Big Comic Spirits (2007-2013)
Story/Art by Inio Asano
Summary: This is a story that tells the tale of young Punpun, a normal boy living a normal life, except with one small twist: he sees himself as an anthropomorphic bird, and he sees his family in the same way. So follow Punpun as he journeys through life complete with heartache, heartbreak, family issues and a rather peculiar connection to God. While everyone else seems normal, Punpun is rather unique.
Review: Every journey must end. Every epic an apex. Sometimes it’s what’s at the end of that journey that is the most important beat, and sometimes it’s the journey itself… with Punpun it was never really apparent which side of the coin Inio’s titular character would fall under. Would this be an epic where we care more about the young bird boy’s journey, or care more about the ending? What would make seeing Punpun go through all of this emotional trauma worth it?
Turns out the answer is really simple. Neither the journey nor the climax was important. What was important was finally getting to see our sweet little Punpun happy.
However, as a work of fiction the journey and the climax are technically still important to the reader’s experience. And one thing no one can deny about this series is that the journey was certainly epic. This series overall had one of the most emotionally driven and intense journey’s I personally have ever read in a manga. In the final act of Inio’s story, Punpun and Aiko found themselves officially on the run from the law as her mother’s body was found.
The two make their way to Kagoshima, reaching a destination once long promised between the two. It brings their story full circle, poetically and tragically so as Aiko – who was hoping to get medical attention from her Doctor Uncle that we find out no longer lives in Kagoshima – ends up taking her own life while Punpun sleeps, out of fear for her future and own well being. It is a cowardice move, but one made by a girl who lived a severely abusive life, one who finally felt a twinge of happiness with her beloved Punpun and truly did not want it taken away from her by others.
I don’t think there is a single fan of this series out there that didn’t slowly back away when Aiko’s fate was revealed. Even me, who still to the end isn’t really a fan of Aiko as a character felt a moment of trembling fear when Punpun walked up to her body and just stood there staring at it. And then took care of her, carrying around her body for as long as he could just so he could spend a bit more time with the woman he truly loved before returning to Tokyo.
Inio completely nailed the sense of helplessness that follows an event like that. The crescendo being Punpun trying to kill himself as well, however it was not his time to go. Thankfully so.
Where Inio unfortunately does drop the ball completely and utterly is in the tale of Pegasus and his lovers, the cult that was introduced through Aiko and her mother when Punpun was little, and then branched off into its own epic storyline. While I was never a fan of this storyline it was last volume that I felt Inio was finally showing his cards with this b-plot and things really did get very interesting. However, he was unable to keep that pace as, and unfortunately I can only be perfectly honest here, the cult b-plot of Goodnight Punpun was one of the most pointless storylines I’ve ever read in a manga, making this final volume of this series a mixed bag for me.
This plot literally went nowhere, and did not affect Punpun in any way. It barely affected Seki and Shimizu who were also at the forefront of this arc. In fact, majority of the series sees Seki absolutely afraid of fire and hating smokers because he was the reason back in the earlier volumes the warehouse Punpun and his friends were exploring exploded on them. While it was great to see him brave a fire to save his friend Shimizu, I did feel seeing Seki at the end smoking again was a complete back turn for the character.
The complete pointlessness of this arc is so much so that I truly believe if you took out their story entirely, including Seki and Shimizu, it’d still be the exact same story for Punpun. The point of having these stories is that eventually they are supposed to cross. And then you can feel equally invested in all characters involved, but instead Pegasus meets an embarrassing demise and the orchestrator of said demise gets off scott-free as – technically – a mass murderer.
I… I hated the Pegasus arc, and I don’t really understand why it was in there at all. And I feel bad for Seki and Shimizu who were so integral to it and only got drug down by the complete incompetence of it all. There were a lot of coincidences as well between many, many characters that were revealed during this final arc that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with as I felt they limited the vastness of Punpun’s world, however because I like the characters involved in those coincidences and they don’t technically ruin early or later aspects of the story I’m able to overlook these revelations.
The greatest revelation though that actually blew my mind and made me clap out loud was the entire story being revealed to have been written by Sachi, and it helps make a lot of narrating points from earlier volumes make a lot more sense. Now, when you stop to think about it I doesn’t explain how she knew what was going on with characters that had literally nothing to do with Punpun, but I don’t even care at this point. I really enjoyed that revelation regardless of logic.
Finally, I have to talk about the last chapter. Which was a drastic change in p.o.v. Which really through me for a loop. In the final chapter Inio brings back one of Punpun’s childhood friends we haven’t seen since his elementary school days as a teacher who runs into Punpun randomly one day. It’s through his p.o.v. that we see just how Punpun’s life has ended up, he’s built a family for himself and finally found happiness now that he can move on from the hold Aiko had over him for so long.
However it’s this drastic change in p.o.v that I have to say I’m not a fan of. I’m not sure why Inio felt this was the way to go, although having this character return added quite a bit of symmetry to the ending when, as a teacher, we see him in the classroom and on the first day of school the earliest events of Punpun begin to repeat themselves with new children. Symbolic of how life goes on and these kind of events can happen to anyone. Interpret that as representing how meaningless our lives are, or how important we all are as you wish.
I have severely mixed feelings about how Goodnight Punpun ended, but I have to admit I totally enjoyed this series as a whole. There were a few bumps in the middle, and a few bumps in the end. But there were more good moments than bad – figuratively speaking, given that this was a series of ever increasing unfortunate events. Regardless of how it ended, I can’t deny the epic Inio Asano orchestrated, and there have been very few characters in fiction that really, truly hit home to me on severely personal level like Punpun did.
I can safely recommend this epic to everyone. And the good news for that is starting in 2016 VIZ Media will finally be releasing Goodnight Punpun in English so all of us will be able to get it legally and in physical form. I will definitely be buying these volumes, and I hope you all support the official release as well. Whether you end up agreeing with this review, or not, I do hope you check this series out. It’s going to give you an incredibly emotional ride that you’re not going to get in many other places.
Go read Goodnight Punpun.
Final Score: 3 Happy Endings out of 5
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