Reviews: Saint Young Men

Blasphemy Has Never Been Funnier

An odd-couple pairing featuring both Jesus of Nazareth and Siddhartha Gautama as a pair of friends holidaying on the mortal world. Written in Japan. Sounds like a recipe for much fundamentalist rage? You bet! However this manga is also hilarious and is never mean-spirited in the portrayal of either holy personage. Rather they both seem very personable, the kind of person who does have failings but you could believe that they earned the title of "holy man".

The main thrust of humor in this work revolves around how the two of them interact with, and relate to, life in modern Japan and their efforts to conceal their true identities. Power Incontinence strikes and strikes often, threatening to bust their cover and their desperate attempts to retain their anonymity is about half of the humor. The other half is how Jesus is a mild Cloud Cuckoolander and Buddha is a Straight Man with slight Tsundere tendencies.

Other personages and references to their respective religions also appear and are legitimate objects of fun. For example the Archangels follow Jesus around and fear for his safety after what the Romans did to him. When summoned, Uriel is a Knight Templar who curses the wasabi to never bear fruit again after Jesus ate some raw. Buddha draws a Yonkoma that has all of his followers in stitches. Its events like these which bring the laughs but never feel like they are making light of, or disrespecting, either religion. Or at least as an observant Catholic growing up in a Buddhist household, I never found it so.

The great attraction of this work for me however is that it so thoroughly humanizes the two leads. This does not detract from the reverence that each is due but rather gives the impression that Jesus Was Way Cool and so was Buddha. Seeing them struggle with things like the rent and impulse buys eating up their budget, something most of us can empathize with, reminds us that each one was incredibly humble. Even more so when All Myths Are True (or at least it is for them) and they literally could live like kings if they wanted. The end message is that Jesus and Buddha are likeable and lovable, even when they make us laugh at their antics. They seem to genuinely and deeply care about the people around them and really that’s better than most people who would style themselves as a “holy man”.