the book from time to time and just soaking it up. The book itself also comes with introductory color pages that help set the world of the story up in our minds so that while we read the remaining black and white pages, we fill in the color where appropriate. An interesting aside to note: the translation for this book is performed by Michael Arias, the American born anime director of the feature film Tekkonkinkreet, based on the manga by Taiyo Matsumoto. So you know there is a real passion for the work being put forth and it really shows in every aspect of this release.

The story itself centers around a group home filled with a large group of kids who consider themselves orphans. The book never really goes into detail about why the kids are in the home, but it becomes apparent that they all still have families that they are aware of; they have just been “abandoned” at this home for some reason and get to visit their families from time to time. The chapters play off as self-encapsulated vignettes that focus on different kids and situations. Unlike Matsumoto’s other work, there is no hint of something fantastical lurking in the background. These are just kids who feel dejected from the world and their loved ones and have to learn to cope and survive on their own.

It’s a thoroughly engrossing read as each story shows utter compassion towards the children and their emotions. It’s clear that Matsumoto has a strong sense of empathy for people faced with the situation these kids are in and everything is dealt with extreme elegance so that the reader learns about the characters and feels for them deeply without requiring any sort of info-dump style of exposition. With Sunny we all see Matsumoto continuing the trend of moving his art style to a more minimalist approach with the characters while maintaining a high level of detail for the background objects and landscapes. It’s easy to dismiss his art as ugly because they stray so far from what we’ve come to expect from manga in terms of art. It could be argued however that his art is ugly, but it’s ugly for a purpose. His stories have always depicted an ugliness within our world, an ugliness that affects youth and taints the beauty that we are told we would receive since birth. The way he draws his characters keeps in line with those thematics and purposefully doesn’t paint them as beautiful manga characters, these are real people with real lives. But the illusion of fantasy must be maintained to generate an air of wonder, so herein we have Matsumoto’s artstyle.

The air of wonder I mention, despite stating that there’s no hint of anything fantastical, deal with the manga’s namesake: Sunny. Sunny is an old broken down Nissan Datsun Sunny 1200 sedan that sits on the property of the home. The children use Sunny as a sort of clubhouse where they all hang out and store personal items, such as porno magazines. While hanging out in Sunny, the children sometime use their imaginations to live out some sort of fantasy or personal desire. The manga handles these fantasies by depicting each occurrence as if it is really happening, the landscape changes and the situations become real. This plays out much like a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip and weaves itself into the stories by displaying some sort of inner desire of the children; an extra layer of detail to the growing world. One of the things I love about these sequences is that they don’t go full bore. For example, in the opening pages of the book, we see Haruo sitting in the car in the middle of a vast desert with the home dog sitting outside. From panel to panel the perspective changes to where the dog is suddenly a coyote, Haruo is suddenly bleeding, and then Haruo is suddenly some different adult character that he is pretending to be. By mixing the various realities and fantasies we get a much deeper sense that these are children’s hopes and dreams used to escape from their reality rather than just an excuse to do cool things to break up the tone of the story. Each aspect encapsulated in this first volume works perfectly together to present something that is meaningful and impactful to readers. It’s not just a book to read and enjoy but rather a book to be enjoyed and felt personally. Highly recommended!

In Summary
Matsumoto’s work is always difficult for me to try and write about or to discuss with others. It is never something that has any sort of mainstream appeal and whose structures and style are too often alienating to the wider audience. But there is superior levels of mastery at work and they should be shared with and experienced by as many people as possible. The most glaring difference with Sunny is that there really isn’t any sort of hook, nothing to point out as a reason someone should give the series a shot. Not in this first volume anyway. The stories just flow with the tides and interacted with me on a personal level. I didn’t care that there wasn’t an arc or a hook, I was entranced by the characters. How each revelation opened up their reality to me and struck a chord with my own sense of empathy. I have never been in a situation like these children face but it’s clear that Matsumoto understands this world to the extent of which he can force us to also understand, to give new life to these characters who seem to have had their chance at life slowly sapped away from them. I cannot wait for volume 2 and I sincerely hope that as many people as possible give the series a shot. You may have a different reaction that I did, that’s the nature of art, but this is special and to ignore the possibility of being personally affected by something so full of heart just because you are initially caught off guard by the artstyle would be a real shame.

Content Grade: A
Art Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A+
Text/Translation Grade: A-

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: May 21st, 2013
MSRP: $22.99