Saint Oniisan: Hikaru Nakamura

Before my brain dissects the book, can it remind you that things are pretty terrible in northern Japan right now? Maybe you heard about that? People in evacuation centres are actually freezing to death in places because desperately needed aid just isn’t making it to them, thanks to the near-total collapse of infrastructure. And as freelance interpreter Hiroko Nakamura has pointed out repeatedly, if the media insists on going up there to report on events/fan hysterical flames, the least they could do is bring a few cases of water and some much-needed supplies for the people they are turning their cameras on. So you know, if you have some time or money or both, here are some ways you can help.

And now let’s think about comics! Because my brain needs to not be sad for at least five minutes a day. And because it also needs a break from the verbosity of 1Q84.

The Saint Oniisan (or Saint Young Men, as the English on the cover would have it) of the title are, of course, Jesus and Buddha. They’re young, they’re crazy, they’re poor and they’re vacationing on Earth. In Tokyo. Because it is manga and everything happens in Tokyo.

Someone (an angel? a god?) in heaven sends them money every month (at one point, we get to see their bank book, with deposits from “Heaven” recorded), and they rent a tiny apartment way out in Tachikawa (suburb city of Tokyo), where Buddha cooks and Jesus nerds out. Seriously. Everything they do, Jesus is taking photos with his mobile phone and uploading them to his blog. When they visit Akihabara (electronics mecca in Tokyo), he literally falls to his knees in prayer. You can imagine his disappointment when he discovers that they are there to spend 80,000 yen on a rice cooker.

This is basically a silly gag/slice-of-life sort of manga. And it’s pretty funny. In one episode, Buddha ends up missing the last train home and spends the night at an Internet cafe, reading every single volume of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha, tears running down his face because Tezuka just understands him so well. Jesus gets into pottery and makes a bread box, but accidentally turns it into bread. Jesus and his miracles are a running joke throughout. Like when he accidentally turns the swimming pool water into wine and gets totally hammered. And then Buddha jumps in to help and also gets totally hammered.

Buddha’s thing is the whole peace and love bit. Riding the last train home, he revels in the warmth of humanity of the packed car until the drunken salarymen start clinging to his long earlobes instead of the train straps. If he sits down for too long, animals crowd around him. People in the park suddenly offer him food. When he catches a cold, he tries to flag down a taxi and a deer comes along to take him to the hospital. When he is hungry and broke, neighbourhood cats offer to serve themselves up on a plate for him. Seriously. One cat even trots up with matches in its mouth, tears streaming down its face. “Barbecue me,” its sad face pleads.

And that face really does plead. Nakamura has a real gift for capturing the essential bits of an expression with a few quick strokes of the pen, which is what really makes Saint Oniisan work for me. Although the stories are funny and charming, they are the kind of thing that quickly slip out of my head as I move on to other stories that are more or less funny and charming. But the movement, the lively feel and the sheer expressiveness of Nakamura’s art gives these stories a kind of physicality that lingers.

But you know this will never get translated into English. Or if it does, I would be really, really surprised. It is pretty sacrilegious. When Jesus gets stressed out, his stigmata bleed. His crown of thorns is equipped with GPS. Learning to swim, he accidentally parts the waters of the swimming pool. I imagine if you were religious, that might bug you a bit. And the idea of Jesus as a twenty-something computer nerd, accidentally calling angels to earth when he jumps too high on a trampoline, probably won’t make you happy either. But it’s so funny.

Also, I found this picture of people cosplaying as Buddha and Jesus. Adorable!

(via magical shop)

UPDATE: Against all expectations and only ten years later, this one has finally gotten an English translation.


  1. Also, Jesus as Johnny Depp’s lookalike! A similarity in which he might revel in for young impressionable schoolgirls from time to time.

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