I was at a loss for what to write about for a while. Should I go back to something something Xenoblade Chronicles, should I talk about another anime I’ve been watching, should I enter the world of visual novels on this blog? After all, this IS still a new blog. But then, I revisited this old gem, and damn. I feel like I’ve been saying nothing but either positive, or analytical stuff, but I’d like to indulge myself one more time to talk about one of my personal favorite stories of all time, Oyasumi Punpun, or Goodnight Punpun, by Inio Asano.
This post will be heavily, HEAVILY based on opinion, and opinion alone, so if that doesn’t interest you, then. Well. Eh. What can ya do. Regardless, for those who continue onward, let’s get talking about life, humanity, and what exactly makes this story one of the all-time greats.
Reason 1: It’s Relatable
Let’s assume you don’t know anything about the story beyond the title page featured here. What in the world is this story even about? Some strange little cartoon bird?
Goodnight Punpun is the tale of Onodera Punpun, and his journey through life, plain and simple. That’s it. He meets friends, learns about love, how to be an adult, and how the ideals one holds aren’t ever so cut and dry. It’s a coming-of-age story, and like other coming-of-age stories, anime like Clannad and Anohana, or classics such as The Outsiders or The Catcher in The Rye, such stories are normally driven by the growth of, and the events that happen around, its main characters.
That being said. Goodnight Punpun is set in a relatively modern time, and unlike the aforementioned coming-of-age stories, there is no running story, supernatural events, or other similar things that would usually progress a plot. Rather, we simply follow Punpun’s messed up life, and the lives of those people close to him, made easier by the stylistic choice to draw Punpun as a cartoon bird. It confronts the thoughts of those characters in a very, very blunt manner, walking through these characters with thoughts about sex, the meaninglessness of life, self-worth, the eventual extinction of humanity, and other such ideas. I’ve always thought about it as a conduit, for those thoughts you have late at night, 3:00 AM, when you have to wake up for something early next morning, but don’t want to think about it. Goodnight Punpun confronts such thoughts honestly, and instead of watching to see how characters react to certain events, we watch their thoughts change, shift, evolve, despite having to confront a life that…is so lonely, in the end.
It’s relatable, in that respect. Living through normal lives, framed by a surreal landscape, the characters of Goodnight Punpun deal with insanity, yet, for some reason, it’s insanity that HAPPENS, that can seem so close to home, despite not actually being your situation. Chances are, if you have had any sort of pessimistic thought towards the future, you’re going to find someone to relate to, from the dreamer who refuses to let their dream die, to someone who gives up utterly and completely on life, it’s all there to some extent, and it’s brilliantly done. And on that note….
Reason 2: It Has Consistent Quality
Now, calling something a story technical masterpiece is a large amount of praise to say about anything, but I think I an say that about this manga. It has to do exactly what it sets out to do, be an exemplar of the medium used to convey the story. I would like to think that, among manga, Goodnight Punpun is the one manga I’ve read that I can laud as such. But why?
Well well well. First of all. The amount of detail put into this manga is ludicrous. You’re gonna have some of the most consistent amounts of quality in any manga, quality that stands out even more, with the stylistic choice to make main character Punpun a simply drawn bird. I can only say so much, so, just look.
Every single panel has crazy amounts of detail, similar to this. And on that note, I have to point out the unique character designs that make the series stand out as well. Every single character has a specific design, a unique face shape, body type, something that lets you know without confusion, who exactly you’re looking at. Even in a black and white medium, Asano pulls off expression, emotion, and in fact, emphasizes the bleak tone of this series through his art.
Reason 3: The Characters Have Depth
I know what you might, possibly be thinking here. Oh, the characters have depth? Don’t lots of them do, I know tons of stories where characters have depth, they’re deep as hell like damn man. What’s the difference?
The difference here. Is that EVERY character has some sort of depth. If you’re getting a name to a character, you’re likely going to be presented with their motivation, their desires, their unique personality, etc. And even if you DON’T get a name, you come to understand that each character presented has their own life. To be frank, there’s a good chance that Punpun, the titular character, isn’t the one you’ll be relating to most, even if he is extremely engaging in his own right.
The fact that every single character is important, has depth, is huge, considering the type of story the Goodnight Punpun is. A story about the lives people live isn’t remarkable, unless each character gains personality and complexity, at which point, the interactions such characters have become remarkably interesting. This is where the manga gains so much of its ability to engage a reader: you just want to see how these people interact, and what such interactions draw out of them. You get to know these characters well, draw out varied responses to varied situations, and learn about their hopes and dreams, or rather, for many, their lack of such.
Reason 4: It Is Unique
There’s a lot of ways to describe Goodnight Punpun, but to encompass it all, I’d have to say that it is unique. Between its pervasive dark tone and themes, simplistic, realistic story, and down-to-earth, detailed characters, no story I have seen yet is like this one. Other stories all focus on concrete events, an actual plot, a structure, while this one…it throws you into the lives of characters, lets you experience their thoughts, and from there, is where the story comes from. Not from the experience of stand-out, extraordinary, events, rather, the presentation of the lives of average people, thrown into odd situations that, despite not being part of the norm, are certainly not too crazy to think about.
However, Goodnight Punpun gains more from the surreal style in which it is presented. Characters who are unimportant are drawn with odd, obscure designs, the reactions of unimportant people are presented in an exaggerated fashion, and every archetype of character that you’d see normally presented: the successful, determined protagonist, the cute, shy flower girl, the older mentor figure, are given layers, are subverted, and otherwise toyed with in a world that doesn’t operate by standard story-telling rules. In a standard story, you’d expect an antagonist, you’d expect a conflict between individuals, a final goal or shining moments of character growth, whether it be good or bad. Goodnight Punpun does not present any of these, and through doing so, presents its own message on the way life works very honestly, in a way other stories struggle to do.
I feel like I’ve been extremely repetitive, but Goodnight Punpun, simply put, doesn’t feel like it’s out to send a specific message. Through a mix of realistic setting and surrealistic presentation, abstract dark humor and startlingly blunt thoughts, it displays a picture of the absurdity of life as a whole, which in and of itself is its message, and what makes it real and unique.
My Final Thoughts
I wouldn’t have written such a positive outlook on Goodnight Punpun if it didn’t deserve it. However, I have not personally met a single person who has read this manga, and, despite amazing, stellar reviews, not many people talk about it. So. For those who HAVE read it. Well. Hey there. Wasn’t it a great story? What do you think?
If you HAVEN’T read the manga. Go read it. It’s phenomenal. Although, keep in mind that it is NOT a light read by any means, and if you’re a happy-go-lucky kind of person, you should be a bit cautious going into it. I still believe you can enjoy it, or at the very least, find something interesting and new from the story. Those’re the reasons why I think YOU should read Goodnight Punpun, and, hey, if you don’t, that’s fine. But it’s a great read, and one I think many people can get a lot out of.
That’s all for this post. If you, the reader, have anything on your mind, personal opinions on the story, my writing, the blog, or well, literally anything, feel free to comment! I’m always looking to improve what I write, gain new ideas for the blog, or even just communicate with others about opinions on the story.