It’s been several months since we last looked at Goodnight Punpun and since then… it’s really gone down a rather dark road. Let’s see what the series holds for us in the third volume.
Goodnight Punpun Vol. 3 (Viz Media)
Translation by: JN Productions
Lettering by: Annaliese Christman
It’s been a few years now and Punpun has graduated middle school and headed off to start his high school career. He hasn’t talked to Aiko Tanaka in a long time and his life has been spiraling downwards. Meanwhile, Yuichi Onodera hasn’t been seen in several days ever since an incident with Midori Okuma, his girlfriend, who has been in a big slump over it. Things just don’t seem to be going anyone’s way right now.
One thing has been Punpun‘s strong suit since the beginning: the character work. Almost every person in the series is written expertly and they feel so layered. They have their own personal dramas, their continuous character arcs that progress over the years, their world views that can feel very relatable at points, their own psyches and messed up natures, and their relationships with one another. There’s so much here to chew into with everyone and there’s no single character that feels remotely similar to another here. The only character that felt left out of the volume was Yuichi, but mostly because his character arc seems to close out at the beginning and he seems to be getting help in private.
The best written is still Punpun himself. We continue our journey by watching his journey from childhood into his teenage years, going from the wide-eyed and idealistic child to the cynical and messed up teenager. It’s an emotionally exhausting and draining experience as you see every screwed up thing that happens to him and how it shapes him, especially the horrible event that happens very early on in this volume. It further pushes him into even darker places and it’s easy to see how it affects him badly, especially when he goes on a date later. He may no longer be likeable or even that relatable at times, but Punpun just evolves more and more into such a fascinating character to read.
Inio Asano’s writing is overall pretty good and with very little actual problems. It contains a lot of the narrative choices from the beginning of the series with Punpun’s family being depicted as cartoon doodles and Punpun never actually speaking a single thing (also God constantly watching and following him everywhere). However, it dropped the more surrealist aspect of the first part and is far more straightforward in its storytelling with what happens. This makes things much easier to follow along with and understand what is going on. The dialogue and conservations between the characters can be very well-written and offer a lot of humanity to each person in the story. The pacing is good with keeping things moving and not going too slow at points. The volume likes to move between several different characters at various points throughout the volume, but it never feels too sudden when it happens. It just flows naturally or fits the narrative well when it does happen. Overall, the writing is pretty solid, even during its more nihilistic and uncomfortable moments (of which there are many).
The artwork is still utterly amazing looking. It steps back on a lot of the surrealist imagery like mentioned and plays it far more straight (there are still some unique shots, but not as much). While that may disappoint some, the art is expertly crafted. Scenes flow wonderfully from panel and are laid out quite efficiently, really providing a sense of movement and motion in a lot of the scene (like Punpun at the art gallery or the big scene early on in the volume). The characters are very expressive and capable of showing a wide range of emotion and expression from beginning to end, even with Punpun and his oddly depicted family. Everything is very well detailed, the intense and shocking imagery of the book has real impact to it (and it feels like it actually serves a point unlike some other series), and I like how Asano goes back and forth with how he depicts Punpun and his family. Every once in a while, he’ll show them humanized in silhouette form, whether it be just their clothes or a part of their body. It often goes hand in hand with a heavy dramatic moment, giving the scene a bit more impact and reminding us that they are human despite how they usually look.
While this may be a nitpick to some and may not affect them as much as others, Goodnight Punpun Vol. 3 really turned up nihilism and darkness of the series. It was very much present in the second volume, but mostly in Yuichi’s story. This volume is about depression, nihilism, thoughts of suicide, and has a very terrible turn that really screws up the main character more than ever. It’s a fascinating character study and arc for Punpun, but given everything that happens to him and the people around him, it’s hard to get through the series at times. The manga has gone from a very easy recommendation to something that is hard to recommend to anyone. Not because it’s bad, but because you need to be in the right mental state of mind to experience the story.
There are two other small problems with the story: The dialogue and the characters themselves. The dialogue at times gets very monologue heavy as someone goes on and on about how they feel or about their world view. It sounds very ham-fisted and awkward in its execution, even if what they talk about is kind of interesting. As for the characters, it comes down to the audience. They are all very well-written and three dimensional characters, but it’s hard to get invested or care about any one of them. Many of them are not likeable or hard to sympathize with their own personal drama (especially with Midori and what she does). It makes it hard to get attached to anything that happens to anyone in the manga because of that.
Is It Good?
Goodnight Punpun Vol. 3 is a hard volume to stomach. It’s dark, uncomfortable, and depressing as heck. However, its expert writing, characterization, and artwork is what makes the journey worthwhile. It’s a fascinating experience that gets under your skin and makes you just reflect your own life like no other series out there, whether it be from America or Japan. If you are an good place emotionally and psychologically, this is a series to definitely read.