After years of demand, Saint Young Men finally makes its English language print debut courtesy of Kodansha Comics. Buddha the Enlightened One and Jesus, Son of God have successfully brought the 20th century to a close, and after a few millennia of guiding humanity to salvation, these two sacred ones are in need of some rest and relaxation. They decide to share an apartment on Earth in Tokyo, but living among mortals in the 21st century is no cakewalk for the saintly duo… They may find it difficult to navigate modern Japanese living, but Jesus’ carefree attitude along with Buddha’s domestic qualities and maybe a few divine interventions will surely allow them to enjoy their new lives with peace and love.
Given the subject matter, it is not surprising there has been a long wait for this series to get a physical release and that publishers might’ve been hesitant to bring it to English speaking audiences. However, this is an exceptionally clever/witty series that deserves to be seen by a wide audience. Having received a digital release earlier this year and getting a 2-in-1 hardcover release this month, fans who have been clamouring for a physical release and manga fans in general owe it to themselves to pick this one up. In addition to collecting two volumes, this edition includes a fantastic introduction from the British Museum’s Japanese Arts curator Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere, which provides a great insight into the impact the series has had and how it helped lead to the British Museum’s Manga exhibition last summer.
Hikaru Nakamura is one of the bestselling creators working in manga today. Her previous series Arakawa Under the Bridge was very popular in both Japan and the west, but it was something of an injustice that her bestselling series that won her both the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize and a nomination at Angoulême wasn’t available for English consumption. With this now rectified, it is clear all her accolades and sales figures are well deserved.
Whilst the premise could lend itself to being rather complicated, Nakamura keeps it simple by not delving too deeply into how these two religious figures are living together in the mortal world. The main humour comes from the two trying to function in a society far removed from what they have previously experienced and the cultural shock of modern Japan. Beyond some gentle prodding and some visual humour, there is no commentary on either religion’s place in modern society. Instead, humour is found in the making of Jesus and Buddha’s more iconic features being made into foibles whether it be the practicality of wearing a crown of thorns all the time – especially when you’re on a crowded Tokyo commuter train – or reciting sutras on a rollercoaster. Both also have insecurity in their appearances with Jesus being confused for Johnny Depp when he’s out and about and Buddha’s urna being a frequent target from passers-by.
Nakamura’s art is also a highlight. She manages to make two larger-than-life figures like Jesus and Buddha appear down to earth and normal whilst at the same time packing the series with plenty of visual gags and over-the-top moments. Buddha winning a statue of himself in a sweepstakes is funny enough, but Nakamura’s visuals enhance the absurdity of it all to an even greater degree.
It’s been a long wait for this series, but fans will be more than satisfied with this fantastic edition. Anyone who appreciates comedy in their comics need to give Saint Young Men a look.
9781632369369 – H/B – £21.00