...or, what if God (and Buddha) was one of us.
If you're still familiar with one-hit wonder Joan Osbourne's If God Was One of Us, then you may have played around with that thought. Did you imagine the earthbound Jesus as the holier version of King Midas, who turned everything he touched into gold? Did His footsteps turn the hot asphalt He walked on into holy ground? Was He even remotely human, in every sense of the word?
What if He was just chillin' in a rented studio apartment, with Buddha as his roomie?
In Nakamura Hikaru's Saint Young Men, two of the poster men of religion, Jesus Christ and Buddha, decide to take a break from their work and descend into Japan (surprise, surprise) for good old R&R. They rent an apartment, and judging by Buddha's stricken reaction at Jesus' exorbitant purchases, they're also restricted to a certain budget. Will they enjoy their vacation? Maybe, if only their divinity wasn't in the way.
Contrary to the Jesus Christ in every Christian's minds, Nakamura's rendition of the Son of God is incredibly human and a tad carefree, to the point of being a bit out-of-character at first glance. To Japanese highschool girls who catch glimpse of Him buying food in the nearest kombini, He is that Johnny Depp-lookalike who has a penchant for the Shinsen-gumi. He owns a Vaio, and is a J-dorama blogger who makes sure His reviews come out the same day that the episodes get aired - and His blog gets thousands of hits per day.
Tl;dr, Jesus is a weeaboo, just like us.
On the other hand, Buddha of Saint Young Men is truer to the Buddhist doctrine as the man who has discovered the Middle Way (the path between the two extremes of hedonism and self-mortification): he is temperate, scolds Jesus for squandering their limited vacation allowance on needless luxuries like a beginner's clay modeling kit, and a full set of Shinsen-gumi cosplay, and absolutely loathes the extreme sensation of riding the rollercoaster. But he finds it in himself to become a Leah Dizon fan.
As expected of a manga of this genre, Saint Young Men pokes a small jab at its protagonists, putting Christianity and Buddhism in a humorous light. The manga even goes so far as to "reveal" that the fabled Baptism in the Jordan River was not a proof of Jesus' divinity more than a show of John the Baptist's great compassion, and that the white dove that descended from the heavens was the Father Himself, inquiring about the welfare of His slightly aquaphobic Son.
Jesus' addiction to blogging was also explained as a manifestation of his desire for an audience; whether or not this translates to craving attention depends on the readers. I myself know that this isn't always the case.
One of the bigger questions about this manga is whether or not Nakamura's Jesus was too out of character. Is He, really? Jesus of the Bible was capable of playing truant as a kid to show His wits (or youthful presumptuousness?) off to them pesky old men; He certainly was cheeky enough to make His unbelieving disciple to touch his wounds just to show that he was that same person who died on the cross.
He was also human enough to wreak havoc on the merchants in His Father's temple - but this manga series does not emphasize His righteous anger (an error which will be righted in this particular sidestory).
One of the more obvious reasons why this obscure title shines is its irreverent handling of subject matter, yet never straying far from what could be the entire point of this manga series: Jesus (and Buddha, depending on your beliefs) was once human, just like us. Does it follow, then, that mere humans can transcend humanity and become divine?
Another point being, of course, that people of varying beliefs can hang out with each other and become roomies. It'll be wonderful if that other religious figure (hint: turbans) made an appearance, but we all know what would probably ensue. Denmark knows .
Of course, this seems to be lost in the more orthodox lot of believers and those too narrow-minded to appreciate the message behind the satirical comedy that is practically on the same level as Cromartie High and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (thanks to its tasteful placement of cameos like that one God of the New World).
While the manga has reportedly been received warmly by the Christian and Catholic populations in Japan, the manga a good ice breaker between people of Christianity and Buddhism - and by extension, Shintoism - it's obvious how people from the more fundamental Christian countries will take this gem: all fire and brimstone. And it's sad, really.
For those who missed the scanlation link: Saint Young Men