For my first review of the year, I’m going to be looking at a new volume of manga that I have been patiently anticipating for the last two years, Sunshine Sketch volume eight. Sunshine Sketch, or Hidamari Sketch in the original Japanese, is a four panel style manga about a group of art students sharing a dormitory and having random fun adventures together as they develop their artistic skills. It’s one of my favourite manga and anime series of recent years but I’m surprised it’s not more popular like Azumanga Daioh or Lucky Star. Anime fans might recognise the creator Ume Aoki as the character designer for Madoka Magica.
I think that what draws me to this series is its likeable characters and their close relationships. Knowing how hard it is to get through art school, they all care about each other a lot and help each other out as much as they can. I relate to Yuno especially, even though she’s an artist and I’m a writer, because she is also struggling to find her identity as an artist and goes through many pitfalls and successes throughout the series, which is all part of becoming an adult and an artist of any kind. But she’s not the only character I can find similarities with. I relate to Sae, who is also a writer, and her endless struggle to meet deadlines and find satisfaction with her work, plus of course her addiction to books. I do find it incredibly unrealistic that she was already making a part time living from fiction writing when she was only 14! Wouldn’t it have made much more sense for her to be still developing her writing skills at that age?
There is also Nazuna who I relate to for her social anxiety and lack of self-confidence. Nazuna is so much like a young me that I just want to hug her and tell her it’s all going to be ok. I think I’ve unofficially adopted her as my manga daughter.
The slice of life segments are also fun, even if they tend to focus on the most mundane of day-to-day activities. Past stories have included such exciting adventures as washing the curtains, cooking dinner, and going to the store on a rainy day. And yet the manga’s comedic style still makes these episodes funny and enjoyable. It reflects how both the big and small moments of life matter and shape who we are. One minor plot point of volume eight is that Sae and Hiro use this idea for their graduation project.
Volume eight differs slightly from past editions in that the slice of life parts are almost non-existent. Instead, the drama bomb of Sae and Hiro, the two oldest main characters, graduating from high school and moving away is focused on and the other girls begin to wonder what their own post-graduation options should be. The close relationships the girls have formed makes their parting incredibly hard, with many of the 4-koma strips being purely drama based. But on the whole, the book it is still just as funny as the series always is. I particularly loved Yuno, whose main goal in life is to become more mature, not knowing what ‘lipstick on a man’s shirt’ means.
Through all the drama, a shining light comes through in the form of a new character, Matsuri, a new student moving into the apartment building. She is a fairly typical quirky shojo character who fits the eccentric image I have of art students. She even dresses up in what she considers an eccentric outfit on her first day of school because she thinks that is what is expected of art students. Her outgoing personality contrasts nicely with the other characters and by drawing positive qualities from each other, they all make good friends. I have fallen instantly in love with her and want to adopt her as my other manga daughter.
As you can probably guess from all my gushing, I can’t recommend this manga highly enough to shojo fans. It is rare to find a story I don’t like in this series. Creative practitioners like me will find a lot that they can relate to and there is tonnes of yuri subtext. I might have to wait another two or three years until the next book is released, but I have the feeling that it will be worth it.