In works like Tekkonkinkreet, Ping Pong, GoGo Monster and Number Five, the author has depicted the physical and emotional struggles of youngsters in environments ranging from the future to sports to the spiritual world to SF. Here he revisits his own youth, which he spent in a foster home separated from his parents. We meet Haruo, a problem child with prematurely white hair, and Sei, a serious, studious type from Yokohama, along with Junsuke, Megumu, Kiiko, Kenji and others―the children who live at Hoshi-no-ko School vary in age and circumstances, but all must endure a parentless life. An old junked Sunny automobile that sits in the corner of the schoolyard becomes the kids’ playground and classroom. Amid friendships and fights with each other, interactions with schoolmates who live with their parents, and difficult relations with their own parents or with Mr. ADACHI of the Hoshi-no-ko School staff, the youthful characters gradually grow and mature as they deal with day to day incidents large and small in this portrayal of the inner lives of institutionalized kids.
For children, unhappiness may stem from their lack of freedom to make any choices. They can’t even choose whom they live with or where. Yet when their dreams fail to come true, they can’t afford to indulge in despair. Adults will evade a situation with happy lies and leave kids to bear the burden of unhappy reality, but kids are not permitted to lie or run away. The Hoshi-no-ko School is home to children saddled with difficult family situations and uncontrollable emotions. They are all strangers to each other, and their school materials are all hand-me-downs. When they get in the abandoned Sunny sedan and fill it up with imaginary gasoline, they can go anywhere, but when they disembark they are back where they started. Through devices like the periodic quotation of Showa-era tunes of past decades, the mood of futility that pervades the story finds poignant expression without resorting to tedious explication. This is a tale that constantly evokes such emotions as the loneliness of one’s own childhood and the regrets felt upon reaching adulthood. Every time I open this manga, I discover new emotions as if I had climbed into the Sunny myself. (MATSUDA Hiroko)