It’s a Christmas miracle! After being published in Japan for over a decade, Saint Young Men is finally here stateside! It’s understandable that it took a long time. Anything depicting some of the most influential religious figures could be a minefield of potential failure. But rest assured mangaka Hikaru Nakamura isn’t here to stir up trouble. There are no comments on if they were legitimate holy men, and there’s no philosophical arguments between the two. Instead, Nakamura balances the holiness of these figures while never forgetting their humanity. She makes Jesus and Buddha so endearing as characters that I couldn’t help but fall in love with this book.
The set-up is pretty simple: after guiding humanity into the 21st century, Jesus and Buddha decided to take a “gap year” to live in Tokyo. From there, each chapter tells a self-contained story where Jesus and Buddha do X, with X being a number of different things. They visit Buddhist temples, an amusement park, celebrate Christmas, and a number of other shenanigans. Your mileage may vary on if this repetition and lack of overall plot work for you. I personally loved it. Every new situation creates new obstacles for Jesus and Buddha, often character centric. It’s moments like these that bring out the best jokes.
The physical comedy is also terrific in this book. Whenever Buddha gets cold, there’s an earlobe joke not far off. As with the rest of the humor, this is always done in good nature and never comes off as mean.
Another Your-Mileage-May-Vary disclaimer is your background in religion and culture. Much like Nakamura’s previous series, Arakawa Under The Bridge, there’s a lot of mentions to Japanese pop culture, and coupled with all the references to Buddhism and Christianity, some of the humor can go over people’s heads. Luckily Kodansha has translation notes at the end of each chapter explaining all these references. I found myself confused over a joke, only to laugh at it later after reading the note. But the notes mention the page number without adding page numbers to the individual pages!
As someone who loves learning, this is a comedy and anthropology book all in one! You get to learn about Buddhism, Christianity, and Japanese culture while wholesomely laughing along the way. It’s an enlightening book that brightened my day every time I opened it (and no, not just because of Buddha’s halo). It won’t be for everyone, but everyone should give Saint Young Men a chance.
Jesus, the Son of God. Buddha, the Enlightened One. Two of history’s most important figures whose sagely deeds have been told and retold. After a few millennia of helping humanity, they have decided to take some time off and rent an apartment together in modern-day Tokyo. But even their saintly status hasn’t fully prepared them to navigate the ups and downs of life in 21st century Japan, from theme parks, to shopping for rice cookers, to the wonderful world of manga. Follow this pair on a goofy, light-hearted, and pun-filled adventure in friendship.Add to CartLearn More