I’ve recently come back from a different world, one that doesn’t particularly leave me in high spirits. Over the course of two days, I have read and been captivated by a manga called Oyasumi Punpun, a coming of age story of a boy who has no identifying physical characteristics that the audience can see. Drawn only as a caricatured bird, the audience delves deep into the psyche of this young man as he journeys into adulthood.
At first, when we watch Punpun struggle through his early days in elementary school, his physique as a small bird like creature endears him to the audience. Cute things are innocent, especially cute animals, or at least we think that at first. Perhaps that was the intention, creating an innocence through an appearance that would otherwise be impossible with the authors realistic drawing style. At his young age, this appearance doesn’t make us judge him, it makes us understand him more. After all, when most of us were that age, the images we had of ourselves were always somewhat pessimistic. I was a scrawny girl who hated her legs, uncomfortable in my own skin let alone with others and even despite being of a different gender than our protagonist there is this certain sense of camaraderie.
As the years tick past, however, not much of a difference can be seen in our protagonist (I dislike using the word hero to describe Punpun). Sure there are defining traits that signify the changes he’s going through, like a hat or spiky hair, but his body shape remains oddly the same, the only change perhaps being a slight elongation of his physique. So, what does the image of him say now?
The more Punpun grows and the less he changes creates a wall between him and the reader. It’s almost as if this image of innocence has become a mask, a lie that he tells the reader as if to to say “I’m still the same Punpun.” In reality, however, we can see his changes, see as he struggles through the anguish of having to see his father go to jail, living in a house he doesn’t quite consider a home with a mother he does not appreciate. In the end his appearance is distrustful, a false image that is not the real Punpun and soon he changes for the worse.
Despite an earlier change, when he took the form of a simple pyramid (he was somewhat of a recluse during that time of his life until someone snapped him out of it), the first significant change we see in Punpun comes when he meets his childhood sweetheart after a long time, a person who was and still is very important to him despite the time that had separated them. For the first time we see his body, but his face is still hidden this time by an image much more menacing than before. The change wasn’t immediate, since at the point and time of their reunion he had vowed to be someone different. The uncertainty he feels manifests when he realizes that the girl he loved when he was young is not the same young woman he sees now, and as a result a part of him snaps.
It only escalates from there and soon him and his sweetheart find themselves in a situation where there is no return. It’s at this point that Punpun undergoes his final change. His face is now no longer the mask of youth, but a state of mind brought upon by his cumulative experiences, most of which aren’t very uplifting. The innocence is wiped away in a flash and he becomes someone or something that outwardly expresses the darkness that has been festering within his soul.
Comparing him to his sweetheart is another thing altogether. She and Punpun are similar in many ways, and it appears she is the true victim of Oyasumi Punpun. We see her grow, we see her change, we see her struggle through a life that is just as difficult and emotionally taxing as Punpun’s (if not more), but she wears her mask well. It’s a silent and cheerful facade that has been chipped physically and mentally by years of abuse, but she is nowhere near stronger because of it and is struggling to make it through life alone. The question is, will Punpun in his current state be the best thing for her or will he be the final straw? However, her story is perhaps best left for another time.
- Man was this a much more emotionally taxing read than I thought it would be. There was a comedy element, albeit a bit dark, but it was so drowned out by the depressing material and growing cynicism of the characters that in the end I found it to be more disgusting than anything else. Still, I was completely hooked.
- I think I need to go watch K-On…