Before Goodnight Punpun Volume 7 says good night to Punpun, we say good night to Aiko, then watch Punpun’s terribly prolonged goodbye to Aiko.
In a way, both characters get to say extended goodbyes: Aiko, in eight pages of monologue in which she philosophizes that we can’t change our fate, confesses that her greatest happiness was falling in love with Punpun, says that she’s going to take the punishment for her mother’s murder, and asks him, if they’re ever separated, to remember her on Tanabata Day, the holiday that celebrates the annual reunion of the stars Altair and Vega, lovers separated by the Milky Way.
When Aiko hangs herself, Punpun’s goodbye is twenty pages of carrying her body, paired with his own pain-wrought realizations, with the main difference being that he’s pouring his soul out to a dead woman, so this isn’t monologue, but soliloquy, as no one but the reader can hear him. After fantasizing about the darkly domestic life they would have had, he confesses that he wanted her to kill him, then finally admits, possibly to himself, that he must be an idiot, before leaving her body with two schoolkids on a date.
Punpun’s last memento of Aiko is the paper from Tanabata Day, thar depicts the joyfully reunited, starcrossed lovers on its bottom, and on which Aiko wrote “I hope that you never forget me.” As he sits in the shade of a deserted house with his hands folded, and contemplates the wrinkled paper on the ground, there is the sense that he wants to leave that last keepsake behind him. Though we can’t know for sure, he probably does, for it only appears thereafter in a dream sequence as it first appeared–a smooth, clean sheet, freshly clipped to the prayer board.
The drean sequence is Punpun’s last sendoff to Aiko, in which he not only apologizes to Aiko for not being able to see the Milky Way this year or next year, but doubting that they ever saw it when they were kids, that it was a moment they both romanticized. Though it will be “cloudy on Tanabata, forever..the world won’t change and humanity isn’t done for.”
If Punpun’s dream seems to cross over into Pegasus’ promise to save the world–”humanity isn’t done for”–this may be because Pegasus crossed over to the dream world as well. Though the cult leader’s body fragments in an explosion that spans chapters 135 and 136, in chapter 140, we see Pegasus communing with a totemic being on a Little Prince-styled world upon which an apartment building is perched, and we see childishly scrawled fish, sheep, and an UFO. Inside the building, Punpun’s god lurks inside the spiritual totem, which takes turns with Pegasus in stabbing a powder keg with daggers.
Interestingly, though Seki saved Shimizu from the fire, Shimizu is in the spirit world as well, and smiles beatifically on the piercing of the powder keg. Pegasus announces “we won,” and an explosion of light rains down to Earth. Though we don’t know if this is a divinely redemptive light or a divinely indifferent light, eight of those beams are topped with the head of Punpun’s god.
After a night of eating out and drinking with her friends, and having just confessed to Kanie that she’s holding out for Punpun, Sachi at last finds Punpun. Pegasus’s cosmic fireworks streak overhead, and Punpun is spattered with his own blood, having stabbed his other eye. Though Sachi craves Punpun (“I will never allow you to run away from me again”), admitting to herself that she derives strength from his weakness, when she discovers that he is involved with a murder, she breaks down, and though we see them together in the final chapter, it is an ambiguous moment.
Goodnight Punpun ends not in this moment of ambiguity, but a few pages later, as the cycle of starcrossed love threatens to begin again in another grade school classroom, where a precocious transfer student tells her encouraging teacher to stuff his platitudes, then locks eyes in a love-at-first sight moment with a boy in the class. The suggestion is that Aiko and Punpun’s myth gets to live again. Two pages later, we learn even the cosmic threats that Pegasus fought are recurring, when we hear “Did you know? Humanity is done for.”
Goodnight Punpun ends on this suggestion that new love also rings the bell for a new cosmic battle, a spiritual conflict only ever won by the death or sacrifice of one or more of the lovers. When Aiko and Punpun locked eyes in Volume One, and perhaps saw the Milky Way, they started something of cosmic proportions; moreover, Pegasus’s pet name for his followers was ‘lovers.’ and he knew that many of them would be extinguished in the absolution of the cosmos. Aiko and the Pegasus cult’s deaths come so close together in the final volume because they both mark the death knell for Punpun’s world, symbolized also by the meteoric fall of Punpun’s god. And the death of Punpun’s world meant new life for the real world, as confirmed by Pegasus: “Our good vibrations will definitely etch harmony into the universe.”
Inio Asano’s Goodnight Punpun is not only must-read manga, but as I mentioned in my review of volume six, it should be on any “best of” lists for the best comics / manga of the twenty-first century. Moreover, like the best works of art, Punpun is so hauntingly reminiscent of lived experience that you may archive it with your own memories and reivisit it more often than lesser works that don’t feel as lived-in.
Viz Media sent the review copy.