Page 45 Review by Stephen
This is the final volume of Taiyo Matsumoto's unsensationalist SUNNY, set in and around a Japanese orphanage, which has at times had me typing through tears.
The first key is this: few of these kids are without parents, but they've been orphaned anyway. They've been left in the custodial care of incredibly kind, dedicated individuals by mothers and / or fathers who can't cope for medical reasons, won't cope for selfish reasons or don't cope because they are irresponsible fuckwits without the first clue as to how lucky they are or the first thought as to the seismic impact on their offspring.
To know that you have been rejected, yet still yearn to be taken back and dream of it. To be surrounded in town by other parents and children still together yet at loggerheads over nothing. To have nothing yourself but hand-me-downs like a pencil case inscribed with the name of its previous and owner, and to want so little except love. To feel embarrassed, ashamed and judged for being an orphan.
To see no spark of maternal instinct in your mother when you meet her again, except a token effort and lame excuses.
It's all here in this as in other volumes.
The second key is Matsumoto's refusal to cute-ify the kids. They can be loud and brash while quietly broken inside, or they can be red-cheeked and dripping with snot. Or, in Kenji's case, they can display and deep-seated sense of responsibility well beyond the reach and comprehension of their drunken dads.
Kenji is given the opportunity to go on a career path field trip to a refinery but he has a paper round and an inferiority complex to maintain:
"A low-class foster kid like me? No way... Gotta deliver the Evening Editions anyways."
"You're not "low class!"" counters Mr Adachi with a genuine passion. "Can't you jus' get someone to cover your route for a day?"
"Workin' for a livin' don't count as a career path?!"
He's actually still smarting from his skin mags being confiscated.
Kenji's dad is actually local, perpetually drunk every time Kenji sees him in public. But for once Mr Ito seems to recognise the importance of doing something for his son, offers to fill in on Kenji's delivery and together they practise the day before. They have a great time rekindling old memories and there's a brief glimmer of hope - of recognition in Mr Ito of his failings.
"Maybe s'time for me to turn over a new leaf!
"Runnin' off and abandonin' you and Asako...
"Sad excuse for a human being."
While on the field trip, Kenji even buys his dad a nudie pen as a thank-you. But when he returns, well.,. You'll see when Kenji impresses me no end: dignity and responsibility in one so young and mistreated. It makes your heart swell even as it is broken.
As the book progresses there is the very real sense of a coming conclusion, and possible tragedy, with ever so many poignant song lyrics coming through the radios.
The loudest and brashest and possibly most broken of all is ash-haired Haruo - whom I've dealt with extensively throughout this series but most prominently in SUNNY VOLUME 5 - who's much younger than he looks. It's subtly conveyed by his reflective aviator shades being far too wide for his face, and a nose which could not belong to anyone far into their teens. Normally all front, he's now chewing quietly on his fingernails in unsure deliberation because he's considering something momentous.
From the creator of GOGO MONSTER, TEKKON KINKREET and contributor to Humanoids' anthology THE TIPPING POINT.
[Please note: all black and white art here is from previous volumes.]