Holiday Catch-Up: Goodnight, Punpun

I’ve already talked about Urasawa and some of his bigger works. And while I respect the author and his ability to weave such intricate stories, I’ve always felt that he’s fallen a bit short when it came to the second half of most of his series. And considering that he’s such a big name in the manga world, I felt like no other seinen author would be able to come even close to the guy.

Then I read/caught up on Inio Asano’s Goodnight, Punpun.

While I wasn’t aware of it when I first started the series, I was already somewhat familiar with Asano’s works in the form of What a Wonderful World, which  while capable of being thought provoking, showing the uglier sides of life alongside the better, was still pretty rough around the edges as a whole. Not the case with his latest ongoing work.

Goodnight Punpun (or Oyasumi, Punpun for the sake of search referrals) tells the story of titular character Punpun—a seemingly ordinary kid except for the fact that he and the rest of his family are portrayed as what look to be poorly-drawn birds.

No, they’re not some kind of genetic mutations in a world that conveniently accepts them; that’s just the way Asano figured to show them, whereas the rest of the world is drawn in the most realistic (but still with a dash of manga-ey)  way possible, which I think is really what makes the series shine. Most of the time, whenever you see comics or animation, they’re always done in one particular aesthetic. So to have Asano throw such an unspoken rule aside and blend his best artwork with that comparable to a five-year-old’s is interesting to say the least.

The story starts off with Punpun and the crazy Stand By Me-like adventures he has with his friends (done in a way Urasawa only wishes he could do) in their childhood, but slowly begins to develop into something much more. While you’d think Punpun and his family would be the main drivers of the series, the secondary cast gives them a run for their money, each of them with their own interesting quirk and relatable flaws so well-developed that they could star in a series all their own. From the will-they-or-won’t-they love interest since childhood, to the mismatched duo of a schoolyard delinquent and his possibly mentally challenged friend with an overactive imagination, specific attention is given to each character that while the cast may seem large at times, you’re never given the impression that a person is there just to take up space.

As the story progresses, we follow Punpun through the later years of his life, which considering the coming-of-age style of storytelling you think would be where the series begins to falter. But interestingly enough, it’s Asano’s decision of portraying Punpun and his family in the most oddball way possible that helps drive the story away from anything too trite. While at times, you may think that it’s just another coming-of-age story with an emo kid, the humongous contrast in art style draws you away from that idea and allows you to read things in a completely different manner. Hilariously enough, the author himself brings up the concept of “nobody wanting to hear the story of another emo kid” in the context of the story itself, as if to challenge this concept and work towards shattering it.

That alone should be enough to get anyone interested in the series, but Asano adds on to what on paper comes off as a mere coming of age seinen by further blending his concepts of the real and imaginary worlds. Adding on to the oddly drawn Punpun and his interactions with his more realistic counterparts, are his friend Shimizu, who seems to have some kind of involvement during the climax of the first “arc” of the series which is rather vague since a majority of it was depicted through Shimizu’s imagination of alien saucers driven by what he calls the god of poop (one of many interpretations of what “god” should be throughout the series, which is another conversation entirely). This only gets stranger when the characters get older, Shimizu still keeping his sense of imagination, which at this point may or may not have something to do with a cult that’s set their eyes on him.

In short:
Goodnight, Punpun >>> 20th Century Boys

Asano >>> Urasawa

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