Saintly Sundays: Saint Oniisan, a Slice of Eternal Life.

Just before Holy Week starts in my country, I wanted to talk about one of the most fun portrayals of religion I’ve seen in an anime.

I will be focusing on Jesus more though, as I do not know nearly enough about Buddhism to make any statements.

In the most mad libs of anime plots, both Jesus and Buddha have taken a break from their heavenly duties and and take a vacation as roommates in modern day Japan. What follows is a charming and surprisingly lighthearted jab at the nuances of both religions, and how Japan views the two as a whole.

To preface, I am obviously not at all offended by this anime, and I adore the fact that Jesus stars in one of my fav genres, slice of life.

So as I go into the nitty gritty of my review, let’s talk some trivia about the author Hikaru Nakamura and her humble beginnings with this manga:

1. The Japanese name of the manga, Saint Oniisan, is a pun of a famous Japanese song by bands Denki Groove and Scha da Parr called Saint Ojiisan (Saint Old Man).

2. Hikaru got the idea of making divine characters the leads when she was thinking of “powerful” people being put in mundane situations. Pretty similar to stuff like “The Devil is a Part-Timer” in that regard.

3. The interactions of Jesus and Budha in this series was inspired by Hikaru watching her sister and her husband interact with one another. Jesus was the husband (carefree, spends a lot of money, and constantly being berated) and Budha was the wife (frugal, smart, and more serious). It’s all platonic and heterosexual in the manga, of course, as both Jesus and Budha are known celibates.

Let the most blasphemous of fanfics commence.

4. Despite the religious focus of the series, Hikaru didn’t actually know a lot about Christianity, and she knew most of Buddhism from what she learned growing up in Japan. The first five chapters were very Buddha-centric for this reason, and when the manga started picking up steam, that was when she started doing more research and inserting more of the unique references to each religion. I’m glad she did, because this shows she has a respect for both religions and what they stand for.

5. The series never released properly in America, India and sadly, my country of the Philippines for obvious reasons, but did get a release in other western countries such as France and Spain, under the name of The Vacation of Buddha and Jesus.

Now that we have the trivia out of the way, it’s time for me to start my review.

This encapsulates both the manga and the OVA movie, as they are pretty much the same, cutting a few chapters.

The premise of the manga is entirely comedy, and while it didn’t make me laugh out loud, I did have a smile on my face throughout the whole thing.

Of course, the stuff I found the funniest was when their divinity was shown. Animals and plants love them, as when hungry, trees bear fruit to feed them and cats, literally the most selfish of animals, offer themselves up as food with tears in their eyes.

Plus, another fun fact is that Jesus in this anime is a blogger, who blogs about J-dramas and reviews them.

Never before have I felt that “God made us all in his image” until now

Other little quirks as well, such as Jesus’ fear of nails and water (he walks on water because he doesn’t know how to swim), and Buddha’s stalker Mara (a demon in the stories of Buddha who wanted to tempt him out of the tree) sending him obnoxious messages on social media, and the bishounen, androgynous troop of cuckoolander angels:

really make the characters feel alive, and honestly different enough to be considered a separate entities from their actual selves, in an affectionate parody kind of way.

My favorite scene though, just in how corny and yet charming it was, was when Jesus and Buddha went to a sauna with a bunch of yakuza toughs.

Jesus’ clear lack of understanding of Japanese culture, and Buddha’s discomfort at a Yakuza having a tattoo of him on his back is just so funny to me.

Plus, the accidental misunderstanding of Jesus being a second-generation son of a Yakuza head was nothing short of hilarious, and probably the only scene in the whole movie that had me rolling.

This scene also sums up the general feel of the show. It’s a slice of life comedy seinen with sprinkes of religious references, and the two characters just happen to be the figureheads of religion.

Which is why I am so confused as to why specifically this wasn’t shown in my country!

The whole point of Jesus dropping in from heaven was so he could experience all of man’s experiences for himself. It’s just this time around, those struggles are getting followers for his blog and paying rent.

This hits way too close to home.

I think Christianity really needs to learn to lighten up sometimes. Jesus may have been a nomadic preacher, but the Bible also says a lot about enjoying life and its fruits while on this Earth:

Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

This anime, in my opinion, is just another one of those fruits. People who take offense to something as lighthearted as this clearly do not have strong enough convictions about their faith, as if they did, they would not see this as harmful, because at its worst, it’s a harmless little show made by a mangaka who is clearly not very well-versed with Christianity. That in itself was already a reason why I wanted to watch it, as it gives us a view of how non-Christians view Christianity.

Sure, the shallowness of the religous references may turn off some, but the show’s focus is to entertain, not to teach. If you wanted something like Silence, just read Silence. Seriously though, read it, it’s a really good book that offers a much deeper view of the Christianity and its history in Japan. I also plan on reviewing that book soon, so stay tuned!

Overall, it was an interesting show that I enjoyed watching on a chill Sunday morning. Passion of the Christ levels of controversy, this was not.

Probably the roughest prequel to a manga ever.

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