The Melancholy of ‘Oyasumi Punpun’

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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.

oyasumi_punpun_inio_asano_manga_6Inio 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.

oyasumi_punpun_inio_asano_manga_3It 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.

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Nijigahara Holograph: A Haunting & Beautiful Manga

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Nijigahara Holograph Inio Asano Manga 6Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano (Solanin) makes you feel uncomfortable at times… well a lot. Its haunting story wrapped in beautiful illustrations  makes it incredibly atmospheric. Before I get ahead of myself, I should probably tell you what it’s about. Well… it’s about… uhh… it’s complicated. (Which is another way of saying it was confusing.) But it was confusing on purpose! So that makes it okay, right? The main reason why it’s so hard to describe is because it is all timey wimey and convoluted, except we don’t have a super genius timelord to help explain the story. Since it’s so tricky to summarize, I’ll give you the official description instead:

“Even as butterflies ominously proliferate in town, the rumor of a mysterious creature lurking in the tunnel behind the school spreads among the children. When the body of Arié Kimura’s mother is found by this tunnel’s entrance, next to apparently human traces, the legend seems to be confirmed. Is the end of the world coming? In order to appease the wrath of the beast, the children decide to offer it a sacrifice: The unfortunate Arié, whom they believe to be the cause of the curse, is shoved into a well that leads to the Nijigahara tunnel — an act that in turns pushes Komatsuzaki, the budding thug who has carried a torch for Arié for a while already, entirely over the edge.

But this is only the beginning of the complex, challenging, obliquely told Nijigahara Holograph, which takes place in two separate timelines and involves the suicidal Suzuki; Higure, his stalkerish would-be girlfriend; their teacher Miss Sakaki, whose heavily bandaged face remains a mystery; and many more — brothers, sisters, parents, co-workers, teachers, aggressors and victims who are all inextricably linked to one another and all will eventually — ten years later — have to live with what they’ve done or suffered through.”

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Even though I read Nijigahara Holograph slowly and meticulously, I’m still trying to piece together the story. Maybe part of me always will, and that’s the beauty of it. I thought about writing this after I reread it to try and make sense of everything. But I felt the best representation of Nijigahara Holograph would be my confused, yet excited thoughts. And to be honest, the experience is part of the draw. It’s like a carnival ride that looks beautiful on the outside, but it’s all horror on the inside and it leaves you feeling really uncomfortable.

Speaking of uncomfortable. Shit gets dark, man. Real dark. But you know what? That’s life. Life is beautiful, just like the mysterious butterflies in the story. And life is fucked up, just like some of the characters in the story. I respect a writer who’s not afraid to have an unconventional plot and ending. Nijigahara Holograph Inio Asano Manga 1

The setting seems mundane at first glance, but as the story progresses it’s transformed into an eerie town that’s filled with sadistic adults and children. Oh, that’s another thing. Asano shows us something we rarely see in stories, children committing unspeakable violence, sometimes at random. These kids are not possessed by any demons, they are just kids committing horrific acts of violence.

It’s hard to pinpoint the main character of the story, but one character that’s present throughout is violence. Violence in Nijigahara Holograph lurks just under the surface like a sea monster. Through the lens of this story, we all have that monster in us; some of us force it down forever, while others let it come up for air. Some people practically let it frolic freely without restraint. The only optimistic thought Nijigahara Holograph offers is a child’s wish to end the world.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Damn, Jamila. This sounds like a bummer, why should I read it?” Because it’s a brilliantly crafted story that will captivate you… oh and it’s fucking gorgeous!

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Manga & Millennials: How I Found Comfort in “Solanin”

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Solanin, by Inio Asano, is about Meiko Inoue, a recent college grad working a 9-5 that she hates. Sound like anyone you know? She fears she’ll end up a faceless employee, so she quits. Her boyfriend, Taneda Naruo is a freelance illustrator and doesn’t make enough to support himself so he permanently crashes at her apartment.

Meiko, like many of us twentysomethings, is in that transitory stage where she’ll have to make critical decisions that may affect the rest of her life. She struggles with figuring out her place in society, which causes her to question if she’s even cut out for the real world.

With our thirties tapping us Millennials on the shoulder, we are left with this nagging feeling to search for purpose before we get trapped in a passionless routine. (Queue existential crisis.) Like a remixed version of Joan Didion’s essays, a lot of us are “Slouching Towards Adulthood”. It’s a splinter we try to ignore. We hope it goes away, or that we’ll get used to the pain. But there will come a day when we’ll have to either do something about it, or decide to live with that splinter. To quote my favorite anime Cowboy Bebop, “You’re gonna carry that weight.”solanin_meiko

Meiko’s first step was quitting a job that wasn’t fulfilling. But what’s next? What do you do, when you don’t know what to do?

You live. You make mistakes. You get to know yourself. Find out what you like and what you don’t like. You cling to your passions like Teneda clung to music and his band. You do what you want to do.

I know I’m dangerously flirting with the age where I have to start acting like a self-sustaining adult. These are the years where I’m sculpting my future and I wasn’t happy with the shape it was taking. So I did something about it. Just like Meiko, I don’t want to end up spending 9+ hours of my day feeling empty.

I know nothing good can come by waiting for good to come. You have to take risks. It’s scary, but also exhilarating. If you’re a recent grad, or feeling lost about life and your place in it, I suggest reading Solanin.

Life’s too short to be anything but happy.

Always follow your happy.