Dokyou Shichauzo! and Sansukumi
A Shinto priest, Buddhist monk, and Catholic priest walk into a
“Moe” is often associated with cute anime and manga like K’On! and Lucky Star that are marketed toward the male demographic. But moe is alive and well in female-orientated manga, if you just know where to look! Dokyou Shichauzo! and Sansukumi are essentially about three cute young men doing cute, innocent things and helping each other because they are good friends and good people in general. If you described a manga like that to me, expecting me to actually read it, you’d be more likely to get a book tossed back in your face. Perhaps that’s why I’m impressed by Sansukumi–it overcomes my jaded, low appreciation for all the supposedly cute, fuzzy things in manga. It has impressed others as well, ranking on the Kono Manga ga Sugoi list for both 2011 and 2012. So who are these adorable boys in religious garb and what are they up to?
All three boys come from families that run local religious establishments and are training to carry on the trade. Despite their different beliefs, they are great friends because they understand each other and the unique situation of being an upcoming community leader at such an age. Each chapter focuses on one of the boys and the other two appear in supporting roles. Thus the chapters are episodic and quite short: 7-8 chapters are included in a single ~190 page tankoubon. This format actually complements the writing style. The stories are entertaining in small tidbits, but lack the complexity to carry a long, continuous storyline. Despite that, you can see character development and get a sense of their personalities over the course of the series.
We’re first introduced to Kyoutarou, who lives at the Shinto shrine. Kyoutarou is a complete hetare who has terrible luck and terrible timing that often interferes with the ceremonies he performs. His personality is rather meek, likely a result of living beneath his very strict mother (who completely whipped the father as well). Kyoutarou also has zero spiritual sense, meaning he can’t see any ghosts or spirits that are visible to the other boys. Despite his less than stellar skills, he can work hard to bridge that gap. Unless he’s too busy trying to skip out of work to go on a rare date (only to fail miserably at both tasks!). So whether he’s successful or not is up for debate.
Takahito represents the other major religion in Japan–Buddhism. Takahito has a very serious personality, but he’s also a worrywart. He’s quite concerned with maintaining a good, proper image amongst the temple visitors, which of course crumbles from time to time, much to his embarrassment. Despite being a monk, Takahito can’t stand spirits or ghosts and even the possibility of encountering one is enough to make him faint. In Takahito’s defense, unlike Kyoutarou, he can see dead spirits, which sounds pretty damn scary! Thus, he has trouble walking among the temple graves, particularly at night. He’s teased relentlessly by his father (who has the complete shaven-head monk look), but overall he has a nice family. Takahito is overprotective of his younger sister, unable to realize she’s growing up and he doesn’t cope well with her new rebellious ways. He seems like the most reasonable, level-headed one of the bunch. Takahito is my favorite–there’s just something unspeakably adorable about him.
The last character is Takumi, a quarter-German young man whose father is the pastor of a Christian/Catholic church (I don’t remember if they specified). Takumi was added to the lineup at the suggestion of the mangaka’s editor and he really does add a different flavor to the manga. He tends to crush a bit more on women, although he has no better luck than the other two. Even though Takumi is training to be a pastor, he’s not as serious about taking over the family church. He also has a considerable, almost obsessive, interest in the occult and horror movies. While his hobby seems like a conflict of interest (as Takahito exasperatedly points out), we learn that his priest mentor also loves gory horror movies and they trade recommendations. Takumi subjects the other two boys to his horrific hobby, being the pushiest personality of the three. He also seems like the most light-hearted, playful one, but can be serious and still makes mistakes like the other two.
Dokyou Shichauzo! was the first volume and includes the story of how the boys met. Due to the work’s popularity, the boys’ stories were continued in Sansukumi, which is currently serialized in the monthly Flowers magazine. It’s an enjoyable read. It’s bright and energetic–certainly not boring. It has nice, detailed art. The chapter title and cover illustrations are gorgeous, but the inner art also shows impressive skill for a new artist.
I admit that I love seeing these young men in their various garb. It’s along the same lines as appreciating military uniforms, but much more peaceful! The clothing, the shrine/temple/church, and the surrounding rural town all give the manga a unique atmosphere.
Kinuta also doesn’t skimp on the backgrounds or settings and all the religious objects and ceremonies seem to have some decent knowledge behind their depictions. You can learn something from this manga–I had to look up several things to understand exactly what was going on. Even then, it doesn’t become overbearing and never loses sight of its purpose, which is just to have some fun teasing our poor boys who are trying to do their best. Sansukumi is a comedic, slice of life manga that focuses on the friendship between earnest young men who run around in religious uniforms. If that sounds appealing, this josei manga is a great choice! Even if that doesn’t sound terribly great, I wouldn’t immediately dismiss this manga. At least I’m glad that I didn’t.