Taiyo Matsumoto has a penchant for writing stories about children. Rough children, broken, eccentric children, but children all the same, with children’s hopes and dreams. And most importantly, children’s questions. This is the way Taiyo Matsumoto starts his latest comics work, Sunny, published under Viz’s Sig IKKI line. Not with panoramas, or images of the far-fetched, like his earlier works, Tekkonkinkreet and GoGo Monster, but with questions. The difference sets the tone for a series that looks at childhood from yet another perspective.
Sunny is about a group of kids living at the Star Children’s Home; in the way that each chapter asks a new question, each chapter is a different story, told from a different perspective, staring the same recurring cast of children. The connection is the home, a sort of foster agency/orphanage, and a prized vehicle on premise, an old, rusted out Datsun Sunny (Nissan Sentra) that the children nap, play, and dream in. For some, the Sunny is a place to escape, driving on the moon or playing outlaw like the brash, white-haired Harou. For others, it is a place to remember, driving back home to the family that abandoned you, like newcomer Sei.
Part of what makes Sunny so riveting is its true-to-life styling. Author Matsumoto is writing from experience as a child growing up in an orphanage. Perhaps partially a confessional, partially a re-imagining, or perhaps even a history, this book explores the real worries and the way children deal with those worries. The angers and quarrels of children living in close quarters are all there. Hogging toys and friends, worrying about relationships and four-leaf clovers, that is all out in the open, and so resonant. The underlying questions about why the children are at the home, where their parents are, why some children look forward to visitation days and others dread them, all dwell underneath the play and the boisterous energy. The combination creates a powerful melancholy that pervades the book.
Matsumoto’s sketchy, abstracted artwork is complemented by unique earth tones and the coloring work of his wife, Saho Tono. The mix of sketchiness and painterly aesthetic makes the whole book a joy to look at. The use of watercolor with Matsumoto’s usual art and powerful lines bring a depth to Sunny that shows how the artist has evolved since writing Number 5 and Tekkonkinkreet. The art conveys just the right amount of detail and energy, while still maintaining a reminiscent quality.
Slice of life has always been one of my favorite genres, but rarely does it get such a lovely treatment. Viz has taken cues from Yen Press and Vertical, and has published a deluxe hardcover for this series. The textured paper, the beautiful matte textured hardcover, make this book wonderful to both touch and read.
I can unreservedly recommend Sunny. This is Matsumoto writing from a place we haven’t seen before, despite using similar themes. Striking close to home with Sunny has led to some of his most expressive, most beautiful, most thought-provoking comics work yet. Sunny is a delight and worth the attention of any comics reader, regardless of any previous experience with manga.