A boy lying on the floor of a classroom, staring at the ceiling. Seated on the teacher’s podium, a snot-nosed cat with sleep crusting its eyes. A strange girl appears, peering down at the boy and asking if it’s fun to lie on the floor. The setting is familiar enough, but the details are…incongruous to say the least. As the episode plays out, the mysteries and odd details pile up on one another and the ambience takes on a Lord of the Flies feel. Thirty-six high school seniors, their high school building, and a passel of cats have somehow ended up in a void so black that the darkness swallows your hand if you reach out the window. And some of them have acquired super powers. A week in, the students are still half expecting things to somehow return to normal eventually, and so the student council decides to hold the fort in the meantime and establish new rules for “This World”, as they’re calling their new reality, to keep order but also to maintain the existing social hierarchy, and prevent their powered up peers from staging a revolution. The captain of the baseball team, a bit of a beefhead, is voted the new Leader, and starts dishing out penalties for infractions like using powers indoors and damaging school supplies. Things turn nasty when his authority is challenged, though in losing his temper, he breaks the rules himself and ends up with a penalty. Meanwhile, free-spirited transfer student Nozomi, recently returned from overseas, can see something shining in the black sky that no one else can, and decides to take a leap into the abyss in hopes of reaching it. Nagasa accidentally joins her in the dive and as they plummet into the nothingness, colors and the surrounding world suddenly reappear: the school is sinking in the ocean, off the coast of a mountainous island.
This episode is tense. I watched it twice, and even when I knew what to expect, I still caught myself bracing. In a good way though. I may have referenced the Battle Royale-style set up in the description above, but this first episode is as focused (if not more so) on the puzzles and mysteries behind what is going on as the internecine rivalries and building anticipation of violent confrontation among the students. There are the cats, for one thing, and the girl who whiles away her time with them, surrounded by stacks of deliveries from Nyamazon (Amazon for cats?). Did she somehow have them delivered in the void? Or were they there already, in which case, why? There are the feathers (but no birds), which Nozomi takes as inspiration for her fearless leap into the empty space that could be the sky or might not be. Then there’s Nozomi herself, who was a bit of an odd duck—saying that tearing up textbooks “feels good”—even before all the weirdness with the void began. She also turns down the offer of a smartphone, and like, who does that?! There’s the giant carousel in the gym and the flashback reference to how “lately things have been tough for adults too,” implying that there has been some kind of national or global catastrophe unfolding. All in all, a lot to sink your teeth into if you like the kind of anime you need to sink your teeth into in order to enjoy. If not, it could just be frustrating and a tad overwrought. The character design is a little flat and simplistic, but on the second viewing, it grew on me and I appreciate the vibrant color design. The range of characters is pretty decent, with a couple compelling ones, as well as the one you know you’re going to love to hate (Hoshi, I’m looking at you, or rather your little star eye tattoo!), and then probably end up having to grudgingly respect. If you like puzzles, large casts, and complicated world-building (where is the line between the Super Powers and the Rules?), and don’t mind the occasional burst of under-aged brutality and rushed in-betweens (Madhouse, I expected better!), this is probably a good show for you. For my part, I’ll keep watching, but if the balance begins to weigh more heavily towards Lord of the Flies, then I’m out. Already had to study that book two years running in high school because, transfer student.
Sonny Boy can be streamed on Funimation.