I am a huge Rumiko Takahashi fan so I have no problem with reviewing any of her works for the blog. My favorite manga is Maison Ikkoku. The main problem, and the reason some people can’t stand Rumiko Takahashi, is she is adept at making long running series and then making Shonen Sunday buckets and buckets of money. Some people, like me, will read 36 volumes of Ranma 1/2 and love every book. Rumiko Takahashi is great at making enjoyable comedy characters that are utter bastards but you keep rooting for. She is also generally good at doing romantic comedy but she sometimes drags it out too long. But there is a bit of hope. Since she is a manga writing machine she also does several smaller series like One Pound Gospel in between writing huge titles.
I had read the first three books of this series quite a long time ago when it was released by VIZ in single comics format. I think I must still have those somewhere. I remembered it fondly and was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t just nostalgia. It was also highly gratifying to finally see the conclusion to a series where none was expected after nine years of nothing.
Kosaku Hatanaka is a powerhouse boxer with a killer punch that makes him seem guaranteed to be one of Japan’s greatest boxers. Except he is a tremendous glutton and is constantly being disqualified for being overweight or going on crash course diets that insure he loses. Kosaku starts going to confession at the local church in hopes of keeping on his diet. However, he soon starts going just to keep seeing the beautiful nun in training, Sister Angela. Sister Angela counsels Kosaku as a nun but begins to get conflicted as she starts seeing him as more than a lost lamb. So Kosaku fights a series of weirdo boxers who are willing to fight a wash-out fighting his love of food. Sister Angela fights to maintain her vows while continuing to help a man she just maybe falling in love with.
Kosaku went pro as a boxer very young and since then things haven’t exactly been lucky for him. He constantly battles his weight much to chagrin of his coach, all the other boxers at the gym, and Sister Angela all to great comic effect. He also seems to have zero understanding of the life of a nun. However, he does his best to respect the physical boundaries after his first misstep. The miscommunication between the two is very amusing as Kosaku is constantly trying to ask her out. Kosaku is a total moron but a sweet, sincere, goofy moron. He is a good guy and a good boxer when he holds it together for more than a few days. And he always comes off as more lovable than maddening.
Since Kosaku is a protagonist in a Rumiko Takahashi comedy he has to have a horribly huge character flaw. Much like Ataru could never find a beautiful woman he would not try to date; and Ranma who could never turn down a challenge; Kosaku has never found a meal he would not eat. Overall Kosaku is a good guy who wants to do right by everyone, he just can’t control his hunger. The lengths he will go to for a snack are rather incredible. He is also not the smartest guy around. This often means that Kosaku is woefully ignorant of Sister Angela’s position and how he is constantly getting her in trouble without meaning to. As the series goes on he becomes more aware of the difficulty for them to ever have a relationship but it doesn’t stop his love for a second.
Sister Angela has a kind heart and as it starts to make room for Kosaku in it, she really becomes conflicted. She has a lot of determination and the ability to believe in people, even lost ones. We actually don’t learn too much about her till the last book. Then you realize she had a life before the order. Her anger at herself (but mostly her anger at Kosaku) rears its head in many forms. Some times physical and some times verbal. As might be guessed she is angry that somehow he gets to her. You may first feel strange rooting for the Sister to dumped the order and run off with Kosaku, but trust me you’ll get used to it.
Sister Angela also follows the standard Rumiko Takahashi mold of being a goodhearted woman with a bit of a temper. She is sometimes physical in her disapproval in the first book but that is phased out as the series continues. We learn the most about Sister Angela is the fourth book but I never felt that she was some unsolvable enigma. We always knew who she was we just learn where she came from. She is a simple character but a likable one. We see her go through the series with an obvious affection for Kosaku. She always wants what is best for him. As the series goes on the major question is where does her heart actually lie. Does she actually seem as a man rather than just a lost lamb?
As with any good story you have a few side characters to throw in commentary, comedy, and a little exposition at times. Most prominent are Kosaku’s coach and Sister Angela’s abbess and later her aunt as well. Unsurprisingly, Kosaku bears the burnt of most of their frustrations. The coach has had it tough, Kosaku was so promising when he first came on the scene. But now he is a broken man who has moments of belief. Many of these moments come when the Sister has variously “broken up” with Kosaku. Inevitably once the coach starts to see a silver lining something goes awry. The rest of the boxing staff keeps entertained by commenting on the side lines through all this. The abbess and Sister Angela’s aunt have similar thoughts but ultimately different goals. They want Kosaku away from the Sister but one wants her to stay devoted to the church and one wants her to marry some other dude! The abbess and the coach often team up as well.
The actual boxing takes a back seat to the love story. Atleast in this love story, Kosaku isn’t trying to hide his feelings and Sister Angela has a legitimate reason for trying to control her’s. This is rather refreshing. The romance is about 85% comedy and 15% drama which is about how I see real life relationships being. There is also the lack of a legitimate love triangle, the few rivals that appear are for comedic effect. In fact most things that happen are for a comedic pay off even when they seem serious at the time. Like with many romance centered stories, you can see the general ending coming but that doesn’t take away from the journey before it. The little trials and triumphs that Kosaku experiences are the crux, and the best part, of reading this story.
Because it is Rumiko Takahashi there has to be a love triangle. Only the love triangle is between Kosaku, Angela, and God. Fortunately for Kosaku it turns out God tends to be a neglectful suitor. Kosaku is obviously head over heals for Sister Angela and goes out of his way not only to constantly say it but also does things to constantly prove it. Kosaku is persistent if largely ineffectual and sloppy in his affection much like everything else he does. He may be distracted by food but he never stops in his pursuit of sister Angel. Sister Angela begins the series just seeing him as someone in need of help and nothing more. As the series goes on she realizes she has developed feelings for him but she would have to abandon her place in the church for him. As the series goes on she realizes more and more that she cannot easily cut ties with Kosaku but if she continues to see him she will very likely have to leave the church. You always see her being supportive if tempered with a attitude of tough love. She loves him but cannot abandon her commitment to the Church. You know they would make a cute couple if it were not for those pesky vows.
This is certainly a romantic comedy that has boxing in it a good deal and not a boxing manga that has a strong romantic plot. The boxing is almost there to be more of an indication of how Kosaku and Angela’s relationship is going more than the fight itself. It’s not to say that the boxing scenes are unimportant or dull. There are just not anything like Hajime no Ippo. In Hajime no Ippo you have fighters with techniques and training arcs. There is no such thing in One Pound Gospel. Most of the fights are determined by the emotional state of the fighters and who is fighting for a better reason. Also none of the fighters really have special moves or techniques. They are all just as zany boxers with reasons why they would have to fight a black sheep like Kosaku. You have everything from scaredy cat boxers who can’t think of throwing a punch, to Yakuza looking thugs with diet skipping girlfriends, to ultra-religious Mexican boxers who want to open up taco restaurants in Japan, and even a skilled pretty boy champion. Learning how bizarre Kosaku’s next opponent is is half the fun.
Anyone, even if only somewhat, familiar with Rumiko Takahashi’s works will recognize her characters and art style here. Though there is a decade in between the third book and the fourth, she basically maintains her drawing style. There are some subtle differences including Kosaku’s movement away from looking like Ranma’s twin brother, even if it is only slight. This is also more apparent in her shaded and color work. Her gags, physical humor, and movement remain in tact. This consistency isn’t a bad thing. Rumiko has a winner with basically everything she does.
It is not unheard of for manga-ka to go back and finish of a series many years after they have but them on hiatus but it is also very pleasant to see them do it as well. Thankfully One Pound Gospel did not go on hiatus on any major cliffhanger. While it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to see the end, I was not on pins a needles to ever see the end unlike some other series. It is not immediately obvious that there was a decade between unless you are very good at spotting artistic evolution. This is mostly because Rumiko Takahashi has not greatly changed since sometime during the end of Urusei Yatsura. Still it lets you read all four books seamlessly as if there were no break. Hey it also gives me hope that she will wrap up the Mermaid series one day.
I am admittedly not a Rumiko Takahashi fan and that is probably because I find the length of her stories not only daunting but unnecessary. One Pound Gospel is a great mix of charm, humor, and love that easily reminded me of what I DO enjoy about Rumiko Takahashi when it is on a small scale.