Andrew’s Content Corner: A Hidden, Nonsensical Gem | Andrew Gu
Some works of art leave you with a smile on your face. Some leave you wanting for more and a sense of loss. Some leave you with that deep, primal sense of complete and utter confusion. "Sonny Boy," a recent original anime created by Shingo Natsume, of “One Punch Man” Season 1 fame, does all three.
"Sonny Boy" is about a class of middle-school students inexplicably sucked into a series of other worlds, including a baseball game with monkeys, a giant movie theater which lets one play the past in reverse, a game of virtual cat-and-mouse, a never-ending chasm, and a giant Tower of Babel where workers build downwards. All of the settings are gorgeously-drawn, and none of them make any sense. Even the director, in his notes for each episode, admits that he doesn’t know what a lot of his work means, and that might be the point.
At its core, beneath all the layers of physics, mystery, and tragedy, "Sonny Boy" is really a bittersweet coming-of-age story about one world that actually doesn’t make any sense: ours. Its core cast of characters, like actual middle schoolers, are flawed, deeply insecure, and still loveable kids who struggle with going into the unknown, and more so than any show I’ve ever seen, “Sonny Boy" makes their losses, defeats, and loves feel real.
On an artistic level, "Sonny Boy" is something else entirely. With the exception of one episode out of its 12, no other storytelling has more fervently embraced the principle of show-don’t-tell, sidestepping anime’s traditional tendency to overuse dialogue until the pacing slows to a crawl. When other shows only animate mouths moving during dialogue, "Sonny Boy”’s team lovingly animates every part of the body, communicating discomfort, insecurity, and love, all without using a word. The visuals are literally out of this world, with images and sequences that just left me speechless and that communicated joy, sorrow, and adventure better than some entire shows.
From a sound design perspective, "Sonny Boy" reminds me of “Bojack Horseman” at its best, with huge contrasts between the silence that dominates most of the show and the sparingly-used music that turns its emotional highs into emotional highs. Somehow, "Sonny Boy" turns even its silence into a form of musical accompaniment just through the sheer degree of intentionality.
That intentionality (or at least it seems like intentionality; for all I know, Natsume just wrote the whole show in a caffeine-fueled haze at 3 am in the morning like a junior in May) does mean that "Sonny Boy" isn’t particularly bingeable. I needed to take an hour at the end of every episode just to digest what in the world that was and what it meant, and that period of trying to piece out meaning is really half the fun of watching the show.
So, if you’re tired of shows that spoon-feed you the answers, if you relish absurdity, if you want to just marinate in a true work of art, if you want to feel that warm, tempestuous mix of happiness and loss, if you just want to try out something new, check out "Sonny Boy" sometime.