Have you ever wondered what would happen if silly, alternate versions of the Christian Messiah, Jesus, and the first Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama, were living together in an apartment in modern Japan? No? Well, Saint Young Men (Seinto Oniisan) by Hikaru Nakamura attempts to answer that question anyways.
The first chapter of the manga jumps into an everyday life of Jesus and Buddha just hanging out in modern Japan. They go shopping, they hang out at home, they read manga—you know, normal holy person stuff. As the first volume progresses, it’s revealed that Buddha and Jesus had asked God* to let them vacation on Earth in Japan. They were interested in Japanese culture and in getting some well deserved R&R after working so hard for humanity.
The chapters follow various, slice of life adventures where the holy duo live normal lives while trying to hide their true identities. Jesus is presented as the goofy one with Buddha as the straight-man. This follows traditional “Odd Couple” style comedy.
Their “divine powers” sometimes come out uncontrollably. For example, Jesus transforms rocks into bread a few times. There are numerous gags that are funnier if the reader has an understanding about the two faiths (Christianity and Buddhism).
While the series is irreverent in its treatment of pivotal figures to the faiths of billions, the series isn’t mean spirited. Jesus and Buddha as presented are silly; however, the series isn’t traditionally insulting. The issue many will have is that Jesus, a co-equal member of the Godhead, is treated as a fallible human.
Jesus and Buddha, in fact, are both presented as fallible. Their humanity is emphasized, with their divinity used for laughs. As a Christian, I know that I often focus on the divine aspects of Christ. Humanizing portrayals can sometimes help remind me that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, so I can appreciate humanizing portrayals such as this. Representations of Jesus like that in western culture, such as in Jesus Christ Superstar, fill this same role for me.
A Christian reader’s enjoyment of Saint Young Men will rely solely on whether you can handle a fully human, non-Biblical interpretation of Jesus. If you can handle such a satirical portrayal, you will be treated to a silly, slice of life manga filled with Biblical humor. If not, then I would recommend you pass on the series.
Saint Young Men is silly and irreverent in it’s presentation of Jesus and Buddha as fallible, human men hanging out in semi-modern Japan.
Is it funny? Yes. Is it irreverent and blasphemous in its treatment of the Christian faith? Also yes.
If you are a Christian willing to look past the absurdity of the basic premise, you may find some enjoyment from this work. If not, stack it on the pile with works like Dogma and Monty Python’s The Life of Brian that you should probably just disregard.
Overall Rating: B
Art: A — I enjoyed the art style. The expressiveness of the characters worked well with the humor of the series.
Characters: … — This is a setup, right? How am I supposed to rate Jesus in terms of character design. He is presented as a fallible caricature of the real Christ, but it’s still funny. Your enjoyment of these characters will rely entirely on how you feel about such a presentation.
Humor: A- — There are a lot of silly, funny moments in the series with Buddha and Jesus living out lives in modern Japan. The humor is often absurd and based on the divine duo trying to pass as normal people.
Story: D — What plot? It’s a series of slice of life vignettes that are funny when taken individually, but there is no real context for them.
* The God in this sense is a universal god that is shared by both Buddha and Jesus. In a sense, it equates both religions as equal in validity and in claims. Theologically, by equating Buddhism and Christianity as merely two means to the same outcome, it denies the claims of both—both being true, means both are simultaneously false, but I digress.
Saint Young Men Volume 1 is available for purchase on Amazon.