by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Sonny Boy ?
Every dog has its day, and Yamabiko already had his obligatory one last week, so now it's time for Sonny Boy's talking feline trinity to paw their way onto center stage. In a sense, it's back to business as usual as we follow Nagara's group through the latest leg of their fuzzily-defined journey, but “business as usual” for this series is still loaded with surrealism and metaphor. This time, the conflict takes the form of a millennia-long feud over a strand of hair, where a pair of twins and their power to turn back time have ensured the battle's perpetuity. Additionally, this episode returns to the cornerstone mystery of the drifting phenomenon. It even provides an answer, but it's one that only raises even more questions. That, after all, is the Sonny Boy way.
I love Mizuho's cats, and they make a great “addition” to the cast (remembering, of course, that they've been around since the premiere). The series' penchant for dry humor immediately comes through in the nonchalant way the cold open reveals they can talk. The fact that these Nyamazon employees just happen to be debating labor issues is icing on the show's allegorical cake. Their role in this particular episode is twofold: they drop some bombshells about the true nature of Mizuho's power, and they also open a small window into Mizuho's past and psyche. Sakura in particular, however, is the episode's most compelling character.
We've been told that only students from Nagara's school populate these infinite parallel worlds, but now that we know they're sentient, Mizuho's cats make for a fascinating exception to that rule. The one thing these other worlds have consistently lacked is adults, and those are the shoes (or, if you'd prefer, kitten mittens) these cats fill with their adorable toe beans. Sakura especially sees herself as Mizuho's caretaker, withholding the truth about her ward/master's copying power in order to protect her from the consequences. As Yamabiko correctly points out, though, Sakura's motives are not exclusively altruistic, because this drifting phenomenon is the only reason Sakura can be with and take care of Mizuho in the first place. It's a nice little example of the anxieties that fester between a parent and an adolescent child. More generally, it's also about finding the balance between caring for someone and trusting them enough to take care of themselves. Sakura's not wrong to worry about Mizuho, but she'll have to put her own fears aside if Mizuho—or any of the students—will be allowed to actually grow up.
Through a flashback, Rajdhani provides a good reason for Sakura to trust other people. As much as I've enjoyed the departures in the Sonny Boy's second act, I'm very glad that Rajdhani wasn't permanently written out of the story. This wide-eyed teen scientist was one of my favorite characters before this episode aired, and now that I know he's written his own tick-focused dating sim, he's definitely jumped up a few tiers. I'm not going to pretend I fully understand the causal link between this copying power and the drifting phenomenon, but I also think the specifics of that are beyond the point of the episode. What's important is that Rajdhani figured it out with his own intelligence and inquisitiveness (and feline polygraph test). He didn't succumb to despair after their failure in episode six, and he didn't point fingers at Mizuho in enraged desperation afterwards; he found an answer and went off to search for more. Maybe the world is fundamentally absurd, and maybe it isn't. Either way, that shouldn't stop people from looking for solutions.
But speaking of absurdity, Sonny Boy lathers itself in its choice brand of serious silliness when it comes to examining the feud between Sou and Seiji. The series understands that war is a complicated concept—just look at the previous episode—but that doesn't mean it can't have fun paring the immense history of human conflict down to its core, petty essence: a single extra hair out of thousands and thousands more. Wars, arguably, have been fought for much less. Because there are plenty of examples of stories that use similar metaphors to make similar points, this episode feels more derivative than last week's surreal tour-de-force. However, I still appreciate how firmly Sonny Boy buries its tongue in its cheek when delivering commentary. For instance, my favorite part of this conflict arrives when, in response to a suggestion they pluck out the extra hair from Seiji, Nagara sheepishly suggests they add an extra hair to Sou's head instead. Now that's what I call diplomacy!
The predictably unpredictable Sonny Boy wrinkle in this conflict is that Sou and Seiji are not twins, but copies of the same person. Metaphorically speaking, this adds an even more humanitarian slant to the episode's commentary on war—that we are all fundamentally the same, yet we insist on hurting ourselves. On a smaller scale, though, the yearning for self-negation also keeps bubbling up throughout this story. Asakaze's inferiority complex hasn't gotten any better, and the insults he hurls at Nozomi are obvious projections of his own internally-directed scoldings. Nozomi, too, voices that she's thought about ending everything, still haunted by her “other” self's death and crushed by her lack of power and purpose. However, Nagara extends his hand to her. She might not see the guiding light of Compass anymore, but just by being herself, she once showed Nagara the way towards becoming a better version of himself. Now he returns the favor, showing her a light in her darkness. It's a small and gentle moment of reciprocated kindness in the midst of an apocalyptic wasteland. Perhaps the most we can ever hope to have is a collection of these small and gentle moments.
Sou and Seiji aren't so lucky. Their only guide this episode is Aki, the pretend adult, who acts as a foil to both Sakura and Nozomi. As we already covered, Sakura's deception stems from both selfless and selfish places, but overall she genuinely cares about Mizuho, and her tiny cat heart is in the right place. And Nozomi may be rude and overconfident at times, but she's still as serious as her friends about finding a way home. Aki is just plain manipulative. If I had to guess, she (successfully) orchestrates the toy laser gun duel not to whittle the number of clones back down to one, but to destroy both of them. After all, if Seiji's power could potentially revert everyone back to before the drift, then obviously Aki would want to prevent that. She believes that God's will is for their drifting to continue (i.e. preserving the world/worlds they're currently in), and she uses God's weapon to ensure it. Maybe that's why she's keeping such a close eye on Asakaze as well.
Episode 8 is a tough act to follow. While this installment doesn't leave my head and heart aching nearly as much, it's still a singularly surreal and unsettling experience like only Sonny Boy can deliver. I'm probably most surprised that the characters appear to be headed in the direction of some kind of “resolution” to their drifting. The anime has been so powerful and evocative in its wanderlust mode that I wouldn't mind if the rest of the season consisted only of strange side stories with melancholic musings. Nevertheless, I still like seeing Nagara, Nozomi, and Mizuho grow as characters, people, and friends, and I certainly won't mind if they remain the series' sentimental core through the end.
Sonny Boy is currently streaming on Funimation.
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