Anime original by Madhouse
Streaming on Funimation
For unexplained reasons, an ordinary Japanese high school has been pulled into another dimension, with 36 seniors still inside. What’s more, some of them have developed unusual superpowers.Thinking the school is in danger of falling into anarchy, a small group take it upon themselves to govern the rest of students.
This was a fascinatingly odd, slightly disjointed premiere that nevertheless shows great promise for what may be yet to come. I think the most important thing that it nails is tone – the storytelling here is fragmentary and deliberately vague, yet there’s a definite undertone of menace that the script toys with extremely well. The themes of power and control inside this microscopic society of not-quite adults recall classic tales of savagery such as Lord of the Flies, yet there’s also room for, if not humour, at least a lighter, more whimsical touch. The contrast between the sense of suppressed danger and the quirkiness of a runny-nosed cat is key to the uncomfortable atmosphere.
That’s helped by a distinctly ‘loose’ visual style that walks the line between naturalism and surrealism quite effectively. The presentation of the very ordinary looking school in the middle of a pitch-black void is striking, as is the terrific final visual of Nagara and Nozomi falling into the blue sea. As we mentioned on the podcast the series is helmed by the highly regarded Shingo Natsume, and he definitely brings some auteur flair to the storytelling. Like a lot of stories centred around a mystery, how they bring that mystery to light will be the ultimate deciding factor in how well Sonny Boy works overall, but I was intrigued and encouraged by this first episode. Even if the season were not barren as a desert, this one is worth a closer look.
I’m in two minds with Sonny Boy. On the one hand, it’s been a while since I’ve watched a decent survival game-type series, despite there being a surfeit of these in anime, especially in recent years (most of which I’ve more or less hated on sight – Mayoiga, Ousama Game, Darwin’s Game, Pet, etc. etc.). To be fair, this one might be more Lord of the Flies-inspired than survival game per se, which I’m a bit more into – but again, it’s been a while, maybe even as far back as something like Infinite Ryvius or Jyu–Oh–Sei, so it’s fair to say I’m about due for another.
On the other hand, I’m not sure I’m into Sonny Boy’s overall presentation of these types of themes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see that (so far at least, touch wood) there’s no overt sexualization of its female characters or specifically predatorial cast members; a trope that’s exceedingly common in this genre. What I’m not entirely sold on is Sonny Boy’s delivery. I get that it’s going for something between Satoshi Kon and Masaaki Yuasa, both in regard to its general art style and its surrealist approach to the subject matter at hand, but that’s kind of the point – when something is actively trying to be artsy instead of just doing it, the seams are bound to show, and I’ve never been a fan of weirdness for weirdness’ sake. None of this is helped by the fact that I don’t especially like any of the characters, even the ‘good’ ones, who I honestly found vaguely annoying more than anything else.
Despite my lukewarm response to what should be such a potentially compelling title, the desert of anime that is summer 2021 means I’ll probably continue watching for the time being. Exactly how long that’s for remains to be seen.