This year I changed my reading habits when it comes to Manga, now it is equal to the time I watch Anime. This has been a year of great surprises when it comes to the printing media and I wanted to share with you some of my findings. The majority of the books have been found in some of the oddest places and in some of the strangest circumstances but whatever the case is, they are delightful to the senses. Let’s begin with a story between an old man and an old useless robot, Ponkotsu Ponko.
Ponkotsu Ponko (ぽんこつポン子) is written and drawn by Yatera Keita. The manga began serialization on April 2019 on Big Comic Spirits. The first standalone volume was published on August 2019 and since then six more volumes published, the last one on October 2020.
A quick description of the show reads as follows:
The near future, in a quiet seaside town. Yoshioka, who had recently lost his wife, just wants to spend the rest of his days in peace. However, Yoshioka’s children, worried about their father’s health, sent a housekeeping robot to help him. Yoshioka’s quiet life is now changing.
When I first read the description of the manga after encountering several reaction images featuring Ponko, it reminded me of a recent underrated Sci-Fi movie called “Robot & Frank”, without spoiling much is a good movie about aging and how it is difficult to deal with being left behind by others. I recommend watching it if you have the chance but after I finish reading the first volume the similarities vanished and only the surface comparisons remain. Ponkotsu Ponko does not only deal with the topic of aging but also finding your place in a world that doesn’t need you and has deemed you as useless. Despite its cutesy designs, the manga is not always a rose-tinted view of getting old, it gets on some heavy topics about grief, death, giving up on life and trying to find solace on small things.
The story begins on a somber note after the death of Yoshioka’s wife and now he is alone where he and his wife raised all their children. Each inch of the house is a memory of better times and all that is left a ramshackle building with an old geezer in it. But all of this changes when Ponko arrives, she takes over all the pages of the manga and surprisingly all of her interactions are not done by her expressions, most of the time she maintains a cold smile and a silent stare that sometimes is misinterpreted as a violent intention. Her cuteness and appeal derives from her dialogue and interactions with other characters, she just wants to be useful once again before being destroyed and made into 500 yen coin. For rust you are and to rust you will return.
One of the most interesting things about Ponkotsu Ponko (ぽんこつポン子) is how quaint it looks and feel. Despite the sci-fi setting of realistically looking humanoid robots, the entire setting manga is done on the Japanese countryside, a place trapped in time. We see glimpses of the advanced technological future but that’s so distant and foreign that sometimes we forget Ponko is a direct result of it. Even her is just old junk compared to what the city has to offer now. This is an advantage to the story because if we tried to make the same story on a cyberpunk Tokyo we would not have the same emotional impact. The charm of an isolated place contrasts with a cute robot maid who can order drones to drop 400kg of squid or obliterate an entire garage with her arm. I also have to give praise to the amazing illustrations that are not only backgrounds, every part of this small town feels unique and with the first volume you are feel part of it.
It is also surprising the number of side characters just featured on this volume, and we are given small introduction of who they are and what their relationships would be with out main characters. Some other manga would probably only deal with both until we get too see a neighbor or a sibling but the part of setting the story in small countryside town is that everybody knows each other since their beginnings. Ponko fits nicely with all of them despite being an outsider because all the townsfolk do not see her as robot or treat her as such and that is a welcomed trait. It would be tiresome dealing with the same boring trope of people freaking out when they discover she is not human or other kind of misunderstandings.
Ponkotsu Ponko (ぽんこつポン子) is a bittersweet story which is a tone I really like, it is not overwhelming when it comes to drama or cuteness, it is well balanced between both. I highly recommend it. Later I’ll be talking about the other volumes and what they have to offer. The manga is not officially licensed in English but you can find it where Manga is available and if you can, buy the original, it is worthy.