Monday, June 20, 2011
MYTHCOMICS #15: ONE POUND GOSPEL
PLOT-SUMMARY for “The Lamb Resurrected”: Boxing-trainer Mukaida has a vexing problem. His most promising young fighter, Kosaku Hatanaka, loves boxing and has a killer punch. But Kosaku also loves to eat like a pig, so that he constantly breaks his weight-training. On a side-note, Kosaku also has a passion for Angela, a young female nun. But this plotline isn’t explored in “Resurrected.”
A flashback starts the story: four years previous to the main action, amateur boxer Kosaku is matched against a professional boxer in an exhibition. Pro Taro Matsuzaka is so confident that he doesn’t bother wearing his headgear. Kosaku, after wheedling a promise of a steak dinner from Mukaida, kayos Taro with one blow. Four years later, Kosaku, still trying to make it as a pro boxer, is challenged to a bout by Taro. This puzzles Mukaida, for Taro should be in a different weight-class than Kosaku. It’s revealed that because Taro lost all his teeth thanks to Kosaku’s punch, he’s been plotting for years to challenge Kosaku and beat him to a pulp. But because Kosaku kept getting heavier, Taro had to keep putting on weight. Mukaida becomes torqued at Kosaku’s overeating and assigns the young boxer’s training to a subordinate. During the final match, Kosaku wins only after the coach returns to his corner, and Taro is convinced that Kosaku’s first win wasn’t a fluke.
MYTH-ANALYSIS: Whereas many American boxing-stories are informed by the Protestant ethic of making money, Japanese tales in the genre focus somewhat more on a modern-day reading of samurai battle ethics. Admittedly, since author Rumiko Takahashi specializes in comedy, the high seriousness of the samurai may be seem undermined by a young boxer too dim to know that nuns don’t date. Nevertheless, Takahashi is one of the few female comics-artists who shows a Kirbyesque attention to the mechanics of combat (magical swordplay in INU-YASHA, martial arts in RANMA ½). This demonstrates a fascination with the archetype of the noble fighter in spite of all the comedic elements.
Kosaku’s mentor/sensei Mukaida is in the position of attempting to rein in Kosaku’s uncontrolled (or uncontrollable) impulses. Other stories establish that Mukaida has no life outside his gym, so that his protégé Kosaku is in essence a surrogate son. Were the character rendered realistically one might view them as comprising a co-dependent relationship, wherein Mukaida gets as much satisfaction reining in Kosaku as Kosaku does from breaking training. However, in “Resurrected” the story emphasizes a more mythic father-son relationship, in which Mukaida deserts Kosaku at a critical moment in order to force the boxer to honor the severity of his training. But because Takashi’s brand of comedy favors the humor of endless repetition, Kosaku’s “resurrection,” his “doing the will of the Father,” makes no permanent impression on future storylines, wherein Kosaku simply goes right back to overeating. In fact, near the conclusion of the climactic battle, Kosaku once again makes Mukaida promise him a steak dinner if Kosaku wins the match-- insuring that the characters are essentially back where they started, albeit having entertained readers with a spectacle of samurai intensity.
Taro is more interesting than many of Kosaku’s opponents in that he’s clearly a polar opposite of the young hero. Where Kosaku has to labor not to eat, Taro has to exert himself to put on weight, which poundage hampers him during the climactic match. Unlike Kosaku, Taro doesn’t initially care about boxing as a sport; he enters it casually and only stays in the game to get revenge on Kosaku. However, the injury to his mouth is clearly placed on his own shoulders by his own inattention to the sport; moments before he enters the ring the first time he meets Kosaku, he’s busy listening to his cheering section and says that Kosaku “doesn’t know his place.” Like many a maimed supervillain Taro constantly flaunts his Mark of Shame, often pulling a set of false teeth from his toothless mouth to shock or disgust onlookers. Yet Mukaida observes that Taro may have more of an appreciation for boxing than he overtly professes. The conclusion validates this insight: Taro’s kayo by Kosaku proves to him that Kosaku’s the superior fighter, after which Taro considers continuing in the game he claimed not to love. He does get in one last jab at Kosaku, popping out his teeth to show how easily he can lose weight.
All of the ONE POUND story-arcs appear (at least in English) with the word “lamb” in the title, which is clearly meant to signify Kosaku. Kosaku’s only interest in Christianity seems to be Sister Angela, so he presents a dubious target for Christian symbolism, even one filtered through Japanese pop culture. Sister Angela’s main purpose in this story is to justify the title, for during a confessional she terms Kosaku a “lamb led easily astray.” Takahashi doesn’t evince any encyclopedic knowledge of Christianity generally or Catholicism specifically, but assuming that the Viz Comics translation accurately reproduces her text, she seems to have made some connection between the Christian motif of the wayward lamb and her samurai-with-no-impulse-control. Both images suggest a devotee who can be brought to a state of excellence once he transcends earthly limitations—though, since Takahashi has not as yet concluded the series, it seems unlikely that she will ever bestow on Kosaku any permanent “resurrection.”