I’ve long been a fan of Taiyo Matsumoto, a guy who for years has ranked amongst my favourite mangaka. Hopefully you’ll know him as the author of Tekkonkinkreet (Black & White,) or GoGo Monster, or perhaps even Ping Pong? If not, you really should, because he’s a genius.
So, I’m a Matsumoto fan-boy, that you know by now, but what you probably don’t is that he has a new series out, called Sunny. I’ve long been promising that I’ll read it, and tonight, I finally got to it.
Sunny is set in a Japanese adoption home. It’s no sob story, but at the same time, deals mostly with the trauma of being a kid without parents. It’s bitter-sweet, really. The kids are well looked after by their orphanage and the staff working there are all great, but that doesn’t stop the likes of young Haruo from sniffing a tub of hand-cream every morning because it reminds him of his mum.
By the way, the name Sunny comes from a broken-down old car that sits in the orphanage’s garden. It’s off-limits to the adults, like a tree-house or something, filled with dirty books and girls dolls and toys.
Kenji is one of the older orphans, around 15 years old. His dad is a toothless drunk and his mum lives far away with some other guy. He’s thinking about dropping out of school and running away to find her.
His delinquent school-mate Haruna hangs out with a group of yakuza, but when Kenji seems to be going the same way, she tries to stop him. One dark night, he rides his bike in the middle of the road, arms out-stretched, screaming with laughter, cars hooting behind him. He just wants to escape and be free of it all.
Reading back on what I’ve written so far, I’ll accept that Sunny‘s probably sounding a tad depressing, but I’ll make the point again of saying that it’s bitter-sweet for a reason: bitterness lingers in the children’s longing for their parents, but there’s a sweetness here, too. One chapter is purely devoted the children’s minders taking joy in visiting them at school and just being there for them when it counts the most. Matsumoto’s genius has always been in capturing both the truth and magic in life. Sunny‘s no different, in that it’s a beautiful and seamless mix of the dream-like and emotional.
His is more philosophical style than anything. Another of the orphans, a girl named Megumu, finds a dead cat floating in a river near-by. Haruo shows up and fishes it out for her, but she’s worried about the same thing happening to her. What if she were to drop dead right there and then? Would any one care (if not her long-gone parents?) Haruo looks up and shouts that he’ll find her and bury her under the biggest tombstone in the world! Just knowing that means everything to her, and makes Sunny what it is: a melancholy and wonderful story.