What happens when 36 students are suddenly transported to an alternate dimension where some of them receive special powers, while others remain as regular humans?
It’s this concept that Sonny Boy, an upcoming anime directed by One Punch Man’s Shingo Natsume and produced by Madhouse revolves around. While the series is set to air during the Summer 2021 anime season, its first episode was made available for a limited time on June 19. Sonny Boy makes an overall favourable first impression, albeit with some caveats.
With great power comes…
Sonny Boy isn’t concerned with the “how” or “why” of the students’ predicament, at least not at this point of the series. The incident has already occured when we begin the episode, and the show quickly sets up two things: not everyone has super powers, and that creates an imbalance in power (relationship-wise).
For laid-back protagonist and relative loner Nagara (Aoi Ichikawa), he’s not concerned with his lack of powers. For the student council, especially its unnamed short, spiky-haired member, asserting their authority and maintaining discipline in this unusual situation becomes an early priority, which results in a ban on using powers. Naturally, not everyone is pleased with the situation — including the cheery and mysterious Nozomi (Saori Ōnishi), who recently returned to Japan from abroad and is perhaps the closest thing to a friend that Nagara has.
Hints and details about the students’ situation are dropped throughout the episode, including through natural-flowing conversations between Nagara and Nozomi. A portion of the episode focuses on the duo’s first meeting prior to the incident as well, which sheds more light on the characters but still leaves Nozomi a delightful curio. However, the main undercurrent of the episode is the conflict between the student council and the rebellious students, and it’s here that the show both soars and stumbles.
The conflict between the student council and the rebels manifests in both humorous and dark ways. In terms of the latter, while there’s no big escalation of conflict in which all order breaks down, there are some unnerving moments from both sides in which they utilize force and intimidation upon one another. These moments are great on their own, but the generally laid-back atmosphere of the episode and the fact that it never stays in dark territory for too long eats away at the thriller aspects of the show.
Because of the combination of tones and a shift in focus from the student council and student conflict in the middle of the episode, I couldn’t figure out what sort of general mood Sonny Boy was meant to have. It’s never incoherent, but I expected more commitment to its thriller elements given the premise
Despite that gripe, the episode still proved to be an engaging watch, and the visuals definitely helped. There are some nice, detailed character close-ups, but the character designs generally seem to be more concerned about facilitating motion — and they succeed on that front. There’s not a lot of intensive movement in this episode, but the general movements are nice and smooth. On the more obvious sakuga side of things, the scene of Nozomi sprinting is wonderfully fluid while still conveying heft. It’s not as if the characters look bad when static though, with Nozomi, the only student wearing a blue shirt, being particularly photogenic while the spiky-haired student council member quietly emits cunning and an unsettling desire for control.
Aside from a few distorted lens effects and dutch angle shots, the scenes are largely straightforward in presentation (although delightfully bright and crisp, and never dull), which makes the few displays of power — from amusing black crosses on characters’ faces to the world seemingly shattered like glass — stand out all the more. The juxtaposition of the students and their school with the pitch black environment outside, a shot with a merry-go-round as a backdrop, and the manipulated shape and structure of the school building at one part of the episode also offer some eye-grabbing imagery. In normal situations, the backgrounds look good without stealing attention from the characters, but they occasionally shine in scenes showing the rust and grime of the school.
Sonny Boy’s first episode didn’t hit me with the impact I expected, but I enjoyed it enough that I’ll stick around for the next episode. And after episode 1’s ending, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for the students of Sonny Boy.