Shingo Natsume, director of this season’s Sonny Boy, is an exciting name to hear, even if most know him from just one thing. After all that “one” thing just so happens to be One Punch Man. But before Natsume blew minds with One Punch Man‘s insane roster of talented animators, he blew minds with Space Dandy‘s insane roster of talented animators a year prior.
Fast forward, he showed himself to be a much more diverse director. He directed ACCA 13, a chill drama about a guy auditing his country’s different states to weed out corruption. Then he took a crack at an ambitious – if not entirely successful – adaptation of Boogiepop and Others. The dude has range.
But it seems he also has magnetism. When he helms a project, some very fascinating artists come flocking to his shows, whether it’s the animators, the character designers, the color designers, or all of the above. This time, it happens to be all of the above.
This is Sonny Boy.
This article covers the first four episodes of Sonny Boy released at the time of writing.
Sonny Boy is strange from the get-go, and the art direction follows suit. A whole school full of kids is trapped. Their school is stuck in a strange black abyss. Despite that, everything is lit as brightly as if the sun was shining right outside. It’s a subtle but unsettling visual motif. The kids can’t contact the outside world and – most strangely of all – the kids are developing supernatural powers.
The student council tries to establish a kind of order by creating rules and jobs, incentivizing cooperation with the threat of penalties. The penalties in question are impulsive acts that must be performed ad nauseam. But it isn’t as though everyone is pleased with the way the student council does things.
Some superpowered kids want to rebel. Not Nagara though. He has seemingly no desire for anything or anyone, content to sit in one place and stare at the ceiling in this isolation. Nozomi, a girl in his class, is the opposite, constantly looking for something to get lost in. They both observe the tensions rise among the students until they find that there’s far more to their predicament than just an abyss.
Sonny Boy is, in as simple terms as I can muster, a study in society. Notably, rules, cooperation, and governance. Each of the four episodes so far has been some kind of “phenomenon of the week.” Some new dilemma arrives, the kids investigate, and then they determine what “rule” of the world caused it.
They have to adjust to the rules of the world set before them. They aren’t trying to break them or overcome those limitations. Rather, they are making do by working with them. It’s not only a good metaphor for growing up and learning about the world, but it falls in line with something I’ve noticed about Japanese philosophy.
In American fiction, there’s this idea that rules need to be broken sometimes. On the flip side, a lot of Japanese fiction approach those kinds of issues from the perspective of “how can we justify this action through the rules we have.” Sure, maybe it’s semantics and just a different way to phrase the same point, but how you look at something can make a big difference.
The show settles into a cozy formula pretty quickly and in addition to the new supernatural occurrence of the week explores the powers of the characters. I loved pretty much all of the episodes, though I was a little bit irked by the fourth.
The main plot seemed to come out of nowhere and while I typically love baseball episodes, one character just went ON about it so long I was finding it hard to follow. The Funimation app with its lagging subtitles may have been partially to blame as well, but it was the first episode that made me go “huh,” that wasn’t followed immediately by “ah, cool, alright.”
I think I picked the perfect time to jump on the Sonny Boy bandwagon. The end of episode four introduced a character who will undoubtedly shake up the whole show. Maybe it’ll only be temporary, maybe it’ll be until the very end. Either way, I’m hyped to see how this show evolves.
Shows like this are interesting to me because the main appeal isn’t always easy to find. The enjoyment comes from seeing characters in an utterly perplexing environment and seeing them figure it out slowly but surely. They may not all get along, but they all collectively pick up on the rules and work from there to figure things out.
The whole show is like watching an experiment. If you’re the kind that can get lost in it, you’ll probably come back to see where it’s going. If you need a bit more incentive, you may want to look elsewhere. And if you can put that aside to appreciate nice-looking art, then hoo boy this is a treat.
The show’s look sets it apart from anything else airing right now. The character designer, Kugai Norifumi, worked with Natsume on ACCA 13 in the same capacity. Some of the designs look like they’d be right at home in ACCA and the others are just altogether pleasing, even if some look intentionally “off.”
The color design, which most people will instantly recognize, was done by Satoshi Hashimoto who at the very least did color design for ACCA 13‘s OVA, Regards. So not exactly a reunion, but the right people are working on it. That’s for sure.
I’ve been late to start watching Summer Anime, but I’m glad I made Sonny Boy the first I caught up with. If you, like me, are a bit behind, this is definitely worth a look.
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Sonny Boy is available for legal streaming through Funimation and Hulu.
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