Like a lot of children, Punpun was a very inquisitive and bright kid that viewed the world with unbridled wonder and open arms. Over time though, he eventually became sullied by the mysteries and rigors of society, and just living in general. Oysasumi Punpun by Inio Asano is a tale that explores disaffected youth, child abuse, sexual deviance, religious values, suicide, and plenty of other disconcerting subject matters.
Prior to reading this, I’ve noticed on manga forums how some commonly occurring thoughts that a lot of readers have used to describe this manga was that it was quite a bleak and depressing read, but also an engrossing experience at the same time. I initially thought that some reviewers may have possibly been speaking with hyperbole since the opening chapters were rather buoyant and quite humorous; I thought it would be smooth sailing for the entire journey. But this really did emotionally stir me to the core unlike any other manga I’ve ever read before.
Near the start of Oyasumi Punpun, we follow Punpun’s time in elementary school and his deep crush on a mysterious girl named Aiko, a girl who’d go on to hold a special place in his heart in both good and bad ways. One of the thoughts that I came away from this manga is that we are molded by our past experiences, even when we try to ignore or forget about them. A lot of moments in life that we may initially see as meaningless or inconsequential may eventually become personal vignettes that might bear heavy meaning to us at a later point in time.
In most manga stories and anime shows, usually they’ll include some characters that are morally infallible and someone who you’d easily root for from beginning to end just to make them easily identifiable. Oyasumi Punpun is not that kind of story, pretty much every character in this manga (even the titular character) can be pretty repugnant and sickening at times. In addition, the happier and blissful moments in this manga also carry some traces of pervading melancholy behind them; this is a pretty foreboding coming of age saga that spans from the rollercoaster of emotions during childhood, and all the way to the responsibilities and arduous challenges of adulthood.
One of the interesting things about Punpun is that he’s characterized as a cute bird with smol legs and arms, while most of the other characters are drawn as regular human people. As the narrative goes on and he progressively get’s older, his overall look starts to visually emulate his fragmented state of mind and introspective outlook on the world. One example is where his face turned into a dark rectangular void to possibly symbolize loss of innocence. I thought it was an interestingly unique artistic nuance because it allows the story to explore the main character’s emotional state in ways that might not be possible in other mediums.
At it’s core, I think this manga is a tale about searching for purpose and value in the things that we do. Punpun’s most resonating discovery is when he comes to the realization that life is pretty much a constant cycle of struggles, but that it is still possible to push through and find meaning in it even when everything is sort of meaningless objectively speaking. While it’s not necessarily happy, I did find it to be a very powerful and cathartic message on an emotional level.
All in all, Oyasumi Punpun is a powerful tale that’s worth reading. It’s thematically complex since it tackles real life issues that a lot of people sadly face, and it is mentally engaging at the same time. While it’s not a pleasant or easy read to stomach, I do think of it as a very transformative work of art that showcases both the ugliness and beauty of life.