Tue, 8 July 2008
Manga Review of Sunshine Sketch Volume 1 by Ume Aoki. Translated by Satsuki Yamashita. Originally published by Houbunsha in Japan. Published in US by Yen Press, $10.99, Rated Teen.
Sunshine Sketch is about 4 art students attending the prestigious Yamabuki Private High School. They are all neighbors in the Hidamari Apartment Building, which is notorious for housing weirdos from the Arts department. I don't know if you would qualify sophomores Yun and Miyu, and juniors Sae and Hiro as "weirdos" per se, but they are all a bit quirky in their own way. The story is mainly told from the viewpoint of Yuno, the stereotypical klutz airhead of the series. You can see the apple doesn't fall far from the tree when her mom takes her for entrance exams and is last seen waving goodbye to Yuno. Hours later, after the test is over, Yuno exits the building to find that her mom is STILL waving, with a hugely swollen arm! Miyu is the pushy energy ball who shows up as soon as Yuno moves into Hidamari, demanding moving Soba (it's a Japanese tradition to make Soba for your new neighbors). This is just the first act of sponging off of Yuno that Miyu instigates. She sees Yuno as a food source and a servant....and as a friend....I guess. Sae and Hiro live on the floor beneath Yuno and Miyu and since they are a year older, see themselves as kind of big sisters to the younger duo. Sae is the more intelligent of the two and seems much more mature, while Hiro is a bit spacier but hides a sly wit and sarcasm that she uses to insult the other girls. Whether she does this intentionally or not, she always plays off her insults as dumb coencidence.
Sunshine Sketch is a series of four panel cartoons that read vertically going down the page a la Azumanga Daioh. Because of this format and the subject matter I found it hard not to compare the two series, much to Sunshine's detriment. While Azumanga's jokes were always clear and almost always brought a laugh, the humor in Sunshine is much more hit and miss. Because the book is broken into pseudo chapters, the punchline for a joke can come pages later, much more like Cromartie High School, instead of being rapid fire like Azumanga. This spacing of the jokes tends to dilute the comedy. There were many times reading this book that I realized a joke had been told and I was supposed to laugh but I just didn't get it. But I felt that this was due more to the obscurity of the original writing than a misunderstanding of the Japanese translation or cultural references. The art is pretty average according to the unremarkable subject matter that is being drawn. The character designs and the personalities of the cast stand out a bit better upon a second reading but at this point are a bit formless and hard to distinguish. Sunshine Sketch shows promise at this point and could be quite funny once you get to know the characters a bit more.
My Grade: B