Page 45 Review by Stephen
Ideally Punpun would like everyone to be happy. He's quite like to be happier himself.
"Punpun was sick of his own optimism."
Don't worry, it won't last.
From Inio Asano, the most unpredictable Japanese comicbook creator that I'm aware of, comes a second instalment of GOODNIGHT PUNPUN which takes a startling turn for the dark. Although my search for interior art online suggests that we've only just begun.
Before we get there, comedy comes in the form of a teacher who has only one expression whatever he says - or doesn't say - which is boss-eyed and open-mouthed, like a particularly gormless goldfish. There's a similarly afflicted student who lists slightly as she hovers like a slack-jawed ghost, her back to the others and her hair hanging down in twin, lank bunches like so much pond weed.
"I'm not interested in shallow boys like that," she pronounces as they discuss teenage Yaguchi's reputedly prodigious member. I don't know which is funnier: the delusion or the non sequitur.
The Onodera family's an odd one. School student Punpun lives with his excitable, drunken mother and her brother Yuichi who moved in to help out following the father's... departure. They alone are drawn as stick-limbed, cartoon birds, uncle Yuichi perpetually adorned by a woollen hat. Punpun's easily flustered timidity is emphasised that throughout he never says a word directly, leaving his friends and relatives to interpret his actions, whereas his uncle never shuts up. Even so, it transpires that he's been keeping what really lies within tightly bottled up.
Punpun and his uncle are both paralysed by guilt and self-loathing, the first over something he's not even done yet, the second over a series of events that happened five years ago. It's a recollection / confession which grows increasingly ominous, even more worrying then finally... good grief!
There's layer upon layer of I-never-saw-that-coming and it goes a long way in explaining why Punpun's uncle goes to such enormous, toe-curling lengths to sabotage his own chances of romantic bliss with cafe waitress Midori Okoma. Midori is sweet, sincere and both generous and grateful when shown kindness. She's 25 to Uncle Yuichi's 33 which is no gap at all, both of them are single, and she is honest and open about her genuine adoration of Yuichi. So what is his problem?
Well, here's an earlier conversation with a local grocery clerk:
"Yuichi, do you think being alive is fun?"
"Well... what can I say...? It's not about whether or not it's fun anymore..."
"Wow... that's really cool. Then what is it about, Yuichi?"
What happened five years ago is layered and complex and intense - as is Midori and Yuichi's attempts to work through it and reconcile the past with the present, and I've chosen our interior art carefully to hint but not divulge.
This substantial sequences forms the centre of the book, sandwiched in between Punpun's own internal self-flagellation on either side, which isn't helped by the incessant taunts and temptations of a voice in his head whom Punpun has decided is God. He appears to Punpun as a sort of celebrity guru, a hipster with a beard and afro - a grinning, two-dimensional cardboard cut-out.
For all that and more I'd refer you to our review of GOODNIGHT PUNPUN VOL 1, but essentially Punpun's primary obsession is over a girl called Aiko whom he's already failed once and who finally reveals one of her fears here:
"You know, I have the same dream over and over. I dream that I'm waiting for someone for a long time.
"In the dark, on a beach, I'm waiting for someone for years and decades.
"But then, at some point, I notice that someone is staring at me. It's a middle-aged woman I've never seen before, but I'm so happy to see her that I pull my feet out of the sand and run over to her.
"But when I get there, it's just my own reflection in the water."
Asano's books take a dozen pages to acclimatise to, after which there's no leaving them on the table till later. And they're lengthy. This one comes in at 400 pages long.
Hands always play a prominent part, and he can draw a tear wobbling on the edge of a lower eyelid with just the right surface tension, transparency and refraction. But the most phenomenal detail is reserved for landscapes, even at night, and the weather - as ever - is going to make itself felt during the climactic scenes.