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Sonny Boy
Episode 11

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 11 of
Sonny Boy ?
Community score: 4.6

Since the classmates' first surreal brush with drifting, Sonny Boy has always been about the pains and joys of departure, but its penultimate episode crystallizes those feelings into their sharpest, most brilliant points. In other words, this episode made me cry. I was startled by how much I had grown to care about these characters as people, especially because the show so often feels like an anthology of abstract philosophical debates wearing the skin of a sci-fi drama. However, I believe this proves that the real glue holding Sonny Boy together this whole time has been its exquisite execution as a piece of animation. The patient, deliberate care this episode takes with everything from its framing to its character acting is just another example of the series' mesmerizing aesthetic quality. Even if I had found the writing to be complete nonsense (I don't), I still think I would have had a difficult time pulling myself away from Sonny Boy's kaleidoscopic thirst for reinvention each week.

This chapter opens on a gorgeous example of the series' craft, as Nagara, Mizuho, and their animal friends work together to make a memorial for Nozomi. Mostly wordless save for the beautiful song by The Natsuyasumi Band, the montage focuses on the work itself, because a memorial is not just a single moment, place, or object. It's the effort it takes to scour the island for trinkets and mementos that evoke Nozomi. It's the sweat and labor that goes into planning and building a place of ceremony. It's the tears that fall, however long it takes for them to well up and drop into the soil, where the earth may intern them, as it will all other evidence that any of us ever lived. Nozomi's friends memorialize her with the color blue. It's the color of the ocean they came from, still slowly swallowing up the school, and it's the color of the sky, where her Compass, willful and unwavering, still points. Blue is the color of Sonny Boy.

The opening montage's focus on work also foreshadows the rest of the episode, which concerns itself with construction on a much larger scale. Rajdhani makes a pit stop on his multi-millennium journey to help his friends finish the Project Robinson they started back when they first discovered the island, but more importantly, he stops by to say goodbye to them. Assuming the finale focuses on Nagara and Mizuho's journey home, I think it's only fitting that Rajdhani gets the spotlight in the show's last full episode in the drift. Rajdhani is Sonny Boy's Renaissance man. Out of all the copies we've seen, he's the one who worked the hardest to be both the kindest and most inquisitive—the most aware of his limits, and the most determined to achieve their maxima. He's the only wanderer who returned to pay respects to Nozomi. He's a good person and a good friend, and it hurts to have to part ways with him.

Nevertheless, Nagara and Mizuho still steel themselves to return home on their own. In Sonny Boy's typical fashion, it refuses to explicitly state why only the two of them will make that journey, but it provides plenty of room for interpretation. To that end, Rajdhani acts as the episode's thematic steward, telling each of them a tale from his 2000 years of travel. The one he tells Mizuho is the easier to interpret, especially in the context of the imminent departure: nostalgia is inevitable and powerful, but we can't let ourselves be consumed by it. Nostalgia takes advantage of our imperfect memories to create intoxicatingly perfect images that reality can never hope to replicate. This is, perhaps, one reason why Nagara and Mizuho are “allowed” to make the journey home. Neither of them hold any particularly idyllic memories they want to lose themselves in; rather, as Mizuho says, they have things they still want to do. It's a vague answer, but it's a good one, because a proper future—one without stagnation—can only be vague and unformed. It's like the end of Adolescence of Utena; the outside world might be a harsh apocalyptic wasteland, but it's still better than being a living corpse trapped inside of the Prince's dollhouse.

The pall of Nozomi's death still hangs over Nagara and Mizuho, however. Rajdhani, in turn, relays his second story about the student who invented Death. Sonny Boy keeps its cards close to its chest, per usual, evoking both the memory of War's atrocities and teasing us with a glimpse of somebody who looks a lot like Hoshi. Their real identity doesn't really matter, but I like to think Rajdhani was telling Nagara what happened to his old classmates—that they managed to build a utopia in the end, but were never completely free of darkness. Hoshi (let's assume it was him), unable to kill himself, invented a way to kill his personality and became a different person. That's a kind of death, after all. And despite the atrocities Hoshi committed, there's no relief in Rajdhani's voice when he conveys what happened to him and what he did to himself. There's just a morbid sense of curiosity, and the feeling of an emptiness where once there was something.

Rajdhani postulates that all of the students will die eventually. Like the way a river, given enough time, can grind a mountain down to atoms, so too will the constant accumulation of experiences gradually wear down everyone until they are nothing but an object—a gun, a compass, a lopsided hole, a furball that smells like the sun, etc. It's sad, but Nagara recognizes that it's sad in the same way our typical mortal deaths are sad. There is no more and no less meaning inside the labyrinth of These Worlds than there is in their home world. Both 70 years and 7000 years are equally infinitesimal compared to the infinite void of nothingness that surrounds them. Everything will still disappear in the end. But it's that meaningless transience, however much it's stretched out, that makes life so precious. Nihilism doesn't have to weigh us down. Nihilism can point us towards what we truly need to value. Nihilism can be our compass.

If Sonny Boy has anything as simple as a “message,” then Rajdhani's exclamation of nihilistic optimism—that nothing matters, but sometimes cool things really do happen—is probably as close as we're going to get. That attitude similarly drives Nagara and Mizuho. Nozomi might be gone, and nothing in the drift might ultimately matter, but they choose to follow her will and go home together anyway. Even if it makes it as if the drift never happened for them, it still did happen. Or here's another way of thinking about it: Nagara's and Mizuho's powers combined together to create the drifting phenomenon. Nagara's inclinations towards escape and retreating inwards manifested as his ability to create and travel between an infinite number of worlds contained within an infinite number of students. Mizuho's wish to not lose anybody manifested as an immortality born from stasis, where people who can no longer die instead gradually condense and calcify over eons into permanent unfeeling objects. For them, specifically, to return home, they have to reject these coping mechanisms and confront reality head-on. Nobody else can do that for them. But they can still make that journey together.

And what a way to show that journey! I have a lot of complicated feelings about the realities of space exploration, but thankfully, Sonny Boy is all about abstractions. And as an abstraction, the construction of a Saturn V rocket is a great way to symbolize a watershed moment in humankind's development. It's a giant monument to the power of technology, ingenuity, and collaboration. They can't pluck it out of a Nyamazon box. They have to build it. Also, speaking as someone who watched Apollo 13 religiously as a kid, it was a delight to see all of that careful mechanical detail and animation applied to the coolest rocket anybody has ever built. It's also wild to consider that this technical animation comes paired with all of the expressive character acting elsewhere in the episode, which likely arrives courtesy of the show's character designer Norifumi Kugai both storyboarding and serving as animation director. Sonny Boy really pulls out all of the stops in pursuit of this episode's extended emotional climax, and the result is as lovely as it is heartrending.

I have no idea where or how this journey will end. I do know, however, that Sonny Boy ends this episode beautifully, weaving together the lyrics of its theme song with Nagara and Mizuho's final challenge against God, the cosmos, or whatever else stands in the way of their home. They've had to part ways with their friends, their peers, their pets, their caregivers, and more, but now they've arrived at the last barrier, seated in a space elevator, floating far away from the island. There's nowhere left to go but up and forward, where Nozomi's hand continues to point.


Sonny Boy is currently streaming on Funimation.

Steve writes bad jokes weekly for This Week in Anime, and outside of ANN, you'll be able to find him making Sonny Boy aesthetic posts on his Twitter.

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