Where do I even begin? When I was first handed a copy of the two-in-one volume manga release of Goodnight Punpun, written by Inio Asano, I had no idea what to expect. I had never heard of it until a couple days before writing this review, and didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. One thing I can say for sure however, is that the words “don’t judge a book by its cover” have never rang so true.
Goodnight Punpun is more than just your run of the mill Slice of Life manga, playing a little into the comedy, drama, and to some degree, the psychological genre. The manga tells the story of a young Punpun Punyama, an elementary school boy, who is only just beginning his journey on the ever twisting road of life. The manga tells the tale of Punpun’s first real venture into love, his adventures with classmates and his less than peaceful, yet unfortunately not wholly un-average, family life.
Early on in the story it isn’t hard to see that Punpun is more than a bit shy and naive, more so than his classmates. Punpun seems to lack much depth and is shown to be prone to questionable choices, such as his early crush on class “sweetheart” Miyo, while also possibly incapable of thinking things through. As I said however, this is only in the beginning.
The story really begins when new student Aiko Tanaka transfers into Punpun’s class and he falls instantly in love with her, and as things progress we meet Punpun’s friends from class in the midst of a discussion about sex with less of the innocent curiosity of children, and a much more brazen desire than would honestly be expected. Though this can be chalked up to cultural differences, it is really at this point that it starts settling in that this manga is definitely not what it seems.
This manga has the unprecedented ability to go from zero to one hundred, then to zero again from one panel to the next as first noted when observing Punpun’s homeroom teacher address the class, and later cemented near the end of chapter 1 where we meet Punpun’s parents and bear witness to the moment his father helps to inspire his dream for the future, only to have events flipped on their head a few pages later when Punpun’s family unit is torn apart.
The read felt completely disorienting, seeing as you can never really be sure what you would be getting into when you turn the page. Cute moments between Punpun and Aiko can shift into in debt contemplation on the continued existence of mankind. A casual afternoon of the boys sneaking off to watch porn can easily take a turn and become a possible mystery that somehow, curiously enough, might just be the answer to Punpun’s current love dilemma.
The characters aren’t what you would expect either. Though the main set of characters are elementary school students the thoughts and discussions that play out throughout the story are anything but childish or innocent. The story leads characters to think, and inevitably act on some heavy topics, such as what love is and the belief systems we carry with us. It somehow managing to pass these things off as casually as everyday occurrences, and par for the course as we inevitably shift back to Punpun’s struggle with his new found love life.
The Visual Effect
Did I mention that Punpun is a bird? The art style of the manga is not so common as to be frequently seen, but common enough that it is familiar with the singular exception that Punpun, his parents and his uncle are all drawn as variation on a doodled bird. The style of the manga is very detailed with some strong realism which contrasts heavily with the way in which the mangaka has chosen to illustrate the main character. It isn’t very hard to see that the intentional contrast is meant to place emphasis on the struggle Punpun feels in actually relating to the world. What can be, and was on my part, interpreted as naivety might really just be a disconnection on Punpun’s part formed by not really fitting in. The idea that a simple graphic choice can evoke such deep thought and contemplation on the part of a reader is definitely a notable point in Asano’s favour.
Simply put this manga is a reality check, and is definitely not for everyone. Inio Asano doesn’t pull any punches as he tells a genuine tale of growing up, and learning to traverse the challenges of life, and finding one’s self. The cute moments are sweet and the darker moments are thought provoking, if not fully relatable. We all know what it’s like to fall for someone only to realize after the fact that maybe we weren’t really prepared, don’t we? The manga has a very calm tone to it due to the constant back and forth between the cute, funny moments, and the more intense ones, though the constant back and forth, while not hard to follow in terms of story, can still be disorienting and leave you wondering.
Try it. If nothing else the manga will make for great group discussion and you may even find a connection to your own life adventures. The Manga is available in both physical and digital forms via the most popular book distributes.