Star Kids Home is a foster home for kids who for one reason or another, have been given up by their parents. The children range from toddler to middle school and come from different situations and with different problems, but one thing they share is Sunny, an old car that doesn’t run—except in the kids’ imagination.
Review: Sunny Volume 1
By Taiyo Matsumoto
Viz Media, May 2013
216 pgs., $22.99
At the 2014 American Library Association Midwinter conventions, YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association announced their Great Graphic Novels list for 2014. Of the 78 titles listed, 10 of them were manga. Sunny, a deluxe hardback title was included. This series follows a group of children dealing with life in a foster home through stories of their everyday lives. It is also sort of autobiographical and is based on Taiyo Matsumoto’s childhood.
Sunny tells the story of the kids of the foster home Star Kids Home. The children have been left at the home for various reasons and must learn to cope with a new living situation, new school, and a new life after seemingly being abandoned by their parents. Life at the Home isn’t harsh, but it comes across as chaotic at times with so many people doing different things at the same time. The house has seen better days, as has the old yellow Sunny 1200 that sits in the back of the house. This is the kids’ clubhouse where no adults are allowed. It is where they can escape their sometimes sad and lonely everyday world and go anyplace or be anything they want. They can go to outer space, drive in a big race, or just go home.
There isn’t an ongoing narrative or a single protagonist for this volume. Each chapter focuses on one child or tells a story from his or her perspective. Sei is the new boy to the home. He is smart and quiet, but he doesn’t try to fit in. He doesn’t like it at the home and wants to leave. Haruo is a white-haired boy the same age as Sei. He’s a bit wild, taking off into the woods nearby instead of going to school and spending all of his time in the Sunny, dreaming of being other people and going to different places. Junsuke, also Sei and Haruo’s age, likes shiny things and is prone to taking things he likes and then claiming not to know how he got them. Junsuke has a baby brother, Shosuke, a toddler who can get around. Two of the girls at the home, Megumu and Kiko, are about the same age. They stick together and stick up for each other. Megumu is the more sensitive of the two. Kenji is the oldest, in his last year in middle school, and likes to smoke and keep his porn magazines in the glove compartment of the Sunny. Taro is a man of indeterminate age with an undisclosed mental issue. He is usually showing sitting on the grass outside the home, singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
Through each chapter, we learn something new about the kids: their hopes and fears, their dreams and desires. What I really liked about these chapters is that nothing is stated explicitly. The stories are told through the kids’ actions and their own words. We are never told that Junsuke and Shosuke’s mother is in the hospital, but there are a couple of panels after Junsuke visited her, where he tells the others that she is better and has color in her cheeks. The characters are developed through small, subtle moments that tell more about them than any exposition could. We aren’t told Sei is smart, but he’s shown helping Megumu with her homework. He works on a puzzle with some of the workers, and knows a lot of terms for mountain climbing. We aren’t told Haruo cares about the other kids at the home, but he is shown taking on some bullies who start to bother Junsuke. He helps Megumu put a dead cat to rest when he sees how upset it makes her. Through their actions and expressions, their emotions can be seen in the panels.
And there are plenty of emotions to be felt. We see the kids when they are happy, sad, worried, and playful. But running underneath all the different emotions is an overall sense of melancholy. These kids have had their home life disrupted and are thrown in with a bunch of strangers. While they all cope and try to make the best of their situations, there is still a sense of sadness that permeates the volume. The kids have fun, and good things happen in their lives, but there is a feeling that the happiness is fleeting. There’s no real sense of hope through the volume until the last story, which features Shosuke and Taro. Shosuke has been searching for four-leaf clovers and wanders off. All the kids and workers at the home search for him but can’t find him. Finally, Taro gets up and makes a beeline for where Shosuke is and brings him home. I enjoyed this chapter the most. It had a true uplifting feeling to it. Taro has been shown throughout the volume to be little more than a lump on the lawn, seemingly more work than he’s worth. But without being asked or told, he seems to know what needs to be done and does it, singing “life is but a dream” all the way home.
Sunny is a poignant tale of abandoned kids and their resilience to keep going despite their seemingly hopeless situation. Teens will be able to relate to the kids’ feelings and their desire to escape from a difficult home life. The art isn’t what you would usually see in a manga for teens, but Matsumoto’s style grows on you. The more realistic renderings drive home the emotions they portray. The book is presented as a deluxe hardcover with color pages at the beginning of the chapters. Sunny is perfect for teens looking for a more serious story or one in an autobiographical vein. It’s a strong addition to any graphic novel collection.
Review copy provided by publisher.