April 5, 2011

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A Year of Takahashi Week 10: My Takahashi Heresy Part 2 (One Pound Gospel)

My year-long look at the work of Rumiko Takahashi continues here. A great creator deserves a whole year of examination! You can find all of the posts here.

Written by Rumiko Takahashi
Illustrated by Rumiko Takahashi
Viz

[Note: Computer issues continue to plague me this year. I'll get this feature back to its rightful weekly place soon if it kills me. Which it might.]

When last I mentioned One Pound Gospel, I was not exactly singing its praises. As promised, here's a look at it from a different angle, namely the things I enjoyed about the series. As with anything Takahashi, there are always good points. I just don't think they were as well-executed here nor were they able to make up for a terrible premise.

One Pound Gospel's biggest strength lies in Takahashi's ability to create great foils for her main characters. Though they don't reoccur here, due to the shortness of the series, Takahashi can take the "monster of the week" formula (though I suppose "monster of the year" would be more appropriate in this case, almost to the point of "monster of the decade") and make it seem enjoyable instead of played out. Kosaku faces a wide variety of boxing foes, who range from those seeking solace or redemption to those whose motives are not pure.

When Kosaku fights a man who needs one last battle, there is quite a bit of pathos within the comedy. Because we aren't (well, at least I wasn't) wedded to Kosaku as a character, there are times when you wish he would lose, so that the other person can have some small victory in their life. On the other hand, when our portly protagonist runs into those who would use his own struggles to better themselves, it's clear he needs to give them a knockout blow to their pride. These characters range from the silly (one who must eat just to keep weight *on*) to the sad (a man who can't to the next level of boxing) but always seem fresh. Given the subject of boxing, I was quite impressed with Takahashi's skill in keeping the opponents interesting.

While the romantic comedy of One Pound Gospel fell flat for me, I did like Takahashi's visual gags. Kosaku is frequently found hiding out in the most unlikely places, and when caught, tends to drop vaudeville-level amounts of food to the ground. Takahashi's facial expressions are as good as ever here as well, particularly on that of the old coach's face. Little elements creep into the background for any canny reader to notice, and I often found those more interesting than the main story.

The last positive thing I'd like to mention about One Pound Gospel is the interaction between her drawings and her dialog. Takahashi's art is perfectly fine (if always the same), but it's not going to win any awards or compete with CLAMP for getting an art book. (But hey, if Bleach can get one...) However, in this manga, as in all her work, Takahashi makes the visuals blend with the text in note-perfect harmony more often than not. People show up at just the right moment to trigger a gag or a misunderstanding plays out just like in a screwball comedy. A person might be trying to give a serious speech while another character is completely not paying attention, making the joke. Storylines in One Pound Gospel often end with the coach dealing with one last verbal jab from the mouth of Kosaku instead of from his fists. Even in a weaker work, the art meshes with the plot so well I wish other artists would learn from it.

All in all, One Pound Gospel isn't that bad. It's just not as good as I'd like to see from Takahashi. Next week, we'll resume discussion of the seminal Ranma 1/2.