When I first saw this Manga in Book Off in New York I was a little hesitant to check it out. Not only was the cover drawn in an unappealing color scheme, but the story seemed to revolve around Buddha and Jesus – and it was clear this wasn’t a particularly serious work. But I had heard it was quite popular in Japan, and it was written by the same author as the hilarious series “Arakawa under the bridge” (Hikaru Nakamura), so I decided to pick up the first volume.
As I started reading into it, the story was pretty much what I expected: through some set of circumstances Jesus and Buddha (that’s right, the world-famous holy figures) were living together in the same house on Earth. In spite of their great age, for some reason they appear like 20 year old men and have the corresponding speech patterns of that age group. As a result, there was a good bit of slang used which helped me strengthen some of my Japanese vocabulary for conversational Japanese.
In the first half of the book, I found myself laughing at the situations the characters were put in. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers but just imagine Jesus parting the water of a swimming pool in half, much like Moses did in the Bible.
The more I read, the more these “sacrilegious” elements began to bother me. I won’t say I am a particularly conservative person, but for some reason the act of making fun of things that was supposed to be holy got less funny as time went on. I think one reason for this was the author’s arguably one-joke style. There’re always some crazy contrast between something of the holy world and the secular.
I read it to the end, but I was left with a sour feeling in my mouth about whether this type of stuff should actually be funny or not. And the fact there didn’t seem to be much of a long running plot-arc (at least in the first volume) didn’t help. Nakamura’s “Arakawa under the bridge” began with a strange series of events which quickly caught my interest, but “Saint Young Men” these’s no such sparkle to catch my eye.
Regardless of your religious affiliation, if you are *not* the type to be offended at sacrilegious humor you might enjoy this series, and in the process learn some religious terms you aren’t likely to pick up in other manga, like 聖痕（せいこん）which means ‘stigmata’. There’s also a good dose of modern culture references that will tet your knowledge of modern Japanese culture, and provide some interesting topics to research.
But if the premise of this series turns you off, it’s probably best to stay away and avoid getting offended.