Sunshine Sketch Manga, Volume 4 (English)

February 15th, 2010

Sunshine Sketch, Vol. 4Sunshine 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!

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7 Responses

  1. Ed Sizemore says:

    Thanks. I’ve read the first volume and liked it. I just picked up volume two. It sounds like I should just stop at volume two. Although, I did learn a ton about the technical side of art in volume one.

  2. I read and enjoyed the first three volumes but suddenly realized that volume 4 is Volume 1 all over again with two new props, erm, characters. None of the characters are developed enough for me to really care if I spend more time with them, or not.

  3. ramiya says:

    I haven’t picked up volume 4 yet, but the anime seems to have hit the same point with the introduction of the new first years. I’d been looking forward to this, figuring that this would lead to some interesting character growth, some new character synergies, give some new personalities to explore, and generally shake things up a little.

    Instead…yeah, props. I’m really disappointed as I thought since the other four characters were interesting enough, that the new ones would be too. But instead it just dilutes things further. We’re a few episodes in and still have pretty much zero insight into PC girl other than she’s computer literate and no one else is. And Shy Gen-Ed girl was amusing when she first appeared, but has been largely just existing and occassionally crying about this or that. Meanwhile, the same general gags continue.

    Shaft/Shinbou’s art direction continue to make the show very visually inspired and entertaining at least, but it feels like they are struggling with pasting in these new characters and maintaining the flow, even resorting regularly to flashbacks of stories that took place BEFORE the newbies arrived to fill a good chunk of airtime…

    As far as slice of life school 4-koma series, Hidamari is less Azumanga Daioh and more, well, Peanuts.

  4. @ramiya – Interesting comment about the animation. I found the original anime series unwatchable, as everyone shifted and shook so much, I felt like everyone had Parkinson’s. Since neither animation, plot not character appeals, I won’t be watching the new series – another good opportunity for a guest review. :-)

  5. George R. says:

    Let me take your analogy of sequels spending “more time with old friends,” a bit further. I’m sure everyone has a “friend” who will keep telling the same stories and never knows any new jokes. Those folks can get tiring, though our tolerance varies so they change from interesting to tiring at different times for all of us.

    I think one of the reasons I liked the Hidamari Sketch novels and the “ordinary manga” at the end of volume 4 is the different medium added a flavor of newness. I enjoy some of the subtle variations between this volume and the previous ones, but the line between subtle and bland is both thin and fuzzy.

  6. Charlie says:

    Curiously, I enjoyed Volume 3 most of all so far – maybe the repetition is getting through to me or something.

    I will say though that I HATE the cover for volume 4 – two girls who look about ten years old in a ‘sexy’ pose, argh.

  7. TheBigN says:

    Hidamari Sketch Season 3, by adding their own material into the source, actually makes you feel like there’s some progress with the characters, and I think it’s definitely better than book 4, which is where most of the source material came from for this season. I wouldn’t say check out book 4 (though I do like it), but I would say check out season 3.

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