Mar 5, 2015
147 of 147 chapters read
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Almost everyone has felt at one point during their lifespan that their lives have hit rock bottom, that the world is conspiring against them, that nobody out there has a worse life than they do. For the most part, of course, this is untrue, save for the one unlucky fellow on the bottom rung of the ladder, and their lives do begin to slowly climb upward again.
Oyasumi Punpun (eng. translation Goodnight Punpun) is a psychological drama/coming-of-age story by realist mangaka Inio Asano (author of another one of my favorite works, Solanin) about that one unlucky fellow who can never seem to catch a break
in life. Bleak and depressing, Oyasumi Punpun is proof that the literary significance of manga can rival that of classic novels and serves as a testament against all that believe manga to be deficient in literary value. While certainly not an accessible, easy-to-read manga, and definitely not a recommendation for someone in an unsavory mood, There are a multitude of reasons why I consider Oyasumi Punpun to not only be one of the best manga, but one of the best coming-of-age stories I have ever read.
Oyasumi Punpun tells the tale of eponymous character Punpun, who, after witnessing the divorce of his parents at an early age, begins to struggle on the path towards adulthood, as challenge after challenge threatens his daily life and sanity. There is no dream to achieve, no quest for redemption- you simply follow Punpun in his interactions with the human world as he grows from a child into a young adult. However, the execution of the story is superbly unique and flawless. Inio Asano’s realism reaches a shocking new level as each interaction not only manages to surprise you at what the world is capable of but also serves as a reminder of just WHAT the world is capable of. Layer on some masterfully dark humor and a touch of symbolism here and there, and you get a wonderful coming-of-age story, compelling and chock-full of very powerful yet realistic emotions.
Inio Asano's realistic artstyle is powerful in that it is conveys his the realism in his story and characters perfectly and passionately. The quality and detail put into his backgrounds is astounding and a feast for the eyes. From bustling city landscapes to the night sky, Inio Asano is able to create a realistic and immersive backdrop. Coming across a background spread during a chapter is always a delight. One small gripe I do have with the backgrounds, however, is that sometimes they are TOO immersive. In a panel where many, many characters are drawn, I often find it quite difficult to find the locations of the main characters, leading to slight confusion.
The character designs are also sufficient for a story of this caliber- realistic, with highly readable expressions (yet not too exaggerated) in order to accurately portray the psychology of the characters. Punpun’s character design is interesting in this respect. At the beginning, he is shown to be a crudely-drawn ambiguous bird-like figure. However, as the story goes on, the mangaka modifies his overall character design in a number of ways that demonstrate his current psyche, making him one of the most expressive and open characters.
In conclusion, realistically drawn, expressive characters and an impressive attention to detail in backgrounds provide a storytelling medium fitting for a story like Oyasumi Punpun.
The characters in Oyasumi Punpun are the best part of the manga and drive the story well. Inio Asano creates his characters by putting normal, mundane people and putting them at the brink of despair and hopelessness. This idea is nothing new- it’s commonplace in science fiction dystopias such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Bokurano and in survival games like Battle Royale. However, what makes Oyasumi Punpun so unique is that this kind of character development rarely happens in a normal, lifelike setting such as this one. Amidst perfectly realistic situations and encounters, these highly complex characters reveal their ugliest, nastiest parts, their insecurities, their misgivings, and their fears.
The titular character, Punpun, undergoes some of the most remarkable character growth I have ever seen in manga. We are introduced to him as an elementary schooler, a bland character with an innocent mind and lacking highly distinctive traits. However, this personality is well-suited for him, as the series of events that will come to change him as he grows into adulthood will cause some extremely realistic development without letting any predetermined personalities get in the way. The way he changes and the decisions he makes, while frequently ugly and unpleasant, are highly identifiable and you cannot help but wish the best for him.
The deuteragonist and Punpun’s love interest, Aiko, is remarkably similar to Punpun in character. Selfish yet kind-hearted, Aiko has her own set of circumstances that over the course of the manga slowly change her perception of her own life and humanity itself. What is most interesting is their relationship to one another. While most love interests act as a source of inspiration and strength for the protagonists, Aiko will become one of the major sources of angst in Punpun’s life, and the decisions she makes will have the greatest effect on Punpun’s development out of all the characters in the cast. Their relationship, strained and twisted by their personalities as well as their lives, retains a single, unbreakable bond of purity and hope that compels you to encourage them to fight on.
A large and diverse set of side characters, all uniquely complex and haunted by their own inner demons, completes a cast perfect for the story of Punpun. These characters, free of any conventional traits or personalities, are driven to fully develop throughout the run of the series into some of the most refined, human characters I have ever seen.
To say that I traditionally “enjoyed” Oyasumi Punpun might be a stretch- from the beginning, this manga had intended to make you think and reflect, not read quickly and finish with a satisfied feeling in your chest. In fact, reading Oyasumi Punpun made me feel absolutely depressed. Is it a manga I’d re-read? Probably not, unless I was feeling brave enough to give it another go. But do I regret reading it? Absolutely not. Oyasumi Punpun is a manga I’m glad I read, with a story that captivated me from the beginning and characters that intrigued me from the beginning until the end. If that’s not enjoyment, I don’t know what is.
Conventional manga tropes not cut it for you anymore? Looking for a genuinely compelling and insightful psychological drama? Feel up for the challenge of taking on a rich and profound story? Then give Oyasumi Punpun a try. It might not be the manga for you, but it’ll be a manga you’ll surely never forget.