Sunshine Sketch, Volume 4 is meant to be read as a slice-of-life manga.
The problem with this is, to be compelling to me as a slice-of-life, a story needs to be a slice of life that is new to me and it needs to be a slice of life big enough to include character growth and maturity.
Sunshine Sketch is less a slice-of-life than a slice-of-fiction, and an incredibly narrow, unchanging fictitious world in which little ever changes.
We are meant to believe that a year has passed at the Hidamari Apartments, that Yuno and Miyako have moved up as 2nd-years and new students have entered the apartments as 1st-years. But Yuno and Miyako have not changed at all, and the new students take the place of the bicycle and the cat from the previous volume, as props with which the ensemble can run the same gags as always.
Sae and Hiro still have the same ambiguously gay relationship, and while new student Nazuna sort of implies a minor crush on Sae, we spend far more time pondering her popularity with the guys. Nazuna is also so low-self-esteem as to be painful to watch. Nori might be fun, in a series that wasn’t going to cover the same territory over again.
Entrance Ceremony, School Festival, Finals, Christmas, New Semester, Valentine’s Day…etc, etc. This is not slice-of-life, this is slice-of-slice-of-life, one endless rehash of the same dozen moments of high school, with new characters that change nothing. In some sense, this is high school from the point of view of the teachers, a cycle of events that repeat over and over, with only the names shifting to show that time has passed.
George R. once quoted me as saying that the value of sequels is that we are able to spend more time in the company of characters we love. I’ve now spent four volumes with the characters of Sunshine Sketch and know nothing more about them than I did four volumes ago.
Kate Dacey wrote vehemently about why 4-koma comics do not translate well and this manga makes a great example for her argument. There is nothing here to grab a reader; nothing unique, compelling or relevant. I’m more than happy to watch a few moments of peaceful time slip by, but this series is the manga equivalent of watching paint dry. Read any panel and it will read like any other panel. Character reactions will be overblown in proportion to the minor pun or misinterpretation in lieu of a funny punchline. “WHAT!?!” they will say, instead of “hah,” at one of Miyako’s jokes. Yuno will continue to be slightly awkward and not know what she wants. Hiro will be passive-aggressive about food, Sae will be an artist who writes or a writer who draws.
What makes slice-of-life compelling is watching the character over time, watching the slow, small changes that signal maturity. Aria does this. Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou does this with genius. Sadly, Sunshine Sketch has us watching the slow passage of time, with no changes visible. Time spent, but not particularly well.
Art – 7
Story – 6
Characters – 6
Yuri – 2
Service – 1
Overall – 6
Law of Marginal Manga Return – If the characters in the fourth volume are pretty much the same as they are in the first volume, and you don’t have a plot to catch the reader’s attention, you’ve failed to create a good manga. Plot or character – you’ve gotta have at least one.
My thanks today to Okazu Superhero Amanda M. for allowing me to articulate this new Law, by sponsoring today’s review!