[From May Issue 2013]
Saint Young Men
“Saint Young Men” is a humorous comic that was first serialized in a manga magazine for young adults in 2007. It has been so popular that, when published in book form, it sold more than two million copies in one year. In 2009, it received the short story award for the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize. The two heroes are Buddha (Gautama), the founder of Buddhism, and Jesus Christ, the Christian messiah.
In the story, in order to enjoy a vacation in this world, Buddha and Jesus live happily together, sharing an apartment in Tachikawa City, Tokyo. They live in a small room without a bath, and wear casual clothes such as hand-made T-shirts and jeans. Sometimes they are like a family, at other times, like close friends who are considerate of each other and respect each other.
Buddha is a very level-headed kind of guy and takes charge of most of the household chores: cooking, cleaning and managing the domestic finances. He is like a mother. When he says something virtuous, a halo shines around his head. When he walks outside, many animals gather around him. In one episode he reads TEZUKA Osamu’s “Buddha,” and, deeply moved by his own life story, becomes a fan and buys up all the volumes.
Jesus has an easy-going temperament and often laughs. When there is something to be glad about, he works miracles. Although he isn’t very physically robust, he cures the sick just by drawing near. He can change stones into bread and water into wine. He is up to date with the latest technological developments in personal computing, enjoys using the Internet and even writes a blog. He is aware that people say that he looks like the American actor Johnny DEPP.
The story is not only about Buddha and Christ; legends and figures from other religions also appear. These incidents are depicted as occurring in real life. For instance, when the two face a crisis, their apostles come flying down from heaven to rescue them and solve their problems. Even if the reader knows little of these religions, each episode is bound to bring a smile to reader’s faces.
Readers sympathize when, laughing and crying, they read about these great men, who have been the focus of such ardent worship and respect, leading ordinary lives. Also, while many modern manga are high octane and fast paced, this work has no extreme storylines, villains or criminals. For fans of the work, its main appeal is the aura of Buddha and Jesus.
Exhibited at the British Museum from January to February 2011, this work really struck a chord with the general public. The work was exhibited in the museum’s Asian galleries where Japanese culture is introduced alongside bronze ware, ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) and haniwa (clay figurines) with explanatory labels. According to reports, a spokesman for the British Museum said, “Although it deals with religion, I am impressed by the witty content, which encourages tolerance in a cheerful, easygoing manner.”
Text: KOMIYAMA Ranko