Saint Young Men First Impressions (Volumes 1-4)

I’ve heard mixed things about Christianity, and know a limited amount of only one country’s iteration of Buddhism. As such, I had no idea what I was getting into when I began to read Saint Young Men, published in English by Kodansha Comics. 

“Christianity? Buddhism? What does any of that have to do with this?” you ask. Well, this manga is set in modern Japan, like your usual manga. It’s about two guys renting an apartment together during their vacation there, see. Those two roomies are none other than Jesus Christ and Buddha. 

At the very least, you don’t need to do research on either religions, for the translators have already done it for you. There are notes in every volume on all the religious references to help you understand what’s going on. Thank God too… for there’s a LOT of stuff to get, especially since Buddhism in particular varies between countries, and this Buddha seems to encapsulate a little of everything.

Let me just say that this is one of the most unique comedic portrayals of religious figures that I have ever seen. In Western culture, most interpretations of religious figures (particularly Jesus) that I’ve seen in pop culture have been done in comedic matters that try to be funny by being offensive on purpose, such as that iconic Family Guy episode where Jesus chainsmokes and is kind of an A-hole (for the record, I do know about the movie, Jesus of Nazareth, but in this post I’m talking about more fictional portrayals). By comparison, Saint Young Men is a simple portrayal of these two kind of just being regular guys; they are on vacation after all. 

With this being a slice-of-life, the characters are where it’s at, since you need incentive to read about people doing boring everyday stuff. In Saint Young Men, Jesus and Buddha are genuinely good friends, which- intentional or not- promotes a social commentary to where people of different faiths can exist in harmony together. I find their interactions to be similar to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Jesus is aloof and acts more like Laurel, while Buddha plays the straight man and behaves more like Hardy (although he too is a bit of a goofball). Their relationship is fun and wholesome, and gives Saint Young Men a refreshing and relaxing feel. 

As for the art, Saint Young Men is very simple. It reminds me of the Descending Stories manga I covered a while back, but since this manga isn’t as serious, the style doesn’t clash. The characters are very expressive, and the panel flow is strong. 

The one nitpick that I have with Saint Young Men is Jesus and Buddha being in it. “But you just said-” Allow me to explain! As previously mentioned, I’m not at all offended by these figures’ portrayal. However, their existence seems a bit… marketable. Regardless of if the mangaka genuinely wants to make a great manga with this premise, the presence of these figures inherently makes Saint Young Men an easy impulse buy (it worked on me, even). If I merely described it as “two guys live together in a flat in Tokyo”, would you be interested? Probably not. Maybe you’d be interested if I said “a Christian man and a Buddhist man live together in a flat in Tokyo”, but regardless, the actual content of the manga isn’t that much different from a bog-standard slice-of-life. There isn’t even any commentary on the social state of the figures’ respective religions, which might be a turn-off for people who like that kind of stuff. 

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Current Verdict: 8.4/10

Saint Young Men is a great manga. It’s a fun, fluffy comedy about two gods living life. Of course, you will need a mind as open as Breath of the Wild’s overworld in order to enjoy it.

Jigokuraku First Impressions (Chapters 1-40)

Artwork from Viz site

You’ve gotta love edgelords sometimes. There’s a little charm in their hackneyed “to kill or not to kill” monologues. Oh, and gore too. And out-of-left-field comic mischief. Jigokuraku: Hell’s Paradise, simulpub in English on Viz’s digital Jump subscription, has got all of that to spare!

In a dark period of Japan’s past (sorry, I’m not weeb enough to tell what era it is just by looking at it), the edgy ninja known as Gabimaru the Hollow is pending execution. However, nothing they try will actually kill him! So, the shogunate recruits him, among other criminals, to journey to a strange island and recover the elixir of life. He is accompanied by swordswoman Sagiri Amaemon, who must watch over him, and immediately decapitate him if he steps out of line. But since this is a battle shounen, she’ll probably never do that to him.

So far, it’s pretty fun. The beginning makes you think it’s going to be a battle royale, but they got bigger fish to fry. And by fish, I mean the giant mutant Bosatsu that live on the island. Basically, imagine if Shou Tucker from Fullmetal Alchemist was Buddhist. The island has a very surreal and creepy, yet whimsical feeling to it, and it makes me curious as to what it has to offer. There are also some powerful, human-looking foes that are super swole and can freely genderswap any time that they want. 

The characters, for the most part, are decent enough. Gabimaru is pretty nonchalant, edgy, and fun. Sagiri starts off as a whiny, “character who gets crapped on for being a woman because it’s historically accurate”-type, but she becomes much more resourceful at ten-odd chapters in. One of my favorite characters is probably the sexy female ninja Yuzuriha. Although she looks powerful, she’s very aloof and doesn’t even seem to take the mission seriously. But she’s still fun to see. I also like Gantetsusai, who is a tall, powerful swordsman that ends up being the “frenemy” of the group, and of Gabimaru in particular.

Sadly, I can’t figure out if these characters are based on actual people from history. The only thing I could recognize were two brothers whose dad was one of the 47 Ronin. Hopefully I’ll be a big enough history buff to be able to say something authoritative during the full review of the series, once it ends.

The art in Jigokuraku is great. It’s very rough and sketchy, with vivid details and great action shots. Word of warning, there is complete female frontal nudity, as well as gore, so stay away if you hate that stuff.

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Current Verdict: 8.25/10

Jigokuraku is a fun, enjoyable, and somewhat addicting historical fiction manga. I recommend it to any fans of battle shounen and edgy stuff.