Page 45 Review by Dominique
The Sunny of the title is a car, an old yellow Datsun Sunny which sits outside the orphanage. It doesnt run anymore but it still has an important role: its the only place where no adults are allowed. The people who take care of the children are very nice but everyone needs their own space; to play or imagine or smoke or just hang out. So when they want to do that the kids go to the Sunny and drive it to wherever they want to go (the desert, the moon, their old houses) or sometimes just sit and chat and argue about the who fancies who and what they are going to be when they grow up
From such a simple concept comes an utterly beautiful, luminous book about childhood, love, abandonment and yearning. There are tinges of otherness around the edges of this story, reminiscent of his earlier book TEKKON KINKREET, however for the most part these seem like fairly regular kids dealing with their slightly irregular situation. Because what I didnt realise until I read this book (and then took to the internet for further explanation) is that many Japanese orphans have at least one living parent or guardian who has, for whatever reason, chosen to leave them in the care of the state. So most of the kids here are in limbo: they cant legally be adopted, their parents still have ultimate control over their lives but they know in all likelihood that no-one will ever come to take them back home. Some parents visit their kids; bring them presents or take them for days out. Others live nearby meaning that their children can pop round to see them but ultimately go back to the orphanage in the evening to eat and sleep. No wonder then that the Sunny is a sacred space where kids rule and adults have no say.
The cast of children and young adults are skilfully written, each character developed with care as we get to know them through glimpses of their lives. Some moments are utterly heartbreaking; we see the kids wrestle with questions, perfectly reasonable questions given the circumstances, and we worry that their young minds might settle on answers that will set the on the wrong path. On the other hand we watch them troop on together, looking after each other, accepting each other, playing, laughing and building bonds which transcend the rejection the adult world has presented them with. They have their own universe with their own rules; they are smart beyond their years.
The art is absolutely gorgeous. Matsumoto has added an inky wash shading to his black and white art which gives warmth and depth to the detail. The painted colour sections are lovely, as are the opaque covers, front and back, and the chapter breaks. The book is a beautiful thing to hold in your hand. Sometimes scratchy and intense, sometimes sweeping and clean, Matsumoto seems to know just how much ink to put on the page to get the feeling of the scene across. Each child is unique, each set of eyes holds something back or lets something out at a key moment. My favourite book of the year so far, I cant wait for the next volume.