When exploring the spacious Kinokuniya in download Portland the other day, I couldn’t decide what to buy so I ended up picking up on a whim the first episode of “Oyasumi Punpun” by Inio Asano. It has a pretty simple cover that is pure yellow, except for an embossed image on the front that I didn’t notice at the time. It was also wrapped in plastic so I couldn’t peruse through it and only had the title to go on, which sounded interesting to me since “oyasumi” means “good night” and “punpun” can be used to express anger. I had heard the title somewhere before (which is perhaps one of the reasons I bought it), though I didn’t remember any more about it.
In the first episode, we get to see the life of the main character, Punpun, including some of his family members and friends. While there were a few interesting plot twists, overall I didn’t the story was that interesting in itself.
What makes this manga different is that Punpun is actually some sort of beaked animal, drawn in an extremely simple way with thick lines (such that his character often contrasts strongly against the background and other characters). At first I thought he was a duck, but when I researched it seems Punpun is a bird. What really stands out is all the scenes where there is a closeup of his facial expression, which is quite odd given that his eyes are generally little more than a dot, and there isn’t much else on his face. Interestly I did find myself somehow feeling some sort of emotion from his expressions, though perhaps that was just something my mind created based on the circumstances.(By the way, it turns out that “punpun” in the title has nothing to do with being angry.)
Ironically, one of my favorite aspects of this manga is the extremely detailed backgrounds. For example the first illustration in the book of a cityscape scene from above is quite breathtaking, and drawings of this quality continue throughout much of the book.
As for the rest of the characters (besides Punpun and his family), there is something about them that just gives me a bad feeling. Sometimes the characters are just blatantly disgusting (which I think is purposeful), but even for one of the characters who is supposed to be cute, she is nothing compared to cute characters in other manga or anime. I guess in a way all the human characters feel very rough and raw, and perhaps the author’s style here does make this manga stand out, although personally I didn’t really like how the characters were drawn.
There are some other raw aspects to this manga, for example a few explicit nude scenes (including those from porno magazines or videos). While I can appreciate a main character who is growing up in a period of his time when he is learning about sex, I didn’t appreciate the blantant way it was done. There are some indirect references (like one about “anko”) but they still feel just too crude to me.
Besides some everyday-life stuff, there are random mystical and comedic elements that appear at unexpected times, like how a certain magic word makes a frizzy-haired god appear. It was hard for me to know if I should take these things seriously, or just devalue them as comic elements.
For those studying Japanese, I think this is a good manga since many of the characters are children who speak very casually, giving the reader exposure to slang, abbreviations, and other interesting words. Because most of the text was dialogue as opposed to descriptions, and there aren’t many special domain words you need to know (medical, legal, technology, etc.) it’s relatively easy to follow.
After I finished reading the first volume of this manga I discovered that Inio Asano also created the manga Solanin, another coming-of-age story. But based on what I have read of Oyasumi Punpun so far, I liked Solanin much more.
This manga was a mixed bag, but I think I may try out the second volume to see where the story goes. By the way, Oyasumi Punpun has a lot in common with “20th Century Boys”, which is my favorite manga series of all time, although rather than making the former more enjoyable it has made me want to re-read the latter (: