Released in two-in-one omnibus editions, Inio Asano’s Goodnight Punpun is a manga that’s hard to pigeonhole, if you’ll excuse the pun. Sure, it’s a slice-of-life drama tinged with increasingly black comedy… but not that many slice-of-life stories show their protagonist and his family as birds.
Punpun Punyama is an elementary school student, depicted as a very simple, childlike drawing of a bird. While he doesn’t speak, the book narrates his thoughts for the reader to understand. Punpun lives a seemingly normal life, getting into the usual sort of trouble with his classmates (don’t search for porn, kids!) and falling for pretty new transfer student Aiko Tanaka.
At home, however, things are very different. His dad abuses his alcoholic mother, putting her in the hospital. Eventually they divorce, with Punpun being raised by his mum and his unemployed Uncle Yuichi.
Inio Asano laces the edgy subject matter of the first few volumes of Goodnight Punpun with quirky humour, child-like innocence and a sense of the surreal… but that’s just to sucker us in for even more soul-crushing things to come.
Not the lightest of reads, then, but don’t be put off: Goodnight Punpun combines an engaging coming-of-age story with eye-catching art – from the way the protagonist is depicted to the often grotesque portraits of the adults in his life. However, the most interesting aspect of the manga is Punpun himself. Neither good nor bad, he’s just a kid trying to make sense of the world, with an anonymous appearance that anyone can identify with.
Review by Ian Wolf