Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Asano Inio: Oyasumi Punpun (2007- )

The other Asano Inio title I've read is Oyasumi Punpun おやすみプンプン, which started in 2007 and is still going on, up to 11 volumes at the moment.  I read the first three volumes back when that's all there was, and never went any farther.  Reading Nijigahara makes me want to go back to Punpun to see if it got better.

Here's what I wrote in my pre-blogging days:
Punpun is a fifth-grader in an abusive home.  His father gets sent to prison for beating his mother almost to death, then they get divorced;  his mother’s not too nice either;  her slacker brother Yuichi moves in and sort of takes care of Punpun.  Meanwhile he has a crush on a girl at school, Aiko, who’s also in a scary family—her mother’s a cultist, and drags her around proselyting.  Aiko wants to run away, and makes Punpun promise to come with her, but he has to stand her up when his mother attempts suicide.  Then we skip to two years later, Punpun’s a seventh-grader, Aiko hasn’t talked to him for two years, but he still has a crush on her.  She, however, is going out with the captain of the badminton team, who Punpun is kind of friends with.  Meanwhile, we start to follow Yuichi more, as he meets a cute ex-nurse who likes him;  he starts to tell her about a traumatic event in his past, when a sixteen-year-old hottie from an abusive household made a pass at him…  And that’s where Vol. 3 ends. It’s a well-told story so far, with just the right number of minor characters, and a lot of dysfunctional-family stuff that’s handled with an appropriate dull ache.  By the end of the third volume, though, it’s starting to lose focus—the whole Yuichi bit feels like we’re moving sideways rather than forward.  Maybe Asano doesn’t know where he’s going with this after all.
What makes it special, though, is the art.  Everything is in a super-realistic style except for Punpun, his parents, and his uncle, who are drawn in thick, childish lines, and who in fact don’t look human at all:  they’re drawn like lumpy birds, or stick figures with sheets on and pointy noses.  Like something a kindergartner would draw.  Nobody else interacts with them any differently because of this, so clearly what we’re dealing with here is an expressionistic way of depicting Punpun’s (everybody else has normal names, by the way) sense of alienation.  A striking visual metaphor, and it creates any number of interesting and suggestive situations. There’s a whole overlay of God stuff, too, as Punpun, in his adolescent gawkiness and horniness, thinks he can see God—who looks like a grinning hipster.  We’re not sure yet quite what this means—make of it what we will, I guess—but it’s part of a consistent metaphysical questioning by the characters.  It’s a serious manga, about serious themes.  That’s why it disappointed me when in the third volume it began to feel like the author was just spinning it out, creating saleable variations on the basic situation, rather than leading us through a story he’d planned out.  Abuse and depression are not really the stuff of episodic manga—I want to know he has an idea to resolve things, not necessarily with a happy ending, but with something other than “This week on the Suicidal Depression Show!”

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