Sep 14, 2013
Asfaria (All reviews)
Oyasumi Punpun is the best example I have ever found of something which you should not judge by its literal cover. Looking at the picture on MAL, I initially thought the story was about some young girl and a weird penguin/bird thing and only really added it to my list because it’s ranked #15 on this site. It was not until after I read another manga by the author, Asano Inio, called Nijigahara Holograph, and looked more into what this manga was actually about, that I finally decided to read it. And I could not have been more wrong in my initial assumption. But enough about that intro which was just to help dispel any similar thoughts people looking at this manga might have, I’ll get into the real review now.

So many manga (and actually many things in about every single story-telling medium that humans have ever had) often try to create likeable characters, a plot that while it may have many sad parts manages to rebound and become upbeat at some points, and/or very unrealistic characters or settings. Oyasumi Punpun is basically the opposite of all of that.

Despite having comedy in the beginning (which is 99% black humor anyway), Oyasumi Punpun is possibly one of the most depressing and realistic things I have ever come across. It is the “coming of age” story of a boy named Punyama (later Onodera) Punpun, and follows him all the way from elementary school until around his early 20’s. What makes this manga so special is the heavy psychological aspects surrounding Punpun and everyone else throughout the story. One of the main psychological aspects of the story has to do with Punpun’s character design. He, as well as his family, start off looking like some kind of 2 dimensional birds with long legs. His design changes a lot later on to reflect how he is feeling on the inside, but the important thing to remember is that he looks just like a normal human being to everyone else in the manga and that he does not actually look like a “bird-thing” to them.

The story of Oyasumi Punpun begins with Punpun in elementary school. The girl he had a crush on has just transferred out of his school, but shortly afterward a new girl named Tanaka Aiko transfers into his school. It’s love at first sight for Punpun. He starts to slowly grow closer to Aiko while at the same time hanging out with friends and just being a normal boy who is entering puberty. Among his group of friends (I’ll just name the ones who are important at some point later on because I don’t really remember the others) there are Shuntarou Harumi, a nice boy who wears glasses; Seki Masumi, a delinquent boy with family problems; Shimizu Koh, a strange boy who can see the “god of poop” and who has been friends with Seki since childhood. The group of about 6 boys in total is just your average group of male friends who enjoy finding porn magazines, doing tests of courage, and spending their time just trying to enjoy themselves. I won’t talk any more about the story because going any farther in any way would spoil things. There’s just so many things that Asano Inio goes into amazing detail about in this dark and depressing story that explaining any more would ruin some part of it. The story covers a lot of time as I already mentioned and Punpun’s elementary school life is only a small, yet very crucial part of the entire plot.

As for the art, it’s simply amazing. The idea of making Punpun look different to the reader than to everyone else is a great way to show his true emotions in a way that showing him as he really looks could not. As for the other character designs, they are all very well drawn especially Punpun’s family who also resemble 2D birds with long legs. The people who look like normal humans are usually drawn normally, but they can look ugly at times or beautiful at times when the author wants to make them look similar to how they are feeling. Especially with Shimizu (who is usually seen with a runny nose) he can actually look very intelligent at times despite normally seeming to be the exact opposite.
Also, this manga is very mature and occasionally contains nudity, but it is never used as fanservice and is only used to increase the darkness of situations and to expand on the imperfections of the characters.

The backgrounds are even better than the character designs. The varying settings that take place in different locations throughout the manga never slack in a single frame and stay consistently good throughout the story. The art right from the beginning is great which is something I can’t say about all long manga that are published over many years. One feature of the art which Asano Inio often uses is that he will keep the same background for several panels but the images in the foreground (people, objects, etc.) will change. While I normally don’t like repetitive panels (or shots in anime), Inio uses this to increase the psychological aspects as well as the importance of these scenes. He makes the reader focus on what is happening and draws you in in a way where you suddenly realize five chapters later that you are not actually in Punpun’s world but are sitting in the real world. And this repeats many times (at least it did for me) over the course of the manga. The art is so realistic and perfectly depressing that it just fits this manga so excellently in every aspect and I really can’t find anything bad to say about it.

Now, the characters are possibly the most “interesting” part of the manga. As I mentioned in the very beginning, these characters are not meant to all be likable. In fact, none of them are my favorite characters despite this being one of my favorite manga. But that’s not really the point, since they are meant to be realistic. I would never consider myself or any of the people in my life one of my favorite characters if they were in an anime or manga. Real life people are much simpler than anime characters that each have bold hairstyles, unique weapons, perfect figures, etc. Real humans are not perfect, do not always have a happy ending in life, and are usually just some unnoticeable background character that you pass by once or twice during your life but leave no impact on you at all.

Punpun is your average Japanese person aside from the slightly inflated psychological issues at times (but still never something that real humans have not experienced). As a child, Punpun’s uncle taught him that if he said a certain phrase, God would appear to him and help him in his time of need. Inio depicts God like a bad imaginary friend who looks like a black guy with an afro and usually gives Punpun poor advice that is kind of like a “worst case scenario to do” rather than actual help. Punpun’s journey to becoming an adult is a difficult one filled with family issues, romantic problems, sex, alcohol, depression, different jobs, etc. Oyasumi Punpun is not a happy story at all, and Punpun never even goes one chapter without being sad, questioning himself, or making a bad decision at some point (aside from the chapters that he is not in). He has many flaws and as he grows up, he starts to notice more and more of them. Punpun is the kind of person (as is often stated) who is always looking back into the past and has a hard time looking towards the future. With his kind of depressing life, looking at his past is not the most enjoyable thing to do. He has many regrets and things he wishes he could do differently if given the chance. As the story progresses, he falls farther and farther away from how he used to be as a cheerful child who dreamed of becoming a scientist in space. Many characters talk about how he is too kind and often hurts people because of his kindness and how easily he apologizes for things.

Punpun is one of the only parts where I think the manga has a couple problems. While overall I actually like Punpun a lot, sometimes he just makes decisions that are a little too stupid even for him. In the later chapters, I feel like Punpun becomes mean and a little annoying at times, though this is mainly due to an overload of stress and is honestly not really anything too surprising given his difficult circumstances. It’s not enough to hurt the manga overall, but I thought I should mention it. Inio acknowledges that Punpun has changed a lot as well by drawing him in an extremely different way than he was ever depicted before. Punpun's main source of drama comes from remembering his middle school crush Aiko. Punpun seems to always be going back and thinking about Aiko, and much of the parts that I dislike a little about him involve her.

Seki and Shimizu follow kind of a side story for most of the manga. After middle school, they never really see Punpun at all, yet they are still very important characters in the story. They have been friends since preschool and Seki has always had to take care of Shimizu. Shimizu is just a strange boy who can see the “god of poop” in a way that is kind of similar to how Punpun can see God (minus the horrible advice that Punpun gets). As they grow up, they try to stick together but many problems threaten to tear their friendship apart. Seki has always been a delinquent and keeps getting into more and more trouble. Shimizu has always been gullible and somewhat childish but he tries to become more independent. I really enjoy their story and I think they're two of the better characters in this manga. Their relationship is just like a bond between two really good childhood friends and is very believable.

Throughout the manga, Punpun goes through different drama and relationships, problems and anxieties, and different designs. The characters he meets (especially the girls he is close to) change each time. The story often focuses on characters other than Punpun in order to piece together the entire story. I won’t talk about all them as it would take too long, but if you want to see all of the characters who are very important at some point, just go to the character list.

This is now one of my favorite manga and only the second that I have given a 10/10 rating to. It’s a masterpiece that shows how real life works and how all of the problems in real life are not easily solvable like they are in many stories. It may be one of the most depressing manga out there, but if you can handle that kind of story as well as many mature themes and some nudity, then I highly recommend Oyasumi Punpun. It’s not something you should go into lightly, but if you enjoy these kind of life-changing stories, then this is something you should not miss.