“Sunny” is the latest manga series by Taiyo Matsumoto to be translated into English. Similar to his previous hit, “Tekkonkinkreet,” the story’s central theme is the melancholy of youth, and how children in difficult situations struggle to find their own self-identity.
Focusing on a group of children living in a Yokohama orphanage, this piece differs from Matsumoto’s previous efforts in that its nostalgic narrative is deeply cemented in reality. Yet, despite taking center stage, the realism here is infused with Matsumoto’s usual style — especially in the slightly fantastical elements when the children find solace playing inside an old car named Sunny. The car becomes a safehaven for the kids, where they are free to dream about being something other than an orphan.
The art is stunning, and somehow suits the 1970s’ setting. At first glance, this stark portrayal of youthful escape may appear a little depressing, but it is not always dark. Some of the moments in later chapters provide bits of humor that showcase true instances of sweetness and glimmers of hope.
Although the main characters are children, the work is definitely geared for adults. The setting and portrayal of youthful naivety will surely instill some sort of nostalgia in the reader. Unusual for a manga, the book is hardback, which is perhaps a more fitting aesthetic as the heavy emotional themes rival any other traditional narrative novel.
Matsumoto’s greatest strength is his ability to blend realism with fantasy, and “Sunny” is no exception. For readers that prefer their tragedy with equal parts innocence, this should not be missed.