If you were expecting Inio Asano’s story of adolescent love, loss, and ANGST to get any happier with this second volume, then I’d bet this is the first of his manga you’ve read. In that case, congratulations on taking the plunge! Much like real life, however, vol. 2 shows that this series is going to be long road of ups and downs where the valleys can get wrist-slittingly depressing and the peaks always have some kind of nasty catch waiting for you at the top.
If this is what the series has to offer, then why read it at all? That’s because Asano is really good at making Punpun’s experience feel relatable. Part of that is through the ongoing gimmick of drawing the character in a crude, cartoonish fashion, but the mangaka also nails the feelings of awkwardness, anxiety, and fear that we all felt at that age. In Punpun’s case, his arc in this volume involves dealing with his feelings for Aiko in middle school as she (apparently) becomes close with the star of the badminton team. The onslaught of drama that ensues would be unbearable in lesser hands, yet Asano knows when to keep the story grounded and when to let it soar to fantastic heights of whimsy.
It’s not all about Punpun in this volume, as we learn just why his Uncle Yuichi is such a sad sack. After meeting a nice girl at a coffee shop and subsequently doing his best to sabotage their potential relationship, he confesses to an almost-affair that ruined him professionally and personally. The level of self-loathing on display here with Yuichi is palpable to an impressive extent. Even so, if his arc had a conventional “healed by the love of a good woman” ending it’d still feel pretty satisfying. Except that nothing is ever easy in this series as the quasi-cliffhanger ending to this volume makes clear. “Goodnight Punpun” isn’t the kind of series you read to take your mind off of a hard day, but it offers up enough emotional truth and connection to fully invest me in the struggles of its characters.