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Sonny Boy

Entry updated 15 November 2021. Tagged: TV.

Japanese animated tv series (2021). Madhouse. Directed and written by Shingo Natsume. Voice cast includes Hiroki Gotō, Aoi Ichikawa, Ai Kakuma, Chiaki Kobayashi, Saori Ōnishi and Aoi Yūki. Twelve 24-minute episodes. Colour.

The world around a school vanishes, leaving it marooned in darkness with 36 baffled pupils. Matters are complicated by their developing Superpowers – from warping the school's geometry to having a glowing fingertip; the latter pupil is delighted by this, pointing out that E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) was similarly blessed. Initially the student council tries to prevent what they see as the threat of chaos by instigating rules and punishments, whilst others argue for a laissez-faire policy.

The school contains gateways to other Dimensions, though most are incompatible with humans. One pupil, Rajdhani (Gotō), adopts a Scientist's approach by researching the situation, both out of curiosity and in the hope of finding a way home. He is assisted by: Nozomi (Ōnishi), who is drawn towards a light as if she were a compass; the Gravity-warping Asakaze (Kobayashi), who is full of himself; and the apathetic Nagara (Ichikawa), the Anime's main viewpoint character, who can move the pupils between dimensions, but cannot choose which one. Some believe him responsible for their plight; later he discovers he is actually creating the dimensions. Also drawn into their orbit, though with great reluctance, is the initially distant and tetchy Mizuho (Yūki), whose cats can bring her anything she wants. Whilst they are on an Island, Ms Aki (Kakuma), a teacher, walks out of the sea and announces she has been sent by God, who happens to be the school's Principal, to inform them they cannot go home. Two main factions form: Rajdhani's group and the rest, the latter joining Ms Aki.

Episodes include Rajdhani finding reels of film showing events from Nagara's point of view: they play one; when Nagara adjusts the projector reality goes out of focus – Rajdhani realizes that if they edit the film and Nagara watches it, its events becomes true (presumably playing with the idea of the Observer Effect in quantum Physics). Another pupil from their school turns up, but from a few years in the future and who has been in this dimension for 5,000 years (see Time Distortion) and transformed into a talking dog. Wandering through dimensions, Nagara meets other students from the school, including some who have been building a tower for over a thousand years, ostensibly to reach heaven; he recognizes the Tower of Babel allusion, but also that he is really in an ants' nest whose inhabitants' Perceptions are upside down. Some episodes centre on the mental scars of other pupils, including one who can read minds (see Telepathy). Nozomi dies; Nagara learns the pupils are copies. Rajdhani, who goes off to explore the dimensions on his own, returns after two thousand years (from his perspective) to help Nagara and Mizuho return to their original dimension, firstly by way of Apollo 11 and then a ski-lift gondola that exceeds the speed of light (see Relativity). The pair arrive (presumably merging with their originals) two years after they had left: here Nozomi is alive and Nagara is now ready to engage with the world.

The series is concerned with how teenagers handle the frustrations, responsibilities and choices they face as they approach adulthood, including their agency and what meaning there is in the world (see Metaphysics) – Rajdhani, for instance, chooses a positive nihilism. However, this is not conveyed in a straightforward narrative: the approach is surreal (see Absurdist SF), whimsical and disjointed: themes are not always directly addressed but have to be inferred. It does not entirely cohere and is occasionally a little flat, but this Anime is nevertheless enjoyable and significant – one of the best of its year.

Influences include William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954) and the Horror Manga The Drifting Classroom (1972-1974 Weekly Shōnen Sunday as "Hyōryū Kyōshitsu") by Kazuo Umezu. [SP]

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