When Aiko joins his fifth grade class, Punpun falls hard for her. Inspired by Aiko’s desire to live life to the fullest before the world’s inevitable end, Punpun dreams of becoming a professor and leading people into space to escape the expected calamity. However, even though he has the ability to call upon God with a special phrase, life frequently challenges and overwhelms Punpun. During school and summer vacation, Punpun tries to win Aiko’s heart while he and his friends go on adventures, such as the secret pornography club and the mystery of the bodies in the miso factory.
With black-and-white illustrations, Asano creates a bizarre world that serves as a peculiar backdrop to the situations the characters must navigate. Much of the supporting cast and backgrounds are drawn in a stylized, realistic way with great shading and detail; in contrast, the title character and his family are drawn in a caricature fashion and resemble a combination of ghost and bird. However, Punpun certainly isn’t the only odd thing in this story: God is portrayed as a bearded man with glasses, while Punpun’s teacher and school administrators make weird faces and play hide-and-go-seek. While Asano effectively depicts Punpun’s world, the reader never gets an in-story explanation for these occurrences.
Throughout the course of the story, Punpun and his friends struggle with difficult situations and Asano skillfully unfolds these stories to keep the reader engaged. The characters’ haphazard efforts to reach their goals lead to a meandering plot, but Asano is still able to build up to moments of thoughtful reflection for characters and readers alike. I valued those tender moments, and as a result, I found myself questioning the need for the bizarre elements. Asano has demonstrated through Solanin—which follows college grads’ attempts to find direction—that he can explore big questions without using bizarre or supernatural elements. Goodnight Punpun offers up no explanation for these elements, and they seemed to take more away from the story than contribute to it.
Fans of stories that explore life questions in weird ways will likely enjoy Goodnight Punpun, and those who have enjoyed Asano’s previous work may also want to check out this newest story. Even though the focal characters are children, there are a number of scenes where the characters look at porn; the book’s graphic content places this volume firmly in adult graphic novel collections.
Goodnight Punpun, vol. 1
by Inio Asano
VIZ Media, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: M