My very first introduction to manga was Rumiko Takahashi’s “Maison Ikkoku”, well over a decade ago. Matt Wayne at Milestone Media promised me that if I didn’t like it, he would pay me back. Instead, as he knew would happen, I fell in love with the book and for a while read anything and everything by Takahashi that I could find.
One thing I discovered over the years is that while Takahashi has a handful of series that have run for huge amounts of time and volumes (“Ranma 1/2”, “InuYasha”, “Urusei Yatsura”), she also has some titles up her sleeve that had a much shorter and more erratic lifespan. One of those was “One-Pound Gospel”, a strange story about a boxer who loves food and is infatuated with a local nun. Sister Angela decides that she’s going to use Kosaku’s love of her to try and keep his eating under control (to keep him from moving up into more difficult weight-classes). It’s a really strange premise, and I’ll admit that I was a little bewildered when I read this book way back when.
With Takahashi having returned to “One-Pound Gospel” about a year ago and finally wrapping the story up (not bad when you consider it debuted in 1987), Viz is bringing the four-volume series back into print, and I’m delighted because I’m finding a new appreciation for the book. The book does start a little rockily, with Kosaku declaring his love for Sister Angela and impulsively kissing her on the lips, but Takahashi almost immediately backs away from that level of intensity between the two (which is just as well, since Sister Angela’s response was to smack him, so it would have been an even shorter series than it already was) and instead the two develop an interesting sort of gentle-affection rapport that carries them through the book.
Takahashi does her best to keep “One-Pound Gospel” from being just another “fight of the week” story, so each match has its own hook. At first, Kosaku merely needs to get another win. But from there, there’s a new and slightly different obstacle in his path, from his accidental vomiting in a match keeping all prospective opponents away, to someone four weight-classes higher challenging Kosaku to a match (even though the difference in weight between the two is muscle, not fat). It’s easy to see why Takahashi set the title aside before too long; trying to have “One-Pound Gospel” run for 20+ volumes could have gotten tiresome and old, barring a massive amount of inspiration. Instead, though, it keeps a nice level of sweetness running throughout the book, with delicate art that shouldn’t work for a book partially about boxing, but really somehow fits perfectly. Kosaku’s perpetual band-aids and scrapes on his face and hands and chest seem cute at first, until you’re reminded first-hand just how he’s receiving them; it’s keeping that balance between the two that in many ways sums up “One-Pound Gospel” with its careful balancing act between different genres.
“One-Pound Gospel” is neither a romance book nor a boxing book, but it combines the best of both of those kinds of stories. Knowing now that we’re getting an official conclusion to the series? Well, that makes me all the more excited. (Now if only Takahashi would create another two or three volumes of her “Mermaid Saga” to conclude it, I would be in seventh heaven.) I will warn you, though, that reading “One-Pound Gospel” if you’re trying to lose weight can be a little damaging. I’ve already eaten two snacks just while writing this review, and I don’t even want to begin to discuss how much I ate last weekend while re-reading the book. Food, romance, and exercise, now that’s my kind of a good time.