「下駄を履いたネコ」 (Geta o haita neko)
“Cat Wearing Clogs”
As Sonny Boy has progressed, the Kon Satoshi vibes have definitely gotten stronger (there is actually a link, in that character designer Eguchi Hisashi fulfilled that role on Perfect Blue as well). I’m not getting so much Drifting Classroom now but Lord of the Flies is still strongly in the mix too, thematically speaking. The difference being a matter of tone I think, where Sonny Boy is much more Kon-like – a bit arch and clinical, where Golding was animal and visceral. A hybrid of those influences certainly sounds an interesting prospect, and indeed Sonny Boy doesn’t disappoint.
What Lord of the Flies had in common with many of the castaway teenager anime of the 90’s and 2000’s (that so clearly inform Sonny Boy) is that they work on the assumption that children and adolescents are fundamentally messed up, and that it’s only the damping effect of society’s rules that (sometimes) keeps them from descending into sadism and brutality at will. If you put a bunch of kids on a deserted island or a space ship or an alternate universe, with no adult supervision as they’re forced to survive, their true colors will soon show through.
Kanata no Astra (another series which forgoes an OP) makes a rather nice counterpoint to that – in fact I’d go so far as to say it was a kind of elegant attempt at turning that trope on its head. I don’t know whether that or Sonny Boy and its narrative forebears is the more realistic, but in a very interesting way I think they’re opposite sides of the same coin. And while things haven’t descended into real savagery here yet, you do get the sense that it wouldn’t take much to light the blue touch paper.
The episode begins with Nozomi sticking Nagara’s head in a toilet, which despite all that stuff above isn’t what it sounds like. These two are strongly connected and that’s a major theme here, though through much of the episode it’s Mizuho that Nagara is adjacent to. Nozomi’s talent is to spot new “this” worlds, and if she’s correct in her speculation that Nagara’s power may be to actually leap to them, there’s a certain poetry in the two of them being a couple. For the moment though this problem is this this world, where a bunch of kids are turning into frozen black mannequins.
This sort of crisis has the ability to unmake whatever order remains in a closed society like this one, which shows just how fragile these kids’ realities are. Mizuho remains the subject of much resentment, which is pretty understandable under the circumstances – she basically has a teenager’s wet dream of an ability, refuses to show any largesse with it, and generally acts like a sullen child. When Nagara scolds her for charging the others for what she could give for free, she gives an answer which sounds both adult and petulantly childish at the same time – and ties into some of the questions Natsume-sensei is musing on with this story.
It’s interesting that Mizuho insists that Nagara-kun be her assistant when she gets horse-collared into investigating the mystery. Superficially she seems to be trying to push him into acknowledging his mutual attraction with Nozomi, but there’s more going on here (hormones are complicated things). I wouldn’t exactly (or even approximately) say that Mizuho-san is likeable, but she is interesting. I would apply that exact description to Hoshi-kun as well, and we learn something important but not altogether surprising about him – a voice is telling him what’s going to happen in the future. It was clear he was more than just another rat in the maze, but it appears he’s not the lab researcher either – something in-between.
As for the missing kids, it turns out that they’ve basically retreated from this society behind a blackout curtain – the unifying thread being that all of them were unpopular and unhappy. Mizuho is utterly tactless with and about them, calling them hikikomori, which is a huge issue in Japan. They seem happier quite frankly, and nobody really misses them – that’s the whole point – but the nominal leaders of this group can’t just let this be. The crux being, I think, that in normal society they might just be allowed to drift away into isolation – it’s only because of the spotlight this caged existence puts on everyone (which helped drive them to flee in the first place) that they have to be forcefully dragged back to “normalcy”.
Again, while this is not the raw brutality of Lord of the Flies, Sonny Boy is a very dark ride. Rather than horror the impact is to be unsettling, because there’s a certain ring of plausibility to the actions of these children in these situations. What children have as an advantage over adults is adaptability – they can turn any situation into a routine (J.G. Ballard’s superb war memoir Empire of the Sun is a perfect example). But that barrier that separates civilization from chaos is thinner with them – instinct less in-check, impulse less curbed. There are any number of ways I could see things going from here – all of them potentially fascinating, most of them pretty unpleasant. It’ll be interesting to see which route Natsume decides to take.