A follow-up post, of sorts.

Manga is very closely related to anime of course in the stylistic sense – though constrained by the limitations of static images. Consequently, there is no “animated” component; movement is instead communicated through sequential frames, with the human mind drawing in the gaps. This is limits certain avenues for creating an aesthetic of the surreal, but at the same time provides new opportunities – the artist, as the animator, simply needs to pay attention to what cues are provided – common elements like a raised fist, stomping legs and increased foreshortening of a character over several panels, and the like are all easily fit together in the mind as a sequence of events – “this is a punch”, “she’s running down the hallway”, and so on. The surreal, in contrast, is accomplished by giving non-standard or even completely alien cues to the viewer, preventing this normally unconscious thought process from starting altogether and forcing the reader to manually piece together the action.

Oyasumi, Punpun (lit. “Good Night, Punpun”), by Inio Asano, is a fantastic example of this. This manga follows the childhood and adolescence of a completely ordinary Japanese boy, in a completely ordinary Japanese school and a completely ordinary Japanese home. Asano is generally more well known for his very “realistic” style in works like What a Wonderful World and Solanin. Goodnight Punpun takes a radical departure in one significant way – while every other character, prop, and background scenery in the manga is rendered in lavish realism that Naoki Urasawa would envy – the protagonist Punpun, and his family the Punyamas, are rendered as a child’s caricature of some sort of bird.

Characters react to Punpun and the Punyamas in a completely ordinary way, however – it’s very clear that the character design is a narrative conceit, forcing an appreciation of what would otherwise be humdrum scenes in a new, almost alien light. It is a brilliant stroke of surrealistic genius.

Oyasumi Punpun is certainly not a title I would recommend to just anyone, although I recommend it very highly. The manga takes some of the themes one finds in titles such as Welcome to the NHK! and masters them. It’s laced with a nihilistic and sometimes bleak sense of despair, yet tinged with a gentle humour – made all the sweeter by the bitter context.