Wikipedia describes Oyasumi Punpun (Goodnight Punpun) as:
“…a Japanese manga written and illustrated by Inio Asano about Punpun Punyama (later Onodera), a normal child depicted in the form of a bird. The story follows him as he copes with his dysfunctional family and friends, his love interest, his oncoming adolescence and his hyperactive mind… The manga follows Punpun as he grows up, splitting the book into around 4 stages of his life: Elementary school, Middle school, High school, and his early 20s.”
But nowhere in that description is the word “depression”, which is what I think Punpun is essentially about.
Inio Asano (Solanin, Nijigahara Holograph) tells the stories no one else wants to tell because they are too embarrassing. Because it’s how a lot of us secretly feel and act. No one wants to really admit how truly dark their dark side is. Not only does Asano admit it, but he depicts heavy and depressing themes with genius level beauty and authenticity.
I went through the ‘motions while reading Goodnight Punpun. One page would make me incredibly sad and another would have me laughing out loud at its dark sense of humor. But the one thing that was consistent throughout was Asano’s creative and compelling storytelling.
Despite how childishly drawn the bird-like Punpun is, he is one of the most realistic characters I’ve ever read. Sometimes a long-legged bird is the best character to depict the utter despair we sometimes feel as we come to age. The two-dimensional bird-boy and the realistically illustrated world and characters combine to create one of the most interesting and beautiful aesthetics I’ve found in a manga. The depiction of Punpun changes during different stages in his life. Mostly he’s a bird-like character, when he’s in deep depression he’s a floating pyramid and during other, darker times, he is an four-eyed monster with horns. The reader is able to see how Punpun feels because of these various representations, even though the characters in the manga see Punpun as a normal human being.
It wouldn’t be a far cry to describe Punpun as a psychological horror. However, the horrors in this manga aren’t monsters hiding under the bed, instead they hide in the dark corners of our minds. Asano removes the filters that we usually use to cover up our sad and unwanted thoughts. It’s the brutal honesty of Punpun that makes it seem so unreal because it’s the reality we tend to ignore.
As someone who was (and still kind of is) suffering from depression, there was an undeniable comfort I found in the melancholy of Punpun Onodera. Punpun helped me not only accept my depression, but justify it.