When I first heard about Hikaru Nakamura’s Saint Young Men, I was curious but cautious. Could a manga about Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha sharing an apartment be funny without relying on “edgy” shock humor? Fortunately, Vol. 1 set me at ease with its well-thought-out jokes and earnest character development. Vol. 2 is out now from Kodansha Comics, and it follows the sacred pair as they get into earthly adventures at Christmas time, shopping districts, Buddhist temples, bathhouses, and more. So, is it good?
This manga continues to do a great job of incorporating references to Buddhist and Christian lore without bogging events down with too much exposition. Most of the humor works even without prior extensive knowledge of either religion, but there’s also an index at the back with information that’s helpful if you want to gain more context. My favorite example of this volume converting religious references into slice-of-life(-ish) comedy involves Buddha playing a crane game. The mechanical claw is likened to the titular silk from Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “The Spider’s Thread”, turning a scene with cute stuffed animals into a comedy about damnation. Juxtapositions like this are among the manga’s best, as they draw upon fascinating religious material and pop culture affectionately and without being afraid to get silly. Other highlights include references to the Tower of Babel, Buddha’s being birthed from his mother’s side, and even ABC’s Lost.
A lot of the fun also comes from the protagonists’ earnest personalities and bonds. Take for instance Jesus’s excitability and eagerness to spend money, while Buddha has to be the more financially conscious one and hold him back. Jesus’s amusing fondness for the extravagant also shows in his love of Christmas, which he doesn’t realize is a celebration of his birthday– he thinks it’s all about Santa, and really, can you blame him? Buddha’s goings back-and-forth between serious spiritual matters and just trying to relax are also relatable and fun to read about.
The pair’s banter with each other is well-written and flows quickly, smoothly linking one joke to the next. With that said, it’s the moments where they go out of their way to assist or be kind to one another that shine the brightest. Despite all their heavenly significance, these iterations of the characters are lovable due to how well they’ve been humanized. All the light commentary on modern society’s strangeness and doing the right thing wouldn’t be nearly as affecting otherwise.
Art-wise, this volume is similar to the series’s debut: clean, functional, and heavy on physical comedy. Seeing the son of God make so many over-the-top facial expressions, from pouting to laid-back joy, is a lot of fun. The flow of the humor, and events in general, from panel to panel is polished and effective. These aren’t the most groundbreaking or unique visuals you’ll ever see, but they consistently impress where it matters most.
Once again, Saint Young Men entertains by mixing the sacred and the silly without ever feeling too edgy or cynical. Jesus and Buddha’s adventures in this volume are among the series’s funniest to date, and religious lore references get used in very creative ways. Of course, the odd gag might be a bit less amusing than the others, but there are no flops here– just an earnest good time.