It isn’t that this series has suddenly become dull in its examination of the ongoing misery of the title character’s life as he transitions into high school. There’s too much disturbing stuff on display for that to happen. Such as when we witness the loss of his virginity in a way that’s almost as uncomfortable for the reader to experience as it is for our protagonist. We also get to see his attempts to fit in at high school by going along with the flow, yet not actually investing himself in it. He gets some acquaintances and even goes out on a real date, but Punpun ultimately fails to develop any meaningful connections with those around him. Which is kind of the point, it seems.
No, the problem here is that the misery is starting to become predictable in its occurrence. Even if you’re not able to guess exactly what’s going to happen to Punpun, you can still rest easy in expecting the worst from pretty much every situation he finds himself in. The adolescent stew of emotions, hormones, and raging insecurity is all too familiar to me. Yet my time in high school still had its high points too. I realize that the parallel narrative involving Punpun’s (former?) friends Masumi and Shimizu is meant to counter this by showing to people who have formed a connection which manages to get them through the worst life has to offer. The problem with that is, well-executed it may be, it manages to just be predictable. Where Punpun’s arc is marinated in despair, Masumi and Shimizu’s bucks it at the exact moment you’d expect it to.
This volume does manage to have the unlikeliest of breakout characters in Punpun’s Mom. It turns out that she’s a lot more disturbed than anyone would’ve given her credit for prior to this volume as we see in a flashback that casts a whole new light on the defining moment of domestic violence from way back in the first chapter. We learn more of her sad history, see her try to break the cycle after connecting with one of Punpun’s old friends in the hospital, and then… Well, remember what I said about expecting the worst? The volume ends with fresh heartbreak with the possibility that things will change as Punpun’s Dad comes back into the picture. I’m interested in seeing how his return will turn out, even as I prepare for it to turn out as awfully as everything else in his life did during this volume.