The first time I laid my eyes on Saint Young Men was at the Manga exhibition at the British Museum. The mangaka, Hikaru Nakamura had donated some of it’s original art to the museum. In these pages, Jesus becomes a little jealous of the popularity of Father Christmas. I found the idea of Jesus getting a little upset on his birthday quite humourous and filled away the name of the series to be looked up later. Now several months later, praise the heavens! Kodansha has released the first two digital volumes in one hardback omnibus. So let’s jump into Saint Young Men volume 1!
The story of two friends
The manga tells the story of two friends, Buddha & Jesus. After their hard work closing out the last century, the pair decide to take a long-overdue sabbatical and spend some time relaxing in Tokyo. This simple set-up leads to all kinds of sitcom-style hijinx.
In this buddy comedy, Buddha is the slightly more uptight yet level headed one of the pair. Preferring the future benefits of a quality rice cooker to a new PS3 console (the manga occasionally shows it’s vintage). He does like to kick back and as it turns out, has a gift for manga as well as screen printing their t-shirts (that often have little gags written on them). Did you know that Buddha is actually pretty good at Virtua Fighter?
Jesus is his more frivolous and carefree counterpart. Preferring more immediate pleasures which often lead to getting Buddha out of his comfort zone. He’s also slightly naive, befriending a local Yakuza member who occasionally shows up. You would never guess that the Son of God has a semi-popular blog, and he loves that he looks like Johnny Depp!
A Divine Comedy
It’s worth noting at this point that the humour in the series is good-natured and pokes fun at the absurd situation the characters get themselves into. The book never veers into the territory of critique of religion, I actually found it useful as a light-hearted refresher of some of the bible stories. Saint Young Men also piqued my interest in reading Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha to improve my knowledge of Buddism.
Before long, it seemed that every chapter had me laughing out loud on numerous occasions
Each chapter centres around one new activity or occurrence for our duo to navigate. This makes the series great for picking up for a quick read, giving you a self-contained adventure which will no doubt having you howling with laughter. Just take my word for it that divine beings can be hilarious when they are exercising, spending time at the pool or recovering even from a cold.
The first few chapters are humorous. While not belly achingly funny, I was chuckling along to some witty puns or an awkward situation one of our lovable protagonists had gotten themselves into. As the series finds its feet, the jokes land more solidly, with some reoccurring jokes building upon themselves nicely. Before long, it seemed that every chapter had me laughing out loud on numerous occasions, with very few comedic misses. This gives me great hope for the series going forward (it’s still ongoing today) as it feels like it really has hit its stride by chapter five or six.
There is only one tiny flaw, at this point in time, these chapters are around 13 to 14 years old. The manga sometimes likes to reference some pop-culture deep cuts. Not a problem if you’re aware of what songs were hot in Japan circa 2006, but for most of us who were not there, there are a few jokes that leave you scratching your head. I say this is a tiny flaw, as the translator notes do catch you up with these, explaining the lyrics Jesus might have been singing, or the reference to some celebrity that would have slipped past a western audience.
Hikaru Nakamura does an excellent job of delivering the precise amount of detail at the right time. It gives the reader a great sense of place for each scene before concentrating on the characters expressions for the delivery of each joke. Even when a panel is only focusing on the central characters, it never feels spartan. Buddha and Jesus are always rendered with loving detail. I can only imagine the hand cramps caused by drawing Buddha’s tight curls!
Saint Young Men physical release aka the Good Book
Collecting volumes 1 and 2 of the digital publications (chapters 1 to 15) in a quality hardback book. The cover comes complete with a spot gloss finish over the logo and our divine duo. Whoever authorised this extra luxury deserves to be elevated to sainthood.
The book comes with a large amount of translation notes. Rather than stick them all at the end of the book, they appear at the end of each chapter. This helps with some of the more subtle puns in the book, as they really only work in Japanese. This frequency left me confident that I would be caught up with any jokes I may have missed. You really get to wring out every last laugh from the pages. It was a nice touch that the notes also covered religious nuggets too. So if you don’t know your Peters from your Pauls, or think that Nirvanna was just a band from the 90s, you’ll be caught up to speed in a helpful and non-preachy way. Perfect!
Is Saint Young Men Volume 1 worth reading?
Yes! This divine comedy is worthy of everyone’s time. The book starts off humorous, slowly developing the characters and some great reoccurring gags. Saint Young Men soon ascends into the top tier of comedy manga. The hardback omnibus of Saint Young Men volume 1 would be a great addition to any manga shelf. Now, the problem is, I’m stuck between waiting patiently like a saint for the next hardback omnibus release in March 2020 or giving into temptation and picking up the digital editions of the following two digital volumes. Of course, the second option will have me double-dipping in March.