No one captures the problems of disaffected young adults quite like Inio Asano, the manga artist who’s been hailed as “one of the voices of his generation” in Japan. What a Wonderful World! and Solanin – both published in English by Viz—explore the every day drift of young people who don’t quite know what to do with their lives. The former is a series of short stories, and Solanin is a full length graphic novel about a young couple who have to find some meaning in their awkward struggles. His other English language book, Nijigahara Holograph, published by Fantagraphics, is more of a bizarrely multi leveled horror story.
But Asano’s best known work is just out in English. Goodnight Punpun is a 13-volume biography of a young man from middle grade school to young adulthood, his love for his schoolmate Aiko and their sometimes shocking adventures. While most of the book is drawn in Asano’s typical style—detailed backgrounds and expressive, rounded characters who would fit into any US or French indie comic–Punpun himself is always drawn as a simple line drawing of a bird. Just as protagonists in adventure tales are often the most boring characters so that more readers can identify with them, Asano chose this cypher to portray his hero to abstract his experiences to the universal.
But they’re experiences everyone can relate to: abusive parents, insensitive schoolmates, hopeless crushes, and the search for recognition, love and a porn stash–is there anyone who hasn’t been through that to some degree? (As the story goes on it takes some very surreal turns, however.) As the series progresses, his bird avatar becomes more complex as he gets older. But life doesn’t get any easier…
It’s not too often we get to run a preview of a licensed manga, but Asano’s work should appeal to many readers, even those new to manga. Thanks to the good folks at Viz for making it happen.
All images © 2007 Inio ASANO/SHOGAKUKAN