Saint Young Men follows the everyday lives of Jesus Christ and Buddha as they try to navigate their way through the 21st Century and all the changes that have occurred since the early days of man.
They decide to take a break from their saintly duties and settle down in Japan, living together in a no-frills apartment. Each chapter essentially follows a different scenario and displays how these two very different yet also similar personalities react and deal with whatever comes their way.
It’s a very straightforward series that relies on its character portrayals and humour which pays off, thanks to some very funny situations and comedic timing. I honestly had no idea what to expect with Saint Young Men, except that I found it to be an interesting concept.
Now the concept of religious figures being depicted in a real-world setting isn’t exactly new, especially in Western animation. South Park, for example, had religious figures banding together as the Super Best Friends whilst other animated programmes like The Simpsons and Family Guy have also dabbled with the concept.
The idea is intriguing but could also cause offense to some, which contextually is the possible reason that the manga has taken so long to emerge in the West, having originally been released in the late 2000s.
In the case of Saint Young Men, however, mangaka Hikaru Nakamura (author of Arakawa: Under the Bridge) has concocted a story that manages to be both endearing and tongue-in-cheek, making the most of a well-done concept without it ever feeling that its intentions are to upset or offend.
What helps with this is that Saint Young Men is filled with references to Christianity and Buddhism, as illustrated by the translation notes accompanying each chapter. I actually learned a thing or two about Christianity and Buddhism that I didn’t know before which was a nice touch.
Some story highlights for me were a trip to a theme park, clearly modelled as a Disneyland parody, complete with a hilarious roller-coaster reaction from Buddha. There was also the celebration of Jesus’ birthday during Christmas-fitting for the holiday season that’s just been and gone (as of this review being written!).
With any comedy manga though, I do wonder just how many unique ideas and concepts it can produce without becoming repetitive. Based on this volume, I will remain optimistic, however, as it was a lot of fun to read and a story for which you can feel the mangaka’s enthusiasm.
The official English release by Kodansha sees the first two volumes compiled into one hardback containing the first 15 chapters. The translation for Saint Young Men was carried out by Alethea and Athena Nibley who did a great job conveying the humour and the aforementioned translation notes.
Overall, Saint Young Men delivers on its premise thanks to its endearing portrayal of two key religious figures trying to live their everyday lives in modern Japan. The addition of numerous references to Christianity and Buddhism also add to the enjoyment. I look forward to seeing what further shenanigans this unlikely duo could get up to next!
Read an extract from Saint Young Men Volume 1 at the publisher’s website here.