It’s time to find out a bit more on an anime with enough revolutionary spirit to rival Kaiji’s or MahoIku’s – you just don’t know it yet!
What’s up, folks! Remember Sonny Boy? Shingo Natsume’s auteur-driven piece of art that is no doubt the best anime this year has brought us? Well, guess what, I’ve translated two commentaries on it with Shingo Natsume’s views on the series, one right before the end of the show and the other right thereafter. That sure should make for some interesting reading experience for the lot of you who have no doubt already watched it!
“Sonny Boy Is ‘Rather Interesting’ – But What Does ‘Rather’ Actually Mean? We Ask This Exotic Anime’s Director Shingo Natsume Who Says ‘It’s Quite Simple Actually’
The much-talked about anime ‘Sonny Boy’, which mangaka Hisashi Eguchi also did the original character designs on. As an original anime from prolific director Shingo Natsume, known for ‘Space Dandy’ and ‘One Punch Man’, featuring a story with many mysteries and mostly refusing to use BGM, its distinctiveness and also its daring production are making it the focus of conversations. The net is overflowing with thoughts on it and ‘It’s rather interesting!’ is an opinion frequently stated, however, what exactly this “rather” entails seems to be hard to put into words. What is this “rather” about then? We asked director Shingo Natsume who is in charge of the work in question right before the airing of the last episode.
It’s Sharpened Extremely Simply
Sonny Boy depicts the survival story of a class of 36 middle school students who have been left behind in another world that they ended up stranded in, and these boys and girls awaken their own supernatural powers and the world they inhabit is filled with irrationalities. The band Ginnan BOYZ was in charge of writing the main theme song, “Shounen Shoujo” and the inclusion of brilliant creators have made it the topic of conversation.
While you might feel inclined to assume “Isn’t this like ‘Drifting Classroom’?” upon reading the story synopsis, that is not the case at all. There are many mysteries and unheard of things happen but there are also quite simple elements to it and it’s a work with a very mysterious air to it. But explaining the “rather” in “It’s rather interesting!” is the hard part.
“”The ‘rather’ part might come from the characters’ emotions being in disarray and you just respond to them that way?” is what I think. In (Christopher) Nolan’s movies, there are also always those parts where your emotions gush forth and I myself like that. When these characters’ hearts move and they, as fellow characters, collide with each other and come closer, with that kind of wave, won’t that move people’s heartstrings, that’s what I wonder about. I tried to draw from these moments to the utmost. And then I think: “There are no monologues so I’ll best just leave things to the imagination, right?””
The daring production is also something worth elaborating on. Nowadays, there are many works laden with too many explanations, which are very simple to understand and they explain too much, so having no character monologues is one of Sonny Boy’s specialities.
“With explanations, there’s explanations of both emotions and the outlooks these characters have and while there are more or less explanations on their outlooks, with characters’ emotions, I wanted for it to be so that you can only feel them from their actions and their own words as they clash with each other. I love it when you can’t quite grasp something. You think “What was that?” and even though you might not understand at the time, a year later you might come to notice “Oh, so that’s what that was all about!” and that’s the kind of work I like and wanted to portray.”
The lack of BGM also makes it quite outstanding.
“The original purpose of screening pieces (BGM) was to lead the emotions. You lead the audience to feel in a certain way and occasionally also mislead them. However, that approach is also prone to ending up with noise. I didn’t want for the audience’s thoughts to become isolated or restricted. By doing away with the music for as much as I could, we created blank spaces. We had many agonizing debates on whether we should put a track in or not. That sure is frightening, isn’t it? However, we got a lot of positive proof out of that. That you can grab people’s emotions that way, that is.”
It’s true that if you let sad music flow, you get sad too, but Sonny Boy, by excluding music, has managed to transport these things through the specifics of its characters’ hearts. That is the appeal of this production that minds the details so much.
“I made it extremely simply, much like I was sharpening. With movies lately, there is a lot of piling on through addition, however, this time, we used the method of subtraction to make things simpler. Maybe I’m just a contrarian? (laughs)”
Nagara’s Resistance – Things Might Be Hard But He Will Live On
Sonny Boy’s form of self-expression might be avantgarde but it’s not unsolvable. Director Shingo Natsume calls it “an unexpectedly simple story”.
“There’s also a part of me that thinks ‘In this day and age, what is truly necessary?’. Eras repeat and thus, gradually change. An unexpected answer is that as many things are scattered, literature and artistic works remain. I believe that mankind is always plagued by similar problems. The root of all of that is “life” itself and in society, there are many absurdities and the question remains how to best compromise with that? In Sonny Boy, the protagonist Nagara’s weapon of choice for that is resistance and he seems to be a person resentful at many things. And what this anger has taught us is to hope. While it’s not something you would easily draw from the word of anger, anger is also something that is necessary for living and if you carry it with you just like that, as you keep resisting, things might be tough but you will live on. Occasionally things that are good happen and with that kind of realization, life will continue. That is the framework of Sonny Boy. It’s surprisingly simple as that is the one thing it has to say.”
The many people subjected to forced labor, erecting the endlessly stretching Tower of Babel, the going adrift for 5,000 years of time, Yamabiko, a man turned dog, the character named “War” who brings with him a plague culminating in death, these episodes, not unlike fables, are also impressive.
“The episodes up until episode 06 were quite simple, a case would occur and then get solved. Starting with episode 07, the fables pile on and the characters’ feelings change. That’s how we divided and structured this work. While we made it so the general construction theory would not repeat, I wanted to portray the element of change in the repetition unfolding from episode 07 onwards. That means that we pile on Nagara as a character as we dig down. That too was quite scary. While it was my intention to amass episodes that I found interesting, the story ends up branching out and that might give off the impression that the story is losing its pacing. There is a risk in that but with the last episode that comes thereafter, I think we did well in synthesizing that.”
The conclusion to “an unexpectedly simple story”… We want to follow Sonny Boy’s battle to the final episode.
Sonny Boy’s Impactful Last Episode Has A “Conclusion With A Somewhat Positive Outlook” – We Ask Director Shingo Natsume Behind The Scenes
Sonny Boy, a TV anime created by director Shingo Natsume, who is known for One Punch Man, Space Dandy and many more, has come to its conclusion. As it happens to be an original anime, it is loaded with unforeseeable twists and turns and has left its audience exasperated. We are looking behind the curtains with Shingo Natsume who aimed to create an ending with a positive outlook and asked him some questions, spoilers included.
How You Feel Depends On Your Own System of Values
Sonny Boy depicts the survival story of a class of 36 middle school students who have been left behind in another world that they ended up stranded in, and these boys and girls awaken their own supernatural powers and the world they inhabit is filled with irrationalities. The mangaka Hisashi Eguchi was in charge of the original character designing, the band Ginnan BOYZ was in charge of writing the main theme song, “Shounen Shoujo”, and the project had several other creators contributing to it. Our topic of discussion was the daring direction, exemplified, amongst others, through the exclusion of monologues and very sparse use of background music.
The final episode’s last scene, the protagonist, Nagara, smiling, left behind quite an impression. Nagara whispers “Life has only just begun. There is still a little bit more ahead.” Nagara is a third grader in middle school and he feels like someone who has given up on life and has grown cold. In the midst of going adrift, through meeting various people and interacting with society, he begins to change, and returns to reality. While there are unreasonable things in this world, too, he tries to live on. That side of Nagara is also reflected in his smile. If you rewatch the first episode after finishing the series, you might gain yet another impression from this.
“‘Sonny Boy’ is a story of growth. The drifting can also be seen as a metaphor. In the last episode, it keeps raining but towards the end, when the rain stops, it is still night. While I myself have aimed to create an ending with a hopeful outlook, there might also be people who find Nagara’s smile to be unsettling. After watching the episode, how you reflect on that moment also depends on your own set of values.”
The last episode also had some twists and turns in store for its audience. The death of the heroine Nozomi also came as a big shock.
“Writing the scenario for episodes 9 and 10 sure was hard. I was reaching my limits. By episode 11, my goal became much clearer. Losing Nozomi while still being in a haze is sad but there is only one way and that is forward. It was my intention all along to have Nozomi die. “Depicting death is easy to do, but is there a reason to it? Won’t that be too cheap?” Those were the concerns I had. During the audio recording, Saori Oonishi-san, the voice actress for Nozomi, said: “When Nozomi died, I didn’t really feel emotional about it, however, when I saw how that affected Nagara and Mizuho, I was sad for the first time.” It’s true, isn’t it? Anyone can die at any time, there are deaths that are really surprising. It is thereafter when these cracks become feelings of grief that your surroundings are being affected.”
I Did What I Set Out To Do. I Said What I Wanted To Say.
Director Natsume has, when he was active as an animator, himself worked on various works such as Space Dandy and One Punch Man. With Sonny Boy it was for the first time that he handled the scripts of all 12 episodes and wrote every script himself.
“The time when I wrote the scenarios was mentally taxing. That was quite the ordeal. However, that’s not so different from being on the animation front. When drawing images, I also had thought processes such as “I wonder what this character is thinking? This one’s this type of person so there’s probably this peculiarity to him.” However, since I thought about the characters and world views, that was different from the completely new, fresh state of matters that I had on my hands this time. Maybe I wasn’t fit for creating a story. I think that the people who proclaim “Me! Me!” are fit for that. Being someone who has a lot of confidence is not my forte, I doubt myself a lot. Worrying is what I do and that is reflected in my work.”
“I doubt myself”, so there are also things to draw from that. Mayhaps Sonny Boy is the kind of work that minds the small things in the motivations inside the characters’ hearts.
Director Natsume has said in a pre-broadcast interview “I’ve put in lots of what I like”. After finishing his series, he showed us a smile: “I said what I wanted to say. I didn’t use words for it however. I feel refreshed. As if something that was stuck inside me broke free.”
“I have a feeling that I did what I set out to do. When I look back, I feel unexperienced and there might have been things I could have done to make it more entertaining. I have thoughts like ‘Next time, if I had the chance, I wonder if I would create a comparatively more entertainment-like and straight work?’. There are a lot of people I want to collaborate with. Heading into an entirely new direction might be interesting too. There are parts in Sonny Boy where I made compromises on my own thoughts, and most likely, that kind of thinking won’t change. What kind of subject I want to tackle with what kind of perspective from hereon, that is something I want to think about. Even if the times may change, what’s universal gets to stay. And so I want to create while being aware of what’s universal.”
Director Natsume’s anime “Yojohan Time Machine Blues” has already been announced. We are looking forward to his future endeavors.
Well, I guess that was enough text for the time being. I am aware that there’s a lot more from Shingo Natsume’s side out there that I could possibly translate but it’s hard work so I’m not making an promises on that front.
Also, I distinctly remember a point of time when my blog also featured opinion pieces and not just translations… those must have gone adrift too, huh.
But I will keep fighting the good fight on my blog as well. Maybe something good will come out of that!