Like most kids his age, Punpun is in high school. In fact, he’s made it into the best high school in town. He is such a good student. He studies so he doesn’t have to think about his life. Maybe a meteor will crash into the Earth and destroy everything. A guy can wish, Punpun...
Punpun is now 15, and after two years of relentless studying he managed to get into the best high-school in town. Not that anyone - his mother, his missing uncle, or himself, actually cares. In fact, Punpun only has one thing on his mind - he wants to have sex. Life is terrible at home as well - his uncle Yuichi is missing, leaving Punpun, his mother, and Midori (now practically a member of the family) to wait for him. The world of grown-ups is scary, and maybe Punpun would rather not know the dark that everyone is hiding inside their hearts. Or maybe he already knows because of what’s hiding inside of him.
Goodnight Punpun Vol. 3 rapidly descends into ever darker thematic territory to explore Punpun’s process of growing up, and the absolute rawness that the characters followed in this story are depicted with is used by creator Inio Asano to delve into broader existential questions affecting them all. The previous volume brought Punpun’s uncle Yuichi into the spotlight in following the impact his past had on his present state as he began to date Midori, and two years later we see his lingering issues rear their head again to affect Punpun’s life in a profound way. Punpun’s story in this volume is primarily about his struggles with his burgeoning sexuality as a teenager as his family life falls apart around him, and this makes for some incredibly dark yet thematically rich reading because of the way that Asano-sensei carefully explores the slow deterioration of Punpun’s psyche. Punpun’s experience in high-school is portrayed with reference to extremely relatable themes such as his place in society, his sexuality, and who he really is, but what his struggle to find himself particularly poignant is the way that we see the tangible effects that his world around him has on the development of his perspective. We see immediately how his family environment has affected him as he starts off his first year in high-school with little congratulations or support from his mother, but the real kicker here is that Punpun has little positive adult support in anything else and no role-models to speak of.
One of the main themes of the first two volumes has been the exploration of the flawed nature of adults in contrast to the idealized version perspective that kids have towards them, and it has been enthralling watching Punpun’s faith in adults slowly deteriorate as he enters each new stage in his life. As a teenager, he is forced try to figure out everything himself with reference to the horrible people that inhabit his world with terrible results, and endpoint of this slow deterioration of his faith those around him happens in an incredibly heavy scene early on in the volume as Punpun is assaulted by Midori. In the previous volume, Midori was pretty much the only “good” person in Punpun’s world, and we see this cruelly taken from him in a scene is that masterfully depicted by Asano because of the way that he captures the full nuance of Punpun’s mixed emotions at his attempts to hold his world together. This is followed up with a scene between the two later on which powerfully emphasized the impact of Midori’s assault in a coldly real way, but more than that we see the way that the last vestiges of Punpun’s trust in adults and the world in general being destroyed affects the rest of his interactions throughout this entire volume.
Punpun’s unconventional depiction continues to heighten the impact in his portrayal because we are always held at a distance from physically while knowing his most honest emotions at the same time because of the unflinching way the narrator describes his thoughts. We see Punpun flip back and forth throughout this volume between normalcy and moments of insanity as he tries to cope with it all, and Asano-sensei does a fantastic job using these erratic moments to really nail the depiction of Punpun as a boy just barely holding himself together amidst a sea of emotions he doesn’t know how to deal with. This is emphasized extremely clearly in Punpun’s cartoonish body language as we see him darken and behave almost absurdly violently at times in contrast to the stunning photo-realism that other characters and backgrounds are depicted with. I felt that this really conveyed his emotions in a raw way as he goes through this turbulent time in his life, and by the end of this volume I really felt that we had seen him really break as a person as the culmination of the progression of this series so far.
The final act of Punpun’s story in the book is masterfully done because of the way that it acts as the culmination of Punpun’s slow emotional breakdown over the course of this volume in an intensely personal way. Punpun ends up asking out a classmate named Kanie, and although much of their date goes fine it becomes apparent that Punpun is slowly unwinding on the inside because of his inability to understand how to interact with people. We see Punpun attempting to put on a good act but wondering why things aren’t going as well as he likes, and this combined inability to control his sexuality leads to him taking out his anger on Kanie after they have a misunderstanding rooted in Punpun’s family history. The heartbreaking thing here is that while Kanie misunderstands Punpun initially, we as full witnesses to much of Punpun’s life know exactly why Punpun acts the way that he does as the product of his unhealthy experiences throughout this series. This gives Punpun’s continual stares into darkness in this volume their powerful force because we see exactly how his self-esteem and grasp on himself has eroded despite his best efforts because of everything he has gone through. Asano-sensei has done a masterful job so far depicting the deterioration of Punpun’s inner self, and this volume powerfully concludes Punpun’s childhood through this exploration of his early teenage years.
While Punpun’s story takes up the majority of this volume, Goodnight Punpun continues to delve deeply into philosophical musing about human nature in diversions featuring first his friend Seki, and later the experiences of Mama Onodera. Seki’s story is largely detached from Punpun’s and depicts him grappling with finding his own purpose in life while washing out of school, with the odd result of him inadvertently being hired by a vengeful lover to kill someone. Much like Punpun goes to the brink in his own story, Seki is pushed to his limits as he really contemplates what the world around him means, and this depiction is an interesting contrast to Punpun’s because of the way that Asano-sensei utilizes conventional dialogue to explore this. While there are no firm conclusions here as Seki’s story continues on, I thought this was an interesting look at his look at arriving to the same pessimistic conclusion about the world that Punpun simultaneously arrives at.
Punpun’s mother’s story is the flip-side to Seki’s story- she is an example of the type of rotten adults that he ruminates over, and we see her grappling against both her mortality as well as her disaffectedness with her life in general. I thought this really brought an interesting opposing perspective to the youthful descent into pessimism shown by Seki and Punpun, and it was powerful to watch her struggle with her own tenuous feelings about those around her by finding hope and jealousy in watching youth at the hospital. We also see her real thoughts towards Punpun depicted in heartbreaking starkness, but what makes this scene particularly powerful is because of the way that we’ve seen the results of her feelings and actions on Punpun’s development throughout the series. This creates a powerfully vivid portrait of her as a flawed and even disgusting person, and I thought that this really helped to sell the skepticism that this series holds towards the adults in it. There seem to be two major thematic battles in Goodnight Punpun - the battle between youth such as Punpun against themselves, and the battle between youth and the corruptive influences of the adults and world around them, and Mama’s story really helped to some nuance to this depiction through her own struggle for fulfillment. This volume ends Punpun’s high-school years on a powerful cliffhanger that really cements how much has gone wrong as the darkness that has grown inside of him, and it’ll definitely be interesting to see how he copes as a young-adult with so much gone wrong.
Goodnight Punpun is the famous proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” taken to its most negative because of the way that Punpun becomes the product of his warped experiences with the flawed people around him, and watching his slow descent into darkness is utterly captivating and emotionally heartbreaking. It’s perfectly paced and filled with deep existential musings, but what makes the thoughts and experiences conveyed in this volume carry weight is the way that they are powerfully grounded in the personal circumstances of all of these characters as they face life’s challenges with varying degrees of success. With this volume, Goodnight Punpun is shaping up to be a deeply dark and powerful tragedy of epic proportions, and absolutely everyone should be reading this series.
Goodnight Punpun Vol. 3 (containing volumes 5 and 6 of the Japanese release) was translated by JN Productions and published by Viz Media on September 20th, 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.
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