Sweet and sad.
Sunny is an ongoing manga by Taiyo Matsumoto (first serialized in 2011), about the everyday lives of several children and teens living in a group home. It's broken up into vignettes, each revolving around a different character. "Sunny" is actually a Sunny 1200, a broken-down car sitting on the grounds.
There isn't really a set "plot" of beginning, middle and end. It's just day by day life for these regular people. But the writing digs deep inside each character, and really draws out who they are.
The home (Star Kids) isn't exactly an orphanage, because several of the kids still have parents (whom they even see now and then). It's just that due to whatever circumstances, their parent(s) are unable to care for them. This seeming rejection creates a lot of coping mechanisms, and the creativity that some of the kids have creates a "safe zone" of sorts between their imagination and reality. They'll sit inside the Sunny, using their imaginations to escape reality, if only for a short time.
The stories focus on the kids' everyday lives. Most of them aren't perceived as "normal" by other kids outside the home, so most of their regular social interaction is with each other. The kids can be weird, sure, but they're still people. They each have distinct personalities, struggles, hopes, and dreams. And over time, these are at least glimpsed by the reader.
Star Kids isn't a bad place for the kids to live. The adults in charge do their best to provide a good living environment, even if the kids drive them up the wall sometimes. A few of the kids have very strong personalities, and watching them bounce off of each other is pretty entertaining.
It's a bittersweet nostalgic look back, because every kid went through a period of feeling like they didn't belong at one point or another. It's just regular everyday things happening to these kids. But they're in a living situation that they don't want and have no control over. So seeing what these everyday events mean to them, as well as how they react, really hits home emotionally. When they do finally open up to someone, you can tell that not only is it hard for them to do, but how much trust they truly place in each other.
Star Kids is a place where they know they can feel safe and be themselves, but it's not the same kind of upbringing as everyone around them. Most of them are just unsure about their place in life. They each cope with their internal anxiety in their own way. Some act out, some shut down, some deflect it entirely, and everything in between. At the end of the day, though, they rely on each other more than they know.
Some characters haven't really been explored yet, which is why I'm glad the manga continues. I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about Sunny, but after finishing it, I definitely want to seek out the other two volumes available. Matsumoto's character development and ability to capture their emotions is excellent, and since that's pretty much the meat of the manga, it works out rather well. He can also have the characters say so much with the tiniest word or gesture.
The art and visual style is pretty unique. I was initially put off by it, because it wasn't very graceful. Upon reading through a second time, however, I think it works really well with the writing. Panel layout, choices of perspective/distance, and character design really adds another layer of artistry to the whole thing. The harshness and unfavorable conditions of their lives is perfectly represented by the drawing. Rough around the edges, but genuine and sincere at its core.
The book itself has a very nice hardcover, textured binding. The paper is high quality, and the inking is very solid and clean. The few pages presented in color are really beautiful. The book is slightly larger than most of the standard-size manga. Thankfully, it also reads right to left.
I would definitely recommend Sunny. But the 13+ age rating doesn't seem quite right to me. I don't know how many young teens would "get it." It seems like more of an adult-oriented read, looking back to that time of childhood, and being able to fully understand it. I feel like most young teens would still be going through that phase themselves, and therefore not fully understand the point of the manga. But maybe that's just me.