As the description of this book suggests (and as anyone familiar with 60s and 70s era Nissan automobile manufacturing can tell you), Sunny is a car; a car that can take you anywhere you want if you can just dream it. Sunny is also a clubhouse and haven where there are no adults allowed, and imagination can drown out any of the angst and sadness of the world around you. As the book goes on, it quickly becomes apparent that that isn't all that Sunny is about.
If you are already familiar with Taiyo Matsumoto (and this will be the last time in this post that I beg you to become so, I promise), you will understand Sunny about two or three pages in. His stories, though diverse in their subject matter, almost always have at least something to do with children and the different ways in which they cope with an ever encroaching adult world, promising to swallow them and everything that makes them a child up faster than they can prepare for. That isn't to say that his stories are for children though, and though not shy in their propensity for vulgarity (as all adolescents often possess, whether their parents believe it or not), his books are adult for adults; his work often relies on the reader's ability to relate to their own childhood and process information in an almost nostalgic fashion, making it a more meditative glance back at how things affect us differently as adults rather than as a starter manual for affected or misfit children.
As I was reading Sunny, I couldn't help but think that in the hands of anyone else, this material could have been an annoying and predictable cry-fest, serviceable to almost no one but those interested in reading sad stories about sad children who have been dealt a rough hand in life; but Sunny shines because it looks at these situations not as hindrances, but merely character traits. There are moments when your heart begins to ache for sure, but I can't help but make comparisons (again, as I did in my post about Blue Spring) to Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira in that the characters feel like throw-aways; they are the children nobody wanted anymore, but to them they are more than that, and with Sunny they can be anything they want. Even their new (and in some of their minds, temporary) domicile is called Star Kids Home, and their new caregivers treat them not as victims or charges, but as young people who deserve the same upbringing as any other child; you get the impression that it's neither the children's fault or the Star Kids caregivers fault that they are in their situation, and you really get the impression in Matsumoto's writing that these adults are doing their very best to raise these kids.
To get away from the specific themes for a moment, I can't stress enough how beautiful Sunny looks. Taiyo Matsumoto is a master of his craft, and very rarely anymore do I implicitly trust an artist's work like I do with him. He has this wonderful ability to intersperse his stories with single illustrations that say so much. Just glance through any of his titles to see wonderful full-color illustrations that, in context to the larger story inside, flesh out characters and manage to say more in a single, static image than most other comic creators are able to pour into pages of dialogue, and Viz has done a remarkable job presenting his work again in this volume. Unfortunately, Viz had previously cancelled the publication of Matsumoto's No. 5 after only two out of seven volumes due to poor sales. But then they have also shown a commitment to his work by releasing a very extravagant edition of his GOGO Monster book, which turned out to be my favorite release of 2009, both in story and presentation (even though it was published in Japan almost a decade earlier). A quick internet search shows that volume two is due out in November, so I hope that Viz will see this series through to it's conclusion (at only three volumes this seems doable), and we will have to see how sales for this book do to expect more of Taiyo Matsumoto from them in the future. For those interested more in his color illustrations, check out his art books, 100, and 101. Both are published by Big Comic Spirits, which, in his book, Dreamland Japan, Frederik Schodt categorized the magazine's readers as, typically, "a twenty-eight-year-old systems engineer who works at a finance company, eats at ramen noodle shops, and is seriously considering using a matchmaking service." Hilarious.
Even GOGO Monster failed to capture the attention or acclaim from much of the younger international manga community, who is generally more interested in a newer, mass-produced, generic escapist market, targeted specifically to what they already like than comics with a more existential outlook with a less mainstream manga art style (it took a highly promoted anime adaptation and decade later re-release of Matsumoto's Tekkonkinkreet series to make anyone notice one of the more prolific comic series to come out in a period of high output for Japan). Though with other publishers like Vertical, Drawn & Quarterly, and now even Fantagraphics producing high quality English adaptations of more alternative manga, it seems hard to believe that we wouldn't see more of Matsumoto's work published in English somewhere at least, and I think it would be a mistake for Viz to drop this title if they choose to do so.