License request day: Saint Young Men

October 16, 2009


SYMcover1In a recent Unbound column at Robot 6, Brigid Alverson mentions books in what we might call the “Never gonna happen” category of comics from Japan… “culturally problematic series” “that are unlikely to ever be published in the U.S.” Brigid cited Hikaru Nakamura’s Saint Young Men as an example of this kind of book. While the logical part of my brain can accept that the publisher who tries to package this title for an English-reading audience has an uphill hike ahead of them, the part of my brain that is responsible for the vast majority of this blog’s content is reduced to muttering “want… want.. want…” with increasing fervor.

The premise sounds like a micro-joke that you might see on The Simpsons as the family talks about the new season debuts on Fox. Jesus and Buddha take a break from their lives as divinities to share an apartment in contemporary Tokyo and see what the simple folk do. So you’ve got not one but two presumably satirical renderings of religious figures right there, which is always a recipe for a long, unpleasant freak-out.

SYMcover2MangaCast’s Kursten reviewed the first volume, and her take leads me to suspect that the series is of the oddly reverent variety rather than the scathingly satirical:

“This manga is pure genius. The art may not be that exceptional or groundbreaking but the story is. I can probably understand some apprehensions in reading Saint Oniisan due to its religious implications, but the genius of the manga lies in how Nakamura manages to depict the two dieties in a real context without insulting their divinities.”

I think it sounds like a terrific series, with two divinities hanging out and experiencing the everyday (though not the sordid). Nakamura even gives them a bit of an Odd Couple twist: Buddha is frugal and kind of uptight; Jesus goes with the flow.

SYMcover3It’s being serialized in Kodansha’s Morning 2, and by some weird coincidence (or miracle), I actually have a copy of an issue with two chapters in it, which is the source for the terrible scans included with this article. I suppose it’s possible in some distant future that Kodansha Comics might publish it in English, but perhaps we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting. Given the likely density of culturally specific references and remedial religious studies, along with the publisher’s demonstrated ability to manage them well, I’d vote for Del Rey to helm this one. They’ve published manga that seems like it should have been untranslatable, and Kodansha still seems to like them.

And really, the definition of “Never gonna happen” is changing all the time. That goalpost has never been fixed, and it seems to shift a little bit month by month, year by year. I can buy Detroit Metal City at the mall if I want. Is Saint Young Men really that distant a dream?



October 16, 2009


Time’s running out to enter to win a copy of the first volume of Jiro Taniguchi’s A Distant Neighborhood (Fanfare/Ponent Mon). Click here for details.