Thursday, October 20, 2011
Nakamura Hikaru: St. Oniisan (2007-present)
The author is Nakamura Hikaru 中村光. The title in Japanese is Saint Oniisan 聖☆おにいさん, but it comes with its own author-specified English title, which shows up on the cover: Saint Young Men. I actually hate it when manga do this: the pre-supplied English titles are almost always geared toward the Japanese audience, meaning they work for people with only a vague grasp of English (sometimes they work quite well from that perspective), but they're lousy when read by a native English speaker. "Saint Young Men" is a lousy title. Anything would be better. How about "Holy Bros"?
But that's the only thing about this series that misses. Everything else is pure comedy gold.
The gimmick is that, shortly after the millennium, Buddha and Jesus decide they need a vacation, so they come to earth - Tokyo, to be exact - and take an apartment together. If that sounds like a variation on a classic joke set-up - "so Buddha and Jesus walk into a bar, and Buddha says..." - that's because it is. It's a killer premise, legendary from the start - be honest, you smiled the second you read my explanation of it. Already you're imagining the possibilities.
freeters - dudes in their early twenties, aimless and underemployed. There's a wicked subtext about the superfluousness of religion in contemporary Japan, and the sheer numbers of young people falling through the cracks in the system, and oh yeah, the witty observation that Jesus, as traditionally depicted, kinda looks like a modern hipster - skinny, long-haired, with a wispy beard. Buddha, too - looks surprisingly convincing in a puffy North Face coat.
I guess what I'm admiring is the craftsmanship. Nakamura had an inspired idea, but what's making it work is his mastery of all the comic techniques you could think of. This series is like a textbook of comedy, everything from complicated visual puns to low comedy, character-driven humor and off-the-wall gags.
What it's missing is a hard edge, but I don't think that's a bad thing. There's plenty of blasphemy in here, but it's all so good-natured and light-hearted that it's hard to imagine anybody getting too het up about it. Maybe Rick Santorum, but nobody sane. In fact, somewhat surprisingly given that it's about young men in their early twenties (well, not really), there's been no mention at all of sex. Nakamura's keeping it family-friendly. Which ends up giving the whole series this really benign glow. I'm not saying it's exactly faith-promoting, but it's not trying to grind any axes either. It's just fun. Endlessly fun.
EDITED 11/26/11: I refer to Nakamura Hikaru as a "he." In fact Nakamura Hikaru is a "she." Imagine my embarrassment. Feel free to doubt anything I write about anything from here on out.