In my review of the ONE POUND GOSPEL arc”The Lamb Resurrected,” I called attention to the way artist-writer Rumiko Takahashi used the genre of boxing-stories to put forth “a modern-day reading of samurai battle ethics.” A naïve critic might try to impose on Takahashi’s series some superficial oppositional interpretation, in which the comical blunders of the male boxer, amiable dolt Kosaku Hatanaka, served to “deconstruct masculinity” or some such nonsense. In truth, the female author of GOSPEL shows herself to be more than a little fascinated with the ethos of the male warrior, both in this series and others like RANMA ½ and INU-YASHA. The fact that Takahashi’s male heroes often need to be taken down a peg by the women in their lives doesn’t signify a rebellion against the patriarchy. Rather, such a trope more often signals the classical notion that men and women exist to counterbalance one another, in terms of both strengths and failings.
To be sure, Kosaku’s dim-witted but sincere desire for the woman in his life, the novice nun Sister Angela, doesn’t appear in “Dreams” as more than a side-element. This five-part arc was the third storyline in the series, so the young just-turned-pro boxer has already invited Angela to become his girlfriend, only to be summarily rebuffed. Implicity Takahashi intends to line up Kosaku’s general thick-headedness in romance with his similar incomprehension as to the discipline a boxer must observe, if he has any “dreams” of attaining a level of excellence.
The first two arcs also establish the comic rationale of the series: Kosaku loves the sport of boxing, but he loves food as much or more. At one point in the story Sister Angela remarks that if not for her acquaintance with Kosaku, she would never have known that boxers had to watch their weight at all times—a remark that allows her to stand in for uninformed readers, who will have their curiosity about the sport slaked by assorted lectures on the sport. (In contrast, readers don’t get many insights on Catholicism just because Angela’s a nun. Takahashi portrays Kosaku making Angela’s acquaintance by unburdening himself to her in the confession-box—though I rather doubt that nuns usually hear confessions, even in Japan.)
For the first time in the series, Takahashi establishes the reason why Kosaku is so focused on both fighting and feeding: in his heart of hearts, he nurtures the primitive notion that the more he eats, the stronger he is. In “Dreams” the young boxer gets the chance to test his theory. At a time when Kosaku’s already got a bad rep in the fight-game for his inability to manage his weight, the boxer and his long-despairing manager Mukaida get the chance for another bout—only to find that it’s offered by a boxer, Kappei Onimaru, whose reputation isn’t much better than Kosaku’s. Further, in order to fight welterweight Onimaru, featherweight Kosaku must gain twenty pounds. Kosaku takes the fight as an opportunity to pig out in the extreme.
Mukaida allows Kosaku to chase his phantom, and sure enough, the boxer learns how badly his new diet affects his speed and coordination when, as Mukaida puts it, the youth has “twenty-two pounds of dead meat strapped to his body.” Meanwhile, challenger Onimaru is chasing his own demons— or, as the title suggests, dreams that are about to come to an end. Unlike Kosaku, who’s won some bouts despite his bad rep, Onimaru has no wins to his credit, despite the fact that he takes the sport far more seriously than Kosaku does. Initially Onimaru’s manager schedules Onimaru’s battle with Kosaku just to give the older boxer a win—not least because he’s probably going to have to give up the sport, since he’s had no success and his wife has a baby on the way. But even before the two men fight, Onimaru recognizes Kosaku’s inherent skill and power, and becomes angry with Kosaku for abusing his body so flagrantly. Kosaku and Angela even learn that Onimaru keeps a shrine to all of his previous opponents, in order that Onimaru can express how deeply he feels about the sport, even in defeat.
When the water breaks for Onimaru’s unnamed wife—who, incidentally, gives him verbal hell for his stubbornness—the dedicated boxer is on fire to get at least one victory before his child is born. Indeed, Onimaru is so certain that his masculine pride will finally be vindicated that he decides that the name of the child—which he’s sure will be a boy—will be “Victor.” (The wife sarcastically asks, “If it’s a girl, will you want to name her ‘Loser?’”) The fight ensues, and though Kosaku has a hard time of it thanks to his extra weight, he remains the superior fighter and emerges victorious. Onimaru is at last chastened enough to give up on the last remnants of his boxing-dream, and reconciles himself with his new status as father—naturally, of a little girl.
In contrast, though Kosaku no longer believes in his dream of eating anything he wants, it’s axiomatic that he’ll continue to aggravate his trainers by sneaking snacks. But Angela is encouraged both by Kosaku’s good intentions and his inability to live up to them—for this state of affairs ensures that he will always need a “mother confessor. ” Thus she will be able to remain a part of the handsome boxer’s life, even if she’s not quite ready to confess her own feelings in the matter.