Page 45 Review by Stephen
SUNNY's a series we love so much we've reviewed every volume.
It has the capacity to win your heart and then break it over and over again.
Episodic in nature, with six self-contained chapters in each book with a beginning, middle and end, it's centred round a communal Japanese foster home and focuses on the children taken into its care... often by their parents. Who leave them there. Permanently.
Here, for example, we finally find out how imaginative, excitable and rebellious, ash-haired Haruo was introduced to the rest of his life:
"Haruo thought he was being taken to an amusement park or something. He was so confused. What a mess... A lot of the kids get told stuff like that when they come. They start freaking out, hanging onto their parents. I guess they can feel something bad's coming."
Yeah. Like being left there, permanently. His parents stayed overnight but by morning were gone, leaving Haruo to run around screaming all day in search of them. Maybe twice a year he receives a visit from his mother. Haruo associates her with the smell of Nivea and to this day he carries a tin of it everywhere in his pocket, bringing it out from time to time to sniff.
Smell is something snot-nosed Junsuke also associates with his mother. In his case the smell is of hospitals, for Junsuke's mother is so ill that she's been lying in one for what seems like forever. When Junsuke catches a cold this volume - a real stinker - he's taken to a much closer hospital against his fervently expressed wishes... but then relaxes once he's there because with that smell in the air he can imagine his mother being right by his side.
What impresses one above all, then, is the resilience of these young individuals, and the kindness of the carers like Miss Mitsuko, Makio and his grand-father who modestly suffixes all his life lessons with the qualifier "That's what I think." Miss Mitsuko takes the trouble to get Junsuke's bed-ridden mother on the phone, if only for a few moments, to reward his mental resourcefulness.
Ah, resourcefulness too! Quiet, studious and bespectacled Sei's had enough, waiting for the proverbial train that never comes: not a single visit. So he copies out the transit timetables he finds in the home and makes meticulous notes on his own plan of action which you will only discover afterwards, and his honour may make you cry. Can you imagine what it's like to be told this: first that your mother has disappeared, asked not be traced, then...
"Your dad changed jobs, so he had to move. So no one's even in the apartment you used to live in."
In a perfect piece of storytelling the panels close in from Sei and Makio's granddad on opposite sides of a low Japanese coffee table to Sei silently absorbing the news, to Sei with his eyes shut, and then darkness.
Equally poignant is the visit from Megumu's Auntie and Uncle. Rumour is rife round the home that they plan to adopt her. As we've learned from SUNNY VOL 3, Megumu's mother is quite dead and they are the last hope she has. What a wonderful couple they are, both tireless in a patience which you may consider sorely tried if it wasn't for their unconditional love. Still, it proves quite the weekend and you do know that I'm prone to misdirection, don't you?
As I've written before the presentation of the children in SUNNY is far more raw than you might expect if all you know of Japanese comics is the sugar-buzz adrenaline rush of the shouty-shouty, wide- and glossy-eyed brigade. This scruffy lot are infinitely more human, the art more humane so you can't help but care. There is both a fragility and a fractiousness here both in the art and in the heart of its antagonists. Take Haruna, not from the orphanage, but caught as if by a fishing fly in less than salubrious circumstances.
"Everything I do goes wrong.
"It really sucks."
Haruna does try, sometimes, she really does. But she's not exactly her own best friend; she can be belligerent to the point when a teacher sighs...
"You'll have to warn me next time you decide to attend. I'm not dressed for foul weather."