by Helina He
The comics book “Goodnight Punpun” written by the Japanese cartoonist Inio Asano tells a seemingly simple story of Punpun, sensitive and withdrawn, who witnesses the divorce of his own parents, and who has an affection towards his classmate Aiko. Nevertheless, the story reflects the helplessness of people under the twist of destiny and the loneness in the growth of teenagers. Through Asano’s deliberate use of frame and pictures, those feelings are so intense that I was in deep sadness after reading the comics.
In the process of reading, I have noticed the difference between Western comics and Japanese manga mentioned in the book “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud before. Despite the main storyline about Punpun, various pictures about beautiful buildings, streets, and even passers-by occupy a lot of space in the book (e.g. Exmp 1 Page 214-215). The dialogue is simplified and sometimes omitted. Readers are invented to contemplate and think when they view through Asano’s work. Morever, there are many uses of aspect-to-aspect and non-sequitur (e.g. Exmp 2) description in the comics, which is rarely seen in Western works.
One of the most significant traits of “Goodnight Punpun” that echoes in “Understanding Comics” is that the main character is designed as simple as possible – a cartoonized bird. This facilitate each audience into a sense of both, so that one is involved with the change of Punpun’s mood. The omitted imagery of Punpun is also a representation of the group of citizens that are under the same living statements as him. And there is a huge contrast between the cartoon image and the complicated and chaotic inner activity of the main character. On the other hand, Asano depicts other characters realistically, objectifying them to create their “otherness” from the audience. What is noticeable is that there’s a third style of character imagery, that is the crazy, emotion exaggerated, and even gross depiction of the adults who are not directly related to the teenagers. The unique technique is perhaps for the sake of mirroring the absurdity of adult society at the viewpoint of kids and reporting the strong emotion statement under the strong and calm appearance people pretended to have (e.g. Exmp 3 Page80-81).
What cannot be omitted too is Asano’s supreme technique of realistic to make the background and objects in the entire book extremely lifelike. This brought an enjoyment to me when I was reading. Besides the “masking effect” theory mentioned in the book “Understanding Comics” that realistic background with the help of child-like characters pushes us more involved, Asano’s switching between the close-ups of characters and city vista casts upon a visual impact to us. Taking the scene that Punpun is chasing after Aiko (e.g Exmp 4 Page 175-176) as an example, the author only gives us a few close-ups about the worrying face of Punpun, and most of the part is the overhead view of the street, using onomatopoetic words representing the characters. This creates the feeling of the tininess and helplessness of Punpun running among the huge and empty city. And the pictures of the city melt into a part of the characters so that I got a feeling of blue from those background scenes.
Besides the imagery of the main characters, words are also omitted. The dialogues of Punpun are few, most of them shown in the form of voiceover, and they never appear with other characters’ words at the same time. It seems like it’s the awareness of Punpun instead of his words. In this way, the thoughts of Punpun is more profound and striking, taking the scene of Punpun identifying his dad as a liar as an example (e.g. Exmp 5).