REVIEW: ‘Sonny Boy,’ Episode 1 – “The Island at the Far End of Summer”

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Sonny Boy Episode 1

It is always exciting when an anime original premieres, since no one knows what to expect, and Sonny Boy Episode 1 will certainly break expectations. The show, written and directed by Shingo Natsume (Space Dandy, ACCA:13), comes from animation studio MADHOUSE this summer. During an ordinary summer vacation, Nagara’s high school building has drifted into a different dimension. 36 teens find themselves surrounded by darkness, and some have awakened to supernatural abilities.

Is Sonny Boy Episode 1 an isekai? Technically, yes, by the standard definition of being transported to another world. However, by what has become staple tropes for the genre, not so much. Whatever you possibly expected going into Sonny Boy Episode 1, you will probably be surprised. The show is incredibly atmospheric, drawing more on horror a la The Drifting Classroom (there is even a clever direct reference to it in the show if you look close enough). This is psychological horror, and it brings the viewers in right away.  Stylistically, it almost would remind one of the certain productions from Science SARU (The Night is Short, Walk on Girl; Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!; Devilman Crybaby). Going into this review, if I hadn’t known it was planned to be a series, I would have thought Sonny Boy Episode 1 was a complete 20-minute short film. I would have even been happy with that, even when there are still untied threads. It will be fascinating to see where the story goes from here.

While getting to know these teens is important, it happens (and will continue to happen) slowly. Much more focus is placed on the environment that draws the audience in. Lines and colors are bold and bright, which makes the rigid darkness outside that much more sinister as it slowly envelops everything. The students’ powers aren’t fully explained, just illustrated through graphic screen distortions and camera viewpoints. The other major artistic choice is the lack of music. Viewers likely don’t realize just how much of a show is scored until they go a full 20 minutes without. Every sound effect and character sigh is that much more prominent. Everything is LOUD, even when it is a whisper. The brilliant soundscape will have the viewer’s anxiety slowly rising like nails on a chalkboard raises the hairs on one’s arms. It is further enhanced by the large variety of perspective shots during the moments of silence.

This isn’t to say that the characters in Sonny Boy Episode 1 aren’t interesting, quite the opposite. There are strong Lord of the Flies vibes here. The master manipulators are already out in full force, as well as the students just trying to survive and those who think they may have more power here than in normal life. Nagara is relatively apathetic to the whole situation in contrast to many of his classmates, which appears to translate from his attitude before everything happened as well. This doesn’t come off as him being a jerk, however, but definitely more along the lines of someone struggling with something behind the scenes. Meanwhile, lovely Nozomi is clearly intent on shaking things up in her own way. Nozomi won’t sit back and let others dictate how she should behave, and her growing friendship with Nagara will be one to watch. Voice actor Saori Ōnishi knocks the delivery out of the park, switching from playful to almost sinister in the blink of an eye.

Sonny Boy Episode 1 is an atmospheric trip that taps into those good psychological horror vibes. Brilliant directing choices from Shingo Natsume from the many perspectives cuts to the lack of music will grip viewers in from the first few minutes. Where it goes from here, who is to say, but I certainly will tune in next week to find out.

Sonny Boy is streaming now on Funimation, with new episodes premiering Thursdays.

 


Sonny Boy Episode 1 - "The Island at the Far End of Summer"
  • 9.5/10
    Rating - 9.5/10
9.5/10

TL;DR

Sonny Boy Episode 1 is an atmospheric trip that taps into those good psychological horror vibes. Brilliant directing choices from Shingo Natsume from the many perspectives cuts to the lack of music will grip viewers in from the first few minutes. Where it goes from here, who is to say, but I certainly will tune in next week to find out.