The back copy of Inio Asano’s Goodnight Punpun Volume 7 simply reads, “This is the end, Punpun” but I couldn’t disagree more. This volume is filled with beginnings.
There’s a lot transformation for characters in this volume, some I didn’t expect at all. The volume jumps right into a fire that is ravaging Pegasus and the cult in a mass suicide attempt. Seki rescues Shimizu who is badly injured. While it is unclear at this point what the future holds, we know there is a new beginning here because Seki feels a sense of empowerment for the first time. He decides it’s not Shimizu’s turn to die and does what he can to save him. Unfortunately, Shimizu’s mind is now a blank slate so he has a lot of rebuilding to do.
The entire story of Punpun and Aiko living like criminals has been one of the more painful things I’ve had to read for many reasons. First, it’s frustrating to see this story arc because I like to think that the police would have been understanding from day 1 if they reported the mother’s death as an act self-defense. One could argue they were ignorant young adults who didn’t know any better, but I feel like any logical adult of any age should know that running from a murder scene while bleeding out with an infection is stupid. This whole arc could have been avoided, but Punpun is stubborn and Aiko appears to be everything I dislike in a woman. I am not sure if I should be grateful for the reading experience or horrified.
Punpun and Aiko stay on the run until Aiko finally decides she’s had enough. Punpun finds her hanging from a noose, an abrupt end for Aiko. When I first read this, I was aghast with horror. I didn’t want Aiko’s story to end that way, but thinking back, I can’t think of better conclusion. Her body was severely neglected and she was suffering from fatigue and infection. She’s become so corrupted both physically and mentally that she simply can’t go on anymore. There were so many scenes of Punpun inflicting harm on Aiko and others that it’s surprising he didn’t kill her. At the same time, readers can flip this and wonder if it’s actually Punpun who is suffering as a victim of Aiko. Of course this only makes sense if we really believe that Punpun only harmed Aiko’s mom and didn’t deal the death blow. This would still make Punpun an accomplice, though. I’m really torn on who is the real victim in this situation, or if there even is one.
Despite all of this, let’s rewind a bit and remember that both Aiko and Punpun come from bleak childhoods. Suppose they’re on an even ground in terms of corruption, youthful innocence, and morality – why does Aiko have to go? Why is Punpun punished with the weight of her body after she hangs herself? The scenes that follow are filled with vivid imagery that breaks Aiko down to a body and a symbol of redemption for Punpun, who gets a second chance once he’s free of Aiko (and an eye). Her decency is gone and she isn’t even given the protection of underwear while her empty body is hauled down the side of the road. The emphasis on the bag while Punpun carries her is particularly intriguing to me – the bag seems more significant now for some reason. I suppose because she’s gone and the happy couple on the bag will never come to be.
After a self-inflected eye injury Punpun is returned to his original bird depiction and he’s given a new chance with Kanie, who has seen a new life as a successful mangaka. It’s a little sickening given that he hasn’t proved himself reliable the entire time she’s known him. At the same time he’s been redeemed and knows who he is – so it’s possible he is now ready to live a functioning life filled with acceptance. Too bad there is a child involved who looks to Punpun as a father.
Also at the closing of the series, there are scenes of Aiko talking, alone in what seem to be memories Punpun has of her. I found this a bit gut-wrenching and hard to swallow because a part of me wants to think Aiko still lives and has gotten her second chance, too. Maybe I’ve read the book entirely wrong and she’s fine and I’m crazy. Goodnight Punpun really makes you question everything so almost anything seems possible. Maybe Punpun is just a horrible and unreliable narrator.
While the final volume is truly the end of the series, it’s pages contain many beginnings for all of the characters we followed for 7 books. There are so many intricate layers to this series that it’s worth examining again and again. I can’t imagine having the same interpretation if and when I pick this series up again.