One Pound Gospel

Rumiko Takahashi has got to be rolling in the money now. Her creations have been a huge part of the anime and manga scene for over two decades, and they are cornerstones in dating anime eras. Did you become a fan during the run of Urusei Yatsura? Maybe Maison Ikkoku or Ranma 1/2? Or, if you're a recent fan, Inuyasha? Obviously, her long-running series are important to any anime fan.

For all her mega-works, Takahashi has also created a few shorter stories throughout her career. Although most of them turned out to be horror stories, a unique title from among them is One Pound Gospel. Takahashi has worked on the manga off and on inbetween her other stories for many years, publishing little bits from 1987-2001. The 50-minute OVA dates from 1989 and tells the story found in the first five chapters of the manga. It was never a great-looking show and time hasn't been kind to it, but if you're a Takahashi fan, it's still a program worth tracking down.

Kosaku's a pro boxer, but you wouldn't know it from the way he acts. Although he would love to be a winning pugilist, his body tells him he'd rather be a gourmand. Encouraged to retire after puking his guts up during a match, he's still determined to give the fighting world a go. But how can he reconcile his love for food and his desire to be a championship boxer? Enter Angela. She's a Roman Catholic nun-in-training who has not yet taken her vows. Having thought Kosaku was a homeless man without food, she's terrified to find out that she's made his problem worse. She becomes fast friends with Kosaku and encourages him in his training, though Kosaku would rather have Angela as a girlfriend than as yet another coach. Angela, quite sure of herself and her dedication to God, will have none of it, but it's not like she's made of steel either. As a big bout approaches, Kosaku will have to fight his biggest opponent -- his stomach -- and needs all the prayers Angela can offer on his behalf to defeat it.

So what kind of show is this really? Is it a boxing fest? Well, not really...there are boxing scenes, but they are pretty quick and to the point, not the long-lasting fights that we see in real life. It's more realistic than, say, Rocky, where the boxers take more punishment than a person could receive and survive in a match. But on the whole, it plays out a lot like those films, where the hero has to overcome in training and then goes on to the main bout. In this way, it's stereotypical.

The bit with Sister Angela is where it becomes a bit more interesting. Rarely do we see Christians of any stripe portrayed in anime or manga; they make up a miniscule part of the Japanese population, so the presence of a nun is (in this context) fascinating. Angela breaks some stereotypes of the nun's life, as some of my fellow reviewers have pointed out, comparing her with Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act. But I think that Angela's character makes a lot of sense here. She is dedicated to God; she is more interested in Kosaku's soul than in a romantic relationship with him; she prays regularly. Yes, she gets tipsy -- anybody realize that Roman Catholics probably have the least theological problems with alcohol theologically of all Christian denominations? This isn't too surprising. And as a novice, Angela isn't expected to have perfected the life of a sister by any means. Although she only appears here and there in the story, she is by all means the character on which the show's balance depends. I'm glad Takahashi made the effort to create a unique character who doesn't quite fit the standard Japanese molds.

But do the two concepts -- boxing and a nun -- combine well? Maybe, maybe not. Few boxing enthusiasts are interested in stories about nuns, I'd imagine. Though my childhood pastor, a great gentleman indeed, was a big closet fan of boxing, I don't think too many Christians think all that highly of the sport. And those who might come into the show for the romantic side will be disappointed, not only because we aren't watching Maria from The Sound of Music falling for Mr. Von Trapp but also because there's a lot of throwing up going on. Now it's all off-screen, but unless you're the Farrelly Brothers, it's difficult to mix romance and bodily functions. Though the whole worked for me well enough, I wouldn't be surprised if it was off-putting to others.

Frankly, the one thing that holds One Pound Gospel together is the humor. There are lots of funny bits throughout. They aren't hysterical, fall out of your chair moments, but little outworkings that make you laugh and smile and think more highly of the show overall. If you're willing to be amused by the whole thing, it's a decent diversion; as a true sports show or a romantic comedy, though, it misses the mark.

Before even considering the plunge into finding this work (now out of print on VHS only in the US), also note that this is a frankly sub-standard looking OVA. It appears to have the same animation quality as Takahashi's TV shows...which is fine, but I've come to expect most OVAs to look a bit better than their television counterparts. Combined with the 1989 born-on date, an appreciation for old-school anime is helpful in getting the most out of this title.

I liked One Pound Gospel. It's a light piece that contains little offensive material and a decent plot. I'm not sure if it all works, and I don't think it will leave a lasting impression, but it's good enough that if I found a copy at Half Price Books on their VHS rack for a dollar or two, I'd pick it up.

One Pound Gospel -- boxing violence -- B