I spent two days reading up to the latest releases of Oyasumi Punpun. I spent two days kicking myself for not reading Inio Asano’s longest-running work sooner; assuming it would be inferior to the tight, refined narratives of his one shots. I spent two days crying over the fact that no-one picked up the English-language publishing licenses when Tokyopop folded (goddamnit, just take my money, I’m begging you!)
The thing most people will tell you Oyasumi Punpun is about is the fact that the main character, Punpun, and his immediate relatives all look like cartoon ducks scrawled messily on a bathroom wall. The might tell you that it’s about a kid who can summon and speak to God by shouting “Dear God, Dear God, tinkle-tinkle hoy!”. They might tell you that it’s about adolescents, or a weird cult, or any number of things. They’ll tell you it’s about Punpun’s relationship his childhood friend Aiko. They’re right, but they’re also missing the point.
What Oyasumi Punpun is, like many of Inio Asano’s works, is magical realism of the highest order, intermixed with a lethargy towards living that only the highly perceptive and often depressed feel. For every heart-wrenchingly beautiful, warm, emotive, and loving scene Asano deals us, Punpun slogs through the worst of humanity’s shit. He surrenders to his own desires for sex, for human connection, for love. All the while, a bizarre subplot involving the “Dark Spot” and the impending doom of humanity as predicted by a homeless man/son of a cult leader seems as if it will collide with Punpun’s life, but thus far has resulted in nothing but near-misses.
It’s easy to read Oyasumi Punpun as a story about depression and alienation. Again, I think you’d be right, but also missing the point. The thing with depression is that in its darkest hours the beauty of the world can be that much more pronounced, tangible, inhalable by all your senses. When you’re happy, it all just seems numbing, somehow. There’s a certain seductiveness about the darkness – and the depth of feeling and beauty that can come with it – that you can only see when you’re sad. And when you rise from a depression, you always remember the sensation, and that seductiveness always threatens to draw you back in from the numbness of everyday happiness. These moments of sheer beauty are portrayed lovingly in the manga – in stark contrast to Punpun’s (and other’s) seedy encounters with “God”, or their own spirituality – and treated as almost animistic in sense. This is, of course, aided by Inio Asano’s virtuoso skill as a mangaka. The moments of beauty run deep as a river, and Punpun spends his entire life wading through the numbness of the everyday, and sinking back into depression on a quest to find those bright spots of beauty.
There’s a moment in the manga when, upon moving into their family home, Punpun’s father says “I always thought owning a house was my goal in life. Turns out it was just a checkpoint.” Oyasumi Punpun, in a way, is entirely bound by this idea. Just when you think it’s over – just when you think there’s a happiness that will last, or a relationship that won’t sour – Asano takes the opportunity to show that nothing is secure, nothing is sacred, nothing is pure, but simultaneously, nothing is worthless. Throughout all the sadness Oyasumi Punpun portrays to its readers, one refrain remains: “I love you all more than I can bear.”
9 replies on “And Punpun is just fine, today.”
Great. You reminded me, so now I’ll have to find the time to catch up to Punpun. Thanks a lot 🙂
Geez. Good luck with that.. the last volume scanslated is uh. I think ‘intense’s is the word I’m looking for here. It really just builds itself into a fury that’s hard to look away from. Great stuff, though.
It makes me really, really happy that you’re reading what is (to me) possibly Asano’s best and most heartfelt work. Thank you for seeing the moments of wondrous, simple beauty within Oyasumi Punpun – and for writing this lovely post about it.
I’d be hard-pressed to find a single most heartfelt work from Asano. His works are always so human, which is what makes them hard to read.
Personally, Nijigahara Holograph is my favorite by him to date. In addition to his usually empathetic writing of characters, it also has a really interesting plot structure. And Fantagraphics is going to release it next year, and they do beautiful things with comic books <3
I’m still hesitant about starting to read this manga. A friend of mine told me not to read it. Maybe because it’s too intense and touches the subject of depression?
But I’m really curious about it still. Thanks for the review!
its not lighthearted at all; it will touch your heart in the darkest possible ways
but this manga has changed me and i am thankful for it
this is a must-read i assure you
I love this insight on this manga. It’s very deep and you’re a very talented writer. I feel like picking it up again.
I have never seen such an accurate description of the allure of depression. Depression can give one the sense that they see the world without as much of a filter; that their perception, and even empathy, is somehow enhanced. That, because they are able to acknowledge the more crushing parts of life that are not openly discussed by society, that they can also sift the truly beautiful things, from the average things. Those average things which have been painted over with a sickly sweet coating to make the toil that can be life a little more bearable, and a little more fantastic.
In this overpowering coating though, I think truly beautiful things can have their beauty mistaken for only a mediocre greatness that we have come to expect from many things. It’s perception being corrupted by the sweet meaningless niceties that can completely permeate our life. Worse still, when you experience something so beautiful, it is hard to convey that feeling of connection, of nakedness, without sounding as if you too are painting with that same, overpowering brush.
There are many beautiful things in life; especially other people– /their/ fascination, /their/ emotions, their rawness. I feel like your writing conveys an openness, a feeling of genuineness that is rare. And in that, you have shown me, the reader, something beautiful. Thanks.
I just finished reading this manga and was kind of taken aback when I had first stared reading it because of how dark and depressing it seemed. IN the long run I grew to really like it and was hooked until the end. One of the themes in this novel that I really liked, among the many others, is normality. You can see it in how often the characters will ask “What is normal?” It questions the status quo, society norms, morals, spirituality, etc. I know I am surprised but what I see sometimes, as this manga was something new for me, but I wonder If someone could view my life as we were able to view punpuns would they not ask, as I did: “Is that normal?”, “does that really happen?”, “Or am I just weird?”