by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Sonny Boy ?
The sun is nowhere to be found in the opening act of Sonny Boy's finale. The dreary August rain casts a grey pall over every inch of the city, where street lamps and umbrellas blossom with muted light and color in their tiny individual protests against the sky's dark shroud. A man buries his nose in his phone and blames you for walking into him. Your mother solemnly collects the scant scorched remains of your grandmother. Your asshole boss yells at you and punches your shoulder. Every stray cat on the street reminds you of your own estranged companions. You eat a microwave dinner alone in your empty apartment, silent except for the muted percussion of droplets on the windows. This is the world Nagara and Mizuho buckled the fabric of the cosmos to return to. It's our world, and it still sucks.
A wistful mood permeates every reverberation of Sonny Boy's final notes. If last week was the explosive space-faring climax, then this week delivers to us a quieting denouement as Nagara and Mizuho return to their quotidian lives two years removed (to the day) from their departure. Rather than pick up from the cliffhanger, the story chooses to start inside of this world, and it uses minimal dialogue to give us space to digest the extent of our protagonists' “success.” It's the right call, because similar to Nozomi's funeral service, it sets the correct tone for the rest of the episode. Whereas last week was concerned with departures, this week is about reunions. But departures aren't universally sad, and reunions, likewise, are not unequivocally happy.
This dreary beginning is also important for the arc of the episode, which, in miniature, traces the path of the series as a whole. Since the first moments of the premiere, Nagara and his classmates have been wandering with tepidly outstretched arms through dark and unknowable places, hoping to grasp anything that makes sense. We're meant to question the wisdom of their present exodus. Although Rajdhani explained last week how there is no important difference between the various This Worlds and the “real” one, it's difficult not to compare the dull slabs of concrete against the sunny golden beaches of Hateno Island. How can this sullen reality be the right place? However, through all of the absurdity and nihilism, Nagara and his friends have always had some ray of hope to keep them going forward.
That ray's first and ultimate manifestation is the light Nozomi first saw, which now guides Nagara and Mizuho through the finale's psychedelic centerpiece. In the hands of a lesser creative team, it's easy to imagine this scene falling apart into indiscernible chaos. Under Shingo Natsume's direction, it's breathtaking. Asakaze's appearance provides one last morsel of closure and one last helping hand from their classmates. God scolds them, but he cannot stop them. Math-rock ensemble toe's “Sonny Boy Rhapsody” cuts through the silence to provide rhythm and structure. Their friendship (along with a length of rope) binds them, and Nozomi's hand points them in the right direction. What truly anchors them, however, in the narrative, thematic, and aesthetic senses, is that light. It illuminates their faces and casts long shadows behind them. It defines the movement and contours of their bodies against the swirling concatenation of portals and tesseracts. It's there, waiting for them. This final leg of their journey isn't a drift. It's a sprint.
Even though it may not look like it, Nagara and Mizuho are now living within that light, and sure enough, some of its rays start to poke through the clouds in the episode's second half. Mizuho does the most Mizuho thing possible and pretends to not know Nagara at first, but I think she just first needed to convince herself that they were truly back “home.” It's also cute that Nagara visits their old middle school during office hours, while Mizuho trespasses at night to do the same. They have complementary personalities, which is why they're able to brighten each other's moods once they do finally meet up. But it's not as if it's a jolt of divine energy out of the blue. It's still raining when they catch up. They just take some shelter and remind each other that they did manage to grow in the past two years, and they will continue to grow in the future. They part ways with an exchange of smiles, their footsteps spelling out two sets of ellipses.
The intimate stakes of this finale dig into the bittersweet heart of Sonny Boy, whose surreal obfuscations and layered symbols were always a means towards a very personal and indeterminate end. Nozomi is the final part of that equation—a warm and melancholic reminder of we can and cannot change. There's no doubt that the Nozomi in this world is not the girl Nagara and Mizuho knew. And after they paid their respects and kept her in their hearts, it wouldn't be right for them to be disappointed by that, so they aren't. As if to further drive home that point, Sonny Boy surrounds this Nozomi in the color red, in contrast to the blue with which it framed her other self's funeral. Like Nagara and Mizuho, this other Nozomi is just a possibility, but she's the one she wanted them to see. She's alive here. She can be happy here. This Asakaze too, free from his messianic burdens, has a chance to be happy here.
It's frustrating to see Nagara clam up around her after all this time. I want to see him fulfill his promise and ask to be her friend again. Is it because he feels awkward around her? Is it because she's technically not the same Nozomi who asked him to do so? I can't speak for Nagara, and considering the torrent of bizarre circumstances that led him to this point, I can't blame him for being weird about it either. And in spite of all that, I'm also proud of him. Bookending the series, a bird appears one last time. Before the drift, he walked past a dying one, to Nozomi's disappointment. Here, he checks the nest on his own. He still takes a moment to look around before getting the step stool, because he doesn't want to stand out too much—he's still Nagara, after all—but he does so all the same. Nozomi beats him to it, and he mumbles his way out of adopting the surviving chick; regardless, he still cared enough to check up on them, and that's more than he did prior to meeting her other self. It's a small step in the right direction. He can keep making those. He can continue his conversation with Nozomi another time. He can stay in touch with Mizuho and reminisce about Hateno Island until their memories effervesce away. He can work at his shitty job tomorrow and continue forging a life for himself away from his mother. He can keep at it a little bit at a time. It's still dark out, but the rain stops. He can take another step forward.
My mind has been abuzz with thoughts and feelings about the finale, as well as the rest of the show, since I finished it yesterday. Sonny Boy is improbably rich, echoing the kind of experimental and deeply personal series that endeared me to anime in the first place. It glows with creative energy, radiating out like lightning, from its style, to its animation, to its music, to its philosophy, to its characters, and beyond into the audience. It's much more than the sum of its parts, and it has a lot of fucking parts. Despite that, I'm still tempted to ask for more. I'm still tempted to write more. I woke up around 3 AM last night with the thought that Hoshi and God were the same person all along—that Hoshi eventually turned into that old man after using his invention, at which point he decided to become the steward for the rest of the drifters, for better or worse. Lucifer turning into the Almighty. Does that make sense, or is that just a cool idea? I don't know, but I like it! And Sonny Boy is full of room for interpretations like that. What do you think the two compasses mean? Do you think Yamabiko and Kodama will have a healthier relationship on this side of the universe? Why does interdimensional space look like a glitched screensaver? I can't wait to see what other people take away from it.
For now, however, despite three months of protests from the Ging Nang BOYZ, we have to say goodbye. I'm especially loathe to do so after that gorgeous, voice-crack-suffused acoustic version of the theme song that we got for the series' end credits, but I'm glad Sonny Boy was able to conclude on such a strong note—a bittersweet one, yet the correct one all the same. I'm also assuaged by the knowledge I probably won't be “leaving” Sonny Boy any time soon. This is an anime made to be rewatched and reexamined, deconstructed and debated, cried over and pored over. I'm really happy I was able to be a small part of the conversation as it aired, as my own perspective on the series shifted from week to week, from curiosity to best of the year contender. In the end, my heart smarts like it was hit by a monkey baseball, and I'm no more certain of anything than I was at the start of the show. But we're just beginning. It's a pleasant feeling.
Sonny Boy is currently streaming on Funimation.
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