So I’ve been professing and doing evangelical work for Saint Oniisan (Saint Young Men). I swear to god, I love this series in the same way that I love espresso brownies! It’s different, pleasing, and truly an enjoyable read (plus a guilty leisure, with all the religious implications involved!). Today I realized I shouldn’t really feel that way, thanks to a really interesting interview of Hikaru Nakamura, author of Saint Oniisan. Manga no Hi’s Manga Interview section, Manga no Chikara) features Nakamura-sensei as she talks about her manga career and how scribble probably has made me (and a couple of other fans) A BELIEVER!
It’s quite interesting how fate (and maybe divine providence) brought on Saint Oniisan. After having impressed a Morning editor with her work “Arakawa Under The Bridge”, the editor contacted her about doing a series for Morning. She was quite elated, having been a fan of Kaiji Kawaguchi’s Zipang and even more honored when they wanted her to do something similar to Kawaguchi’s Chinmoku no Kantai (The Silent Service). However, she knew that creating something like that was beyond her so while she was scribbling images of two friends wearing casual shirts, she thought of turning them into characters, perhaps even making them into Jesus and Buddha, and how the two of them share the same concerns and emotions as we do.
With constant scribbling and drawing, finally she gave birth to Saint Oniisan. As she explains it, there’s barely any thought process involved in creating the manga because the story just happened as she drew the manga. (So don’t think too much when reading Saint Oniisan people!) Perhaps her system works the same way prophets were possessed by Holy Ghost to write psalms and stuff. I’m pretty sure it’s divine providence. lol. Nonetheless, she does go on a spree in terms of writing and her editors does some editing for things she overlooked.
At first, she really didn’t think thought the idea could be a little problematic especially with its religious implications, but she got a bit worried when her editor already found it interesting only after she has gotten 4 pages in. Her editor though did reassure her that her work was indeed interesting, however, because of the subject at hand, they had to be more careful each time they bring out a chapter. In the interview, this cautious feeling went on until the third chapter. The previous chapters did not receive much reactions. It wasn’t until after all the introductions were done (the first 3 or 4 chapters had lengthy descriptions of Jesus and Buddha’s past) that she managed to play with the story more, eventually garnering positive responses.
The reception towards to her work was of course warm to the point that even pastors and catholic priests actually write her and tell her that they’re even distributing this manga in their school!1 She adds that it’s probably because they want to show how Jesus and Buddha can freely and casually interact with each other. I think in Japan there are some Catholics who find it hard to profess their faith perhaps due to its religious discipline compared to the more relaxed Shinto and Buddhist faiths. It can also be due to the strain caused by their historical exodus during Tokugawa era. Either way, for these pastors, Saint Oniisan was a great example in overcoming this tension between these two religions. If Jesus and Buddha can get along, then why don’t we all just get along?
The interview also had other interesting trivia about Nakamura-sensei. Prior to being a mangaka, she actually thought of joining SDF. In her third year in middle school, she started soliciting her manuscripts to Shounen Gangan. She really didn’t have the leisure of being a doujinshika, (she reasons that she lived far and didn’t have enough friends. lol.), so this is the route she took. She initially submitted serious mangas, but after her 3rd application she thought of switching her epic 50 page battle2 to a 16 page gag manga. The editor told her to bring more material for her gag manga, and as you say, the rest is history. Of course, she did try to stop doing gag manga afterwards, but somehow found herself more inclined in writing comedy. For a girl though, what I find interesting was how she was not inclined to writing love stories. She even adds that she’s quite poor at it.
Reading this series of interviews with Nakamura-sensei was rather refreshing to read especially since I’ve been curious on what she’s like as a mangaka and how she even came up with something like Saint Oniisan. My friend puts it best that you don’t need brains to create crack like that. lol.