You’ll love me forever and ever… and never think of anything else… right? Right?!
2 Volumes – Ongoing
In his short career as a manga artist, Inio Asano has tackled various formats and genres – short existential vignettes, twenty-something dramas, mind- bending psycho-horror – with a delicate emotional touch and a willingness to break stodgy storytelling rules. While his body of work is not yet large enough to suffer legitimate accusations of repetition, he nonetheless announced before his latest story that he wanted to “start fresh.” The result of this rebirth is the comedy “Goodnight Punpun.”
“Goodnight Punpun” is a hard one to classify. Yes, it’s a comedy, but then again it wouldn’t be Inio Asano if it didn’t occasionally throw in surreal or even horrifying elements. Whilst his previous works have always had a subtle, dark humour underlying the main story, here he brings the comedic elements to the fore, allowing him to play unfettered with the world – both real and imaginary – of small children.
The story revolves around said Punpun, who (along with his family) is depicted as a small, caricatured bird within an otherwise normal human world, and his interactions with his elementary school classmates. The story weaves seamlessly between normal everyday life and out and out fantasy, starting with his heartbreak as his first unrequited love (who also appears to be the vicious school bully) transfers out, to be replaced by the new love of his life… a relationship that this time seems to be heading somewhere. The problem is that the “somewhere” would appear to be a pretty scary place.
As I mentioned, it wouldn’t be Asano if doses of painful reality weren’t occasionally driven into the story, ranging from domestic violence, to Punpun having to deal with the unintentional effects of seeing his first gravure, to a disturbing interlude that rudely interrupts what should have been a fun boys’ afternoon. Most of the tale’s beauty lies in the extreme depictions of his over-active imagination, which I feel acts at times as an escape mechanism for Punpun, which is matched at every step by a cast of bizarre characters, ranging from an odd homeroom teacher, to special guest appearances by God… and I’m not even going to mention the Doodoo-head aliens. Oh, I just did…nuts.
Asano carefully balances reality and fantasy, both within the story and the artwork, allowing the mood to swing effortlessly and seamlessly between the humourous and the nightmarish, but he never fails to grabs the reader’s attention, as the story unfolds. He’s built a complex world, filled with endearing, if odd, characters and it’s watching Punpun negotiate this minefield of life that makes this a page-turner.
Left: Punpun realises he might have bitten off more than he can chew in the love stakes…
If you’re familiar with his work, then you’ll pleased to know the attention to detail within his artwork is as sharp as ever, as is his (by now) trademark character design. There are panels depicting ordinary scenery within this manga, that one can easily spend minutes studying, taking in all the fine details.
“Goodnight Punpun” is a worthy addition to Asano’s small, but impressive, body of work and possibly the one that will appeal to wider audience than say “What a Wonderful World,” or “Solanin.” If anything, he’s raised the crossbar yet again and I’m certainly looking forward to more releases from him. If you’re looking to read something that will have you laughing out loud one moment, and cringing the next, read this. You won’t be disappointed.
[Reviewer: Gerwyn Petty]