Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Life at Star Kids Home isn't easy for anyone, no matter how well settled in they seem. Sei misses his family, who supposedly left him at the foster home for “just a little while,” Haruo and Kenji struggle with their places in the world, and Megumu wonders whether being adopted is worth the terror of leaving the familiar behind. Star Kids Home isn't perfect, but in this volume, the children cope with the idea that it really is the home they've got.
Taiyo Matsumoto's Sunny is a deceptive series. On the surface it is a slow-moving slice-of-life story about the group of children living at the Star Kids Home, a “foster home” for orphaned or abandoned children in the late 1970s. It's easy to just accept that as the sum total of the series, but Matsumoto manages to imbue each volume with its own unifying theme that discusses an issue that affects not just the children, but people in general. The specifics of each chapter may belong to the characters, but there's a universality to the collection as a whole that expands the story beyond the confines of its world.
The theme of this fifth volume is “dislocation” or “displacement” in terms of the characters' places in the world. We've seen it play out before in Haruo's specific storyline – he was brought to the home when his mother felt she couldn't (or didn't want to) take care of him anymore and he sees her on occasion – and his chapter in this book once again examines her role in his life and behavior. During a baseball game between Star Kids and other group homes, Haruo is convinced to leave the field by a friend at a different home, and the two set out on the town. The other boy seems conflicted about how to deal with Haruo – he buys him a new tin of Nivea, which Haruo carries around and sniffs because it smells like his mother – but he also cautions Haruo about his attachment to a woman with whom he will likely never live again. Haruo clearly doesn't want to hear it, but we can see that a part of him also accepts that the words are true, even as he goes back to Star Kids without any real fuss. What's significant here is that Haruo may be for the first time beginning to accept that his mother is unreliable, a truth that no child wants to acknowledge. This nicely parallels Sei's chapter, wherein Sei plans and attempts an escape from the home to return to his parents. Sei is the character we came in with four books ago, and while it's been clear that he's uneasy living at Star Kids, he's always seemed calm enough. That, it is now revealed, is more of a front while he plans to learn to drive (a standard, I might add) and find his parents. Sei and Haruo are thus revealed to be two sides of the same coin, equally unhappy and uncertain of where they belong, but only one willing to reveal that to the world at large. Both could be said to be suffering from a familial displacement, a sense that they don't really fit in anywhere and that no one truly wants them. Whether they are quietly falling to pieces on the inside or loudly acting out, both boys are unhappy and feel helpless to change that.
The same can easily be said for Kenji, one of the older children at Star Kids. He adds the burden of being ostracized at school for being “the foster kid,” and by smoking and reading porn magazines he tries to alleviate his stress. Looking at him, trying to help an unhappy classmate and to help her take care of a family of feral cats, we can see a slightly older Haruo in the basically good-hearted boy who feels isolated from the world and acts out to try to break the walls he feels have been erected around him by life. Matsumoto really captures this emotion in his not-always-pretty artwork, with subtle changes of posture and little gestures, like how Kenji sits in class or Haruo fiddling with his mirrored sunglasses. Sei's facial expression and body language change drastically from the beginning to the end of his chapter as his plans go awry and he goes from looking out to gazing down. It isn't polished, and in the case of Jun's perpetually runny nose it can be gross, but Matsumoto's artwork is always honest, which is precisely what Sunny requires.
While Sunny's high price point ($22.99 per hardcover volume) can be prohibitive, it really is a series worth reading. Matsumoto writes a story about children without making it a children's story, and he gives his characters all the nuanced emotions that they are capable of. By turns bitter and sweet, Sunny's fifth volume reminds us that the safe places can't always be the best places and that sometimes we don't have as much choice in our own lives as we might like…but that a little imagination can still take us a long way.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : B+
+ Emotionally honest and never writes down or infantilizes its child characters. Great sense of place and time, art is emotive…
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