REVIEW: ‘Sonny Boy,’ Episode 5 – “Leaping Classrooms”

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Sonny Boy Episode 5

Don’t you love when a rude adult just drops in to progress the plot out of nowhere because of “God” and “surrealism?” I’m looking at you, Sonny Boy Episode 5. The trippy anime from MADHOUSE is written and directed by Shingo Natsume (Space Dandy; ACCA:13). It follows recluse Nagara and his other classmates when their school building vanishes into what can only be described as another dimension, taking them along with it. The students leap between worlds, trying to get home and realize they have gained superpowers.

Yes, the previous episode frustrated me, but I swear I went into Sonny Boy Episode 5 with a good attitude. But, oh my goodness, Ms. Aki is actually THE WORST. This isn’t just because of her character; the problem is in the writing itself. She is rude and arrogant and treats her former students terribly for no real reason. Additionally, her appearance is so sudden, and the only explanation is offered from her rude mouth. The teacher basically says “because God” to her students. She makes bold claims that she knows everything about everyone’s powers and the rules of the world; we just spent four episodes learning…but no one questions her. It would be one thing if she were a well-written villain, but she isn’t. Additionally, there is a gross comment made about not trusting big-breasted people because they aren’t smart. It is meant to be a joke, but it really isn’t funny. If I didn’t have to write this review, I would have fast-forwarded every time Ms. Aki came onscreen.

This bleeds into the overall problem in Sonny Boy Episode 5 and also the anime overall. I want to like everything it is trying to do, and there is a lot to praise here. But the problem is the show (especially recently) is just trying too hard to be “deep.” It is falling into the trap that many media attempting this tend to do: They try to do an expansive, insightful series about depression and mental health, but they get so focused on the big ideas that everything small falls by the wayside. Big ideas about depression and growing up aren’t going to get very far if the characters aren’t likable. When I say “likable,” I don’t mean good people. But there needs to be something for viewers to cling to. Right now, all the characters in Sonny Boy Episode 5 essentially fall into three categories:

1) Too indifferent to care (because they are “guarded”), which leads to them doing nothing without extreme coaxing from others and are absolutely boring to follow.

2) Absolute self-centered jerks who decided empathy and nuance don’t exist in their teenage years.

3) Manic pixie characters (of multiple genders, but predominantly female) who are “quirky” for the sake of making Category #1 better people and doing something. They are super fun and interesting initially, but as soon as you scrape away a layer or two, there isn’t much there, as they revolve solely around Category #1 (cough Nagara cough).

The moral of the story is: Sonny Boy is a kind-of-fun-sometimes anime that bites off a lot more than it can chew, and it really is showing this episode. There are absolutely wonderful moments: the gorgeously animated scene of Nagara and Nozomi diving underwater almost made everything worth it. Additionally, the entire concept behind Nagara’s power (if what Ms. Aki says is true) is a fantastic way to discuss depression. Again, the ideas are there, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Nagara had a moment that finally made me want to root for him, and then immediately afterward fell back into old habits. It isn’t that he can’t be indifferent to the world as a defense mechanism, but that’s all we know about him. The writing has barely given us any other information about him as a character. Again, the show tries so hard to be deep, but when you scrape away those initial layers and look just at the characters, there isn’t much to analyze or think about.

Sonny Boy Episode 5 had moments that reminded me why I loved the premiere but was also filled with elements that represented the peak of everything that has been frustrating about the anime the last few weeks. I am rooting for it, truly. However, it needs to address its writing issues with character depth fast.

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

Sonny Boy Episode 5
  • 4.5/10
    Rating - 4.5/10
4.5/10

TL;DR

Sonny Boy Episode 5 had moments that reminded me why I loved the premiere but was also filled with elements that represented the peak of everything that has been frustrating about the anime the last few weeks. I am rooting for it, truly. However, it needs to address its writing issues with character depth fast.