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Anime Expo Lite 2021 & Aniplex Online Fest 2021
Anime Expo Lite 2021 - Sonny Boy Premiere with Director Shingo Natsume

by Kalai Chik,

Originally released on Funimation's YouTube channel, the first episode of Sonny Boy premiered within a limited 24-hour window on June 18. The initial episode left viewers with more questions than answers, but luckily the Sonny Boy panel premiered the series' first two episodes as well as an interview with series writer and director Shingo Natsume. During Anime Expo Lite, Natsume provided context ahead of the series' official premiere on July 15th in Japan and on Funimation within the US.

Natsume, who previously directed the first season of One-Punch Man and co-directed Space Dandy, introduced his first original anime, Sonny Boy. He describes it as a “castaway type of show,” where the 36 high school freshmen are transported to an alien dimension. In contrast to the comedic tones of his work on adaptations such as One-Punch Man, the tone of Sonny Boy teeters on science fiction with a bit of existential horror as the students question whether they'll ever return to their world.

“The story itself is a kind of collection of snippets pasted together,” said Natsume, referring to the ever-changing situation of shifting worlds.

At the heart of the story is the capricious nature of youth. Natsume lists Jules Verne's Two Years' Vacation and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island as influences, but with the added spice of sci-fi elements and supernatural powers. A few of the students have special powers that range anywhere from shifting spatial planes to issuing “punishments” for those who don't follow the established, but vague, rules.

Viewers are dropped straight into the story, where the students have already been in their situation for a week and learn the backstory of the situation as the episode progresses. Scenes of situations before the students drifted into their current space are interspersed within the first two episodes. After being transported to this new world, some students have gained superpowers, but it's not shown at the start as to who has powers and what kinds of powers they have.

Eagle eye fans will instantly draw comparisons to Kazuo Umezu's horror manga, The Drifting Classroom, which is cheekily referenced as the student's group chat name. Unsurprisingly, a story about stranded students would lead viewers to make a connection to William Golding's Lord of the Flies as the tension rises between the various factions of the 36 students.

The three main protagonists—Mizuho, Nagara, and Nozomi—slowly come together after the events of the second episode as Mizuho distances herself from any human interaction. Nozomi, who wears a different colored uniform compared to the other students, physically and emotionally distances herself from the rules set by the student council, who she believes is too rigid with their rules.

Another interesting character, Hoshi, convinces the other fourth year council students to select a new leader to guide and uphold the “new” rules they've created for the good of the school. He has a penchant for upholding and ensuring the other students are following the student council's self-imposed ground rules exactly to a T and loses the luster in his eyes when students stray from those rules. The situation surrounding the student council overseeing the other students, is most likely what Natsume refers to in his interview.

“There are scenes, for example, where characters quote morals,” explained Natsume. “But those are supposed to be prescriptive. I just want to present that there are some people who think this way, and the relationships create this story.”

From the premiere, it's unclear what the stakes are for the students as they—and the school—are in stasis. Even though they have an unlimited supply of food, water, they have a limited connection to the internet. They can use it as a dictionary or reference guide, as well as a communication tool, but they can't call or reach out for help. Any injuries they sustain are immediately healed, however, it's clear the situation takes a mental toll on students individually and as a group.

The second episode clarifies a couple of ground rules: the school and the students are traversing different spaces and each space comes with new rules. It's not clear how time works within these different spaces, whether it be on an island or a vacuum of nothingness. They learn together that the only way to adapt to their shifting situations is to test out the “rules” and adjust accordingly.

Although the series has multiple protagonists, Natsume explains there will be no internal character monologues. Rather than give insight to the character's thoughts, his intention is to have the audience take on a true outsider's perspective. With that in mind, his most important takeaway to the viewers is to not think too hard about scientific logic. “It is sci-fi, but it would be great if you didn't concentrate on the fine details, but just take a step back and enjoy the flow.”

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