License request day: Saint Young Men


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?


6 Responses to License request day: Saint Young Men

  1. YES. PLEASE. I would pay a publisher large chunks of my money so that they would publish this!!

  2. gia says:

    Sometimes I wonder if manga fans don’t overestimate the problems of bringing over Saint Onii-san, culturally speaking. Buddhists seem happy enough to have moe versions of their prominent figures running around Japan, and I can’t think of a time I’ve heard of a Buddhist boycott of any kind of entertainment literature– a perfunctory Google search turns up a few political ones (boycotting Chinese goods, non-violent protests in Burma, and some kind of speech from the Pope), but that’s about it.

    Now, if the right set of Christians came upon it at the right time they might protest, but somehow I doubt that it would reach Da Vinci Code levels– and of course, that boosted the film’s take more than harmed it, most likely. Not to mention that the DVC was all about a supposed conspiracy, placing the Catholic church as the “bad guy,” as opposed to the much more light-hearted blasphemy of Saint Onii-san.

    I think the problem publishers have with licensing Saint Onii-san is the same problem they have with so many of these off-the-beaten-path series aimed at adults: there are only so many established readers for that kind of book, and plenty of them are happy to read scanlations for free so how do they find enough market to make a profit off the series? Unfortunately, the few dozen manga bloggers who continue to clamor for the series simply aren’t enough of a market for that.

    Actually, if I may be so cynical, perhaps the best way to market the series would be to send copies of the book to Christian leaders and televangelists and the like– it would certainly get the word out…

  3. Mitch H. says:

    Man, Tatsuya Ishida’s Sinfest has been doing that sort of crap for eight years now. I’m pretty sure the collections are rotting on better-stocked direct-market comic shops everywhere.

    Alt-cult types like to posture as if the big bad Christianists are gonna come slap ’em away in the Big House if it weren’t for Daddy Government protecting the beats. Far as I can tell, it’s all bullshit posturing.

    Hell, if you want people to burn down bookstores, just throw a bishie Mohammad manque into the mix, a la Super Best Friends. Not even Ishida tries that one.

  4. davidpwelsh says:

    Wow, I just thought the comic looked neat and that I’d like to read it.

  5. genetnet says:

    I don’t get why people think this is going to trigger some massive outrage from the Christian community. I just don’t see it happening. It’s so lighthearted and doesn’t outright insult anyone’s religious ideologies, I’m upset it hasn’t been licensed.

    It’d be different if they portrayed Muhammad, I could see it pissing off people, but I don’t even think the Japanese version has gone there. (I only have the first 3 books, though, I doubt they ever will touch that.)

  6. […] wants someone to publish Hiraku Nakamura’s Saint Young Men, serialized in Kodansha’s Morning. It has just been picked up for publication in French by […]

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