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Sunshine Sketch Vol. 3
Distributor Yen Press
Author/Artist Ume Aoki
Ever since devouring the first two volumes of this manga (figuratively, not literally) I've been waiting somewhat impatiently to be served up with the latest slice of life that is Sunshine Sketch, the tale of four art students and their everyday lives sharing both the same apartment block and their experiences as friends with us lucky people. Now, at last, volume three is here, and I don't think I'll be spoiling this review too much to say that it was well worth the wait.
In essence, the handful of full colour pages which kick off this third volume sums up Sunshine Sketch to a tee - After discussing the four-panel comics found in newspapers, the girls each try their handing at making a comic of their own with less than stellar results. "Nothing happens around here that would make a good manga" opines Miyako, before the conversation swings towards toasting mochi. What Miyako says here is absolutely right, there's nothing about Hidamari Apartments and the lives of herself and her friends Sae, Hiro and Yunocchi that should be of any kind of interest or comic value whatsoever, and it's this which somehow makes Sunshine Sketch both so outrageously good and so endearing.
Whereas many a slice of life series will frequently dip into the surreal to find its material, Sunshine Sketch largely prefers to keep its humour grounded in simple realities from an argument between friends through to the receipt of a love letter, interspersed with moments which even better represent the minutiae of life such as cooking, eating or simply spending a day messing around with a Polaroid camera. This absolute feeling of normality makes you feel part of this circle of friends throughout, and its simple charms will leave you smiling from cover to cover, interspersed only with outright laughter from some of the volume's funnier punch lines and scenarios.
This process is helped along admirably by Ume Aoki's character designs, with each character having both their own very clear personality and visual motif without ever descending into cliché, while the artwork itself swings from meticulously accentuating the cuteness of the girls through to perfectly conveying moments of visual comedy when required via either facial expressions or more subtle means.
As I mentioned in my coverage of the first two volumes of this manga, the sedate pace and everyday comedy of Sunshine Sketch won't be for everyone, but if you can appreciate slice of life comedy in its purest form then this is not far short of a master class in how to package it within a four-panel manga vehicle. Whether you want to escape from a rough day at work or a bad weekend at home, or simply want to be made to laugh and smile for a while, Sunshine Sketch undoubtedly delivers.
Another wonderfully endearing and warmly funny trip to Hidamari Apartments which once again leaves me wanting more.