I realized something in watching this episode of Sonny Boy. I think I’ve been kind of waiting for a transition to occur with this series – for the opacity to ease back, and a more expansive narrative approach to kick in. And though Natsume Shingo sort of suggested there would be a sea change (pun intended) starting with this episode, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Sonny Boy is never going to totally make sense, and it’s always going to keep the audience at arm’s length. And that’s either going to be good enough or it isn’t.
So – is it? I think my answer would be yes, but I’ve realized something else too. I’m kind of out of practice watching shows like this, because anime doesn’t do them much anymore. For me the closest one in recent memory would be Natsume’s Boogiepop wa Warawanai, but even there, you were given a little more to sink your teeth into. Sonny Boy doesn’t seem much interested in anything but thinking out loud. It’s very apparent that this is a personal series, an expression of one creator’s vision more than a collaborative effort. And those kind of series are like single barrel whiskies as opposed to batched ones – they tend to have more character, more sharp edges, and you never know what you’re you’re going to get.
One other thing is that I found Boogiepop and Others tended – not always, but sometimes – to connect with me viscerally in a manner Sonny Boy has not. In a funny sort of way I think this series is the more alien of the two, right down to the behavior of the major characters. But if there is a change, maybe that will come from the splintering of the cast that appears to have taken place. As we join this week, Aki-sensei has apparently been found out as a fraud (as I and others suspected, actually a student). A group of supposed all-stars called Beatnik is trying to pin everything on Nagara to justice. And they send an enforcer called “Convictor” to pass sentence.
Of course there’s no mention of how punishing Nagara would do anything to get them back home – which I suppose is exactly the point. Nagara is reading Robinson Crusoe while Rajdhani is studying ants – ants which he keeps in their box until they eat each other and only one remains. Nagara rebels and goes to set them free, but falls into a trap set by Convictor and gets sent to an upside-down this world (which is his power). And it’s pretty clear right away that the ants are the template for what’s happening to Nagara and his fellow workers here (though they’re all male, ironically).
We already knew from Kunihiko last week, but this castaway business has been going on for a long damn time. And the fact that everyone comes from the same middle school would seem to confirm that the passage of time inside the this worlds is totally disconnected from the “real” world. The ants in the upside-down world chase after a pointless dream of building a tower to Heaven. They know it’s a waste of time (200 years in the case of Futatsuboshi, the sempai who takes Nagara under his wing until he’s eaten by cave bugs – sorta) but the pursuit of a phony dream at least gives them something to do. Which if you’re immortal has considerable value.
As it turns out Convictor is actually Koumori, an old classmate of Nagara’s. And he’s apparently satisfied with the lessons Nagara takes away from his punishment, because when Mizuho and Kunihiko track Nagara down he releases him. Hoshi (who says he no longer has God on speed dial) and his team are taking off in a ship Kunihiko says will protect them but again, there’s no indication that they have any real hope of going home. Nagara resolves to follow his own path, which sounds good to Mizuho, and Raj sets off in a psychedelic submarine to explore more this worlds. And Asakaze has clearly decided to throw over Beatnik for this group.
That just leave Nozomi, who says she’s unsure about what she wants to do. Will we stick with this small unit now, or continue to follow multiple groups across multiple settings? I kind of hope it’s the former to be honest, as that might foster a bit more of a personal connection than we’ve gotten so far. As for what message we’re supposed to take from all this, well – your interpretation is as valid as mine, to be sure. Blaming others for our existence is pointless? Probably. Even if we’re doomed never to reach enlightenment, the pursuit of it is worth it for its own sake? Maybe. Ask me again next Friday and I might have a different answer…