Meet Punpun Punyama: He’s an average kid, in an average town. He wants to win a Nobel Prize and save the world. He wants to go far away with his true love. He wants to find some porn. But in this new series from the acclaimed author of Solanin, Punpun’s life is about to unravel...
9-year old Punpun Punyama is a fairly average kid - he lives with his parents (Mama Punyama and Papa Punyama), goes to school, and is part of the PWC (“Porn Watchers Club”) with his friends. To make things even better, Punpun has a direct line to God, all thanks to his Uncle Yuichi who lives in Ofuna: by chanting the spell “Dear God, Dear God, Tinkle Hoy!” God will appear and talk to our intrepid Punpun! One day, Punpun is just about too sad to school after finding out that the class sweetheart, Miyo, is transferring out of his school. However, transferring into his class from Nerima is a new girl named Aiko Tanaka. For Punpun, it was love at first sight...
Goodnight Punpun will appeal to more mature readers looking for a psychological coming-of-age story with a dash of magical realism. Viz has given it a content rating of 18+, and there are sexual situations and very mature themes in this series.
Goodnight Punpun could be classified easily as just a slice-of-life, or a coming-of-age story, but the truth is that this series falls somewhere in between, incorporating an undercurrent of surrealism and magical realism to create the deeply psychological story of a young boy trying to make sense of his life. Punpun’s world is not easy to follow at times, but this is purely by design because author Inio Asano perfectly conveys Punpun’s thought process as he attempts to deal with some very difficult circumstances. Punpun’s journey through his childhood is overlaid with a dash of magical realism and vibrant symbolism that conveys the parts of the world that make little sense to children, using this to illustrate Punpun’s own process of growing up in an extremely effective manner.
Early on in the story, Punpun’s dad is taken away after an incident with his mother, causing Punpun to be put into the care of his uncle Yuuichi. While he goes on plenty of memorable adventures, Punpun’s own journey in growing up is the story - we see his slow process of maturing as he is forced to deal with his family’s issues while simultaneously trying to make sense of his precarious place in the world. This struggle is vividly illustrated by the fact that Punpun simply doesn’t have the emotional maturity to handle all of this, and what results are his desperate attempts to find something solid to cling on to - whether it be his uncle, his “God”, or his crush Aiko Tanaka. Additionally, Punpun’s gradual loss of innocence becomes a key theme, because we see him slowly beginning to realize that adults perhaps don’t deserve the blind trust he had put in them after being disappointed numerous times. We also see the broad conflict between adults in reality versus the image of adults children have emphasized, with adults acting in exaggeratedly bizarre ways in a number of different scenes to create this contrast. All of the adults in this story are deeply flawed, with Asano using this to demonstrate Punpun slowly beginning to realize this as well after each disappointment. Asano does a fantastic job portraying this slow growth because by the end of this we see an appropriately changed Punpun as a result of this extremely fascinating character study on the process of growing up.
It’s amazing how well-realized Punpun becomes as a character - he feels very much like a child, with his various fears broadly realized. For example, Punpun is told very early on that oil will run out and the world will end, and this fear becomes a frequent preoccupation of his in a way that recalls the way that children will obsess over scary things they’ve heard in an attempt to make sense of them. This also plays out with Punpun and his friends’ fascination towards sex, forming the PWC in hopes of catching a glimpse of sex. Aside from making the curiosity of these kids feel realistic, this is also quite funny as we later get to see Punpun worry incessantly about sex, culminating in a recurring image of him being chased by marauding vagina monsters in an abstract dream of his. However, Punpun’s fears and worries are never trivialized, and in the end they feel strikingly genuine as part of the process of a young-boy trying to make sense of and exercise a faint bit of control over a confusing and often unsettling world.
Asano’s stylistic decisions in telling this story are incredibly distinctive and effective - Punpun and his family are drawn as cartoon birds but are seen within the story by others as regular people. Additionally, Punpun never directly speaks in this volume, only reacting non-verbally and on rare occasions having his lines repeated by the narrator. However, Punpun’s interactions with the world are done extremely effectively, because Asano cleverly uses Punpun’s body-language and actions to portray his thoughts to the reader. This is incredibly successful, and Punpun is a more expressive character in his bird form than most other protagonists in this medium. I loved how this also invested me in Punpun’s character by forcing me to take an active role in understanding his state of mind through his body language rather than simply looking at his face. As Punpun went through his trials and tribulations in this volume, I could feel myself becoming incredibly invested in this small cartoon bird, with his struggles portrayed in an amazing affective way thanks to Asano’s choices.
Inio Asano’s art is fantastic in this volume, drawing his world with an astounding level of detail. Backgrounds are stunning, conveying a realistic feel for the setting that contrasts with the cartoony portrayal of Punpun’s family to create a strong dissonance, enhancing the dramatic flavour of this world effectively. Much should also be made of his clever use of photography overlaid upon scenes, creating a surrealist feel which contrasts greatly with Punpun’s cartoony depiction. For example, Punpun’s personal God (seen above) is a photo of a real person, creating an interesting dramatic effect of a simplistic bird talking to a photograph within a manga. This is accentuated by Asano’s depictions of Punpun’s own mental state (seen below), which frequently take of the form of psychedelic imagery that is often overlaid with photographs to show the conflicting mental states of Punpun. These layers of style all come together incredibly effectively to create a world that feels grounded yet promotes a sense of magical realism as Punpun navigates his way through life.
It’s also worth noting that Viz went all out with this release, giving it a strikingly artistic flair. Printed in Viz’s larger format Signature line, the book features some of the best french flaps I’ve seen in a release. Punpun himself is also embossed on the cover, making this volume quite the looker and giving it a real premium sort of feel.
Goodnight Punpun Vol. 1 is unlike anything else on the market today, and demands to be read by anyone looking for a deeply challenging and artistically unique journey. Occasionally bizarre, frequently funny and always engaging, Punpun’s process of growing up is captivating thanks to Asano’s incredibly unique and effective stylistic choices in portraying him as a wordless cartoon bird. Combined with incredible art and affective handling of some really difficult themes, Goodnight Punpun is definitely worth your time.
Goodnight Punpun Vol. 1 (containing volumes 1 and 2 of the Japanese release) was translated by JN Productions and published by Viz Media on March 15th, 2016. Authored by Inio Asano, the series ran from 2007-2013 in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits and Young Sunday magazines, releasing in 13 volumes. Volume 2 (containing volumes 3 and 4 of the Japanese release) will be published in English on June 23rd, 2016.
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