From bird to Human
July 24, 2017. Author: DJ Combs
Inio Asano is a mangaka known for writing surreal coming of age stories. Titles like Solanin and A Girl On The Shore show more realistic approaches to the plight of youth compared to ones such as Dead Dead Demon's De De De De Destruction and of course, Oyasumi Punpun. Many people might have seen that one meme that came from this manga (Yes that one)
Oyasumi Punpun, originally ran from 2007 to 2013 in Japan and was licensed as Goodnight Punpun in North America starting in early 2017. The series does not hold any punches when it comes to showing real life situations and goes from a cheery and comedic slice of life to a depressing drama. It tells the story of a young boy named Punpun (phonetically poon-poon), that resembles a doodle-esque bird who just wants to be a normal kid, though we are never shown his face or "hear" him speak the way others do (a la speech bubbles). It follows him from elementary school to his life after high school, and along the way we see him grow into an adult that still holds onto childish fantasies. There is a feel of naivety that reminds me of Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys: a group of kids exploring the world around them, but gaining adult experiences that shape their futures. Through most of the story we see things through Punpun's eyes; his family depicted as bird people like himself and "God" being the floating head of a man sporting an afro and glasses. He also has a strong sense of innocence and gullibility when compared to his peers and is constantly indecisive about his goals (much to everyone's disappointment). Punpun's life stagnates from this and he begins to act aloof through most of his early adulthood.
The series features images of domestic violence, rape, and murder that escalate from cartoon to reality. This slowly changes Punpun's image from a bird to a human demon hybrid, with his last shred of humanity hanging on the promise of his childhood crush. I like to think each transformation as a story arc, for instance when Punpun is in middle school it is the "scarf" arc, since he always wears a scarf, or his emotional breakdown as the "demon head" arc. As his outlook of the world shifts, everything stops being "cartoony" and is seen more realistically as well. Later on the story diverges to follow the life of his uncle, his friend who is schizophrenic, and an aspiring cult leader, each of them go into their back stories and explain Punpun's role. When he mentally and literally runs from his growing list of problems, Punpun's internal struggle reaches a breaking point after risking everything on love. In the final volume, all the plots tie together, from his childhood to adulthood, and we are left with a dramatic yet bittersweet conclusion where Punpun has to reap what he's sown, good and bad.
Catch the final volume of Goodnight Punpun this September and find out if everything was worth it in the end.