Do you like boxing? Do you have a hard time sticking to a weight regiment and have a thing for nuns and/or the Catholic faith? If you said yes to any of these, then I’d recommend reading and watching One Pound Gospel by the great artist Rumiko Takahashi. Rumiko relies on her talents to convey a love story that focuses in on characterization and stays away from keeping the storyline dull and sedentary . Originally written in 1987, Rumiko Takahashi created a story about love and (weight) loss, chronicling the lives of a hapless fool of a boxer, a frustrated coach at wit’s end and a novice nun who takes pity and interest on our hapless boxer and tries to get him -unsuccessfully- away from committing further sins of gluttony. More often than not, our protagonist Kosaku Hatanaka's pig-headedness has brought him nothing but trouble, be it either in the ring or in his heart.
From this series, two recurring themes have a tendency to worm their way in for comedic value. The first of which seems to show up in a lot of Takahashi-sensei’s works is how the main male protagonist has a bit of an eating problem, frequently pointed out in how Kosaku tries to clearly get out of everyone’s sight as quick as possible to grab a bite (more often than not getting caught in the process) to his coach’s chagrin and much to the disappointment to his love interest, Sister Angela. For anyone who's ever had a strict coach, Mukoda (incorrectly translated in the Viz manga as Mukaida) fits in, showing that he does mean well but can push the envelope a good deal.
The second of which is Christian articles falling down or breaking when Sister Angela happens to ask just a wee bit too much of the Lord, whether it’s for assistance in one of Kosaku’s matches or to help him curb his appetites. While she cares very deeply for Kosaku and tries to support him, she cannot outwardly express how much she really cares for him, dismissing her own internal feelings while maintaining the appearance of the ideal nun in training. Mainly played for laughs, these signs help better accent how much of a lost cause he can be and it also shows how little faith those closest to Kosaku have in him.
The manga format of the story is relatively short, much like other formats of this story, only coming out to four books. To be fair though, a short storyline from Takahashi-sensei is uncommon, but welcome to her fans. From her more noteworthy titles such as Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2 and Maison Ikkoku, she's been known to write long stories, due to difficulty in coming up with a satisfactory ending. One Pound Gospel however, fits more along the lines of a “short, sweet and to the point” kind of story, making sure that the different matches and story arcs that take place aren’t drawn out and adequately come to conclusion. Thankfully, none of the reformatted Viz comics leave the reader to any potential cliffhangers; making sure an arc that was started earlier in the book is concluded within that same volume.
Sadly, there’ll always be something to potentially diminish popularity in the series, and in this case, it’s surprisingly the video adaptation that came up a bit lackluster. In 1988, a 55 minute OAV formatted piece was created but upon its release, showed little popularity and chiefly focused on the relationship between Kosaku and Sister Angela and Kosaku’s bout against an opponent who shows up about halfway into the first book: Jiro Amakusa. From the manga format, he has a good character design, as a man who won’t take humiliation and embarrassment lightly and he makes it a personal vendetta of his to make sure Kosaku feels the humiliation that he suffered in a mock interview, in which a shot of him getting a glove to the eye was caught on film and distributed via newspaper.
The match is entertaining nonetheless, but it feels somewhat insignificant when it’s noted that only that one match was brought to video format, and even then, only half of the video was directed towards the match. To make matters worse, when brought to Viz’s attention to publish the tape, the VHS received so little popularity that it was only distributed as subtitle-only and no attempts to remaster it on DVD or Blu-Ray have been made.
In an attempt to rekindle popularity for this classic, a live action series was created in 2007, in dedication to the anime, but again was met with little popularity. The changes that were made in the series to “better adapt” the story to the audiences left many fans reeling back, facepalm and all. To quote from Furinkan.com, the official Rumiko Takahashi website, “Some fans expressed misgivings when it was revealed that pop idol Kazuya Kamenoshi, known for his singing voice and not for his boxing skills, would play the role of Kosaku. When the series debuted, fans learned that the adaptation played rather fast and loose with Takahashi's original manga. For instance, Mukoda is a woman with a teenage son, there is no Mother Abbess character, and Angela is an orphan to name just a few of the early revelations.”
In a nutshell, much like movies being pumped out today, the film industry took something that was great and bastardized it, hardly making anything worth mention. The series only had a nine episode run and blew through a rough frame of the plot in a short span of time. All in all, there's really nothing outstanding about this deviation, however if one were to just watch this short series, they would find it entertaining... but nothing to really talk much about. Much like Dragon Ball: Evolution, they strayed too far away from the original path, and it'd be better for the viewer if they know little to nothing about the actual story.
But what about the actual content of the story? Is the manga drawn to believability or is it created to better suit the perceptions of the artist at hand? Thankfully, in the creation of One Pound Gospel, Takahashi-sensei studied everything that had to do with the sport; everything from training to weight classes to offensive and defensive skills displayed in boxing. When reading the manga, I noticed that she put forth a great deal of time and effort to make sure that each punch thrown, each duck and each sidestep took account of the rules of boxing and was demonstrated with nigh perfect accuracy and made note of human limitations that just have to be abided by; something that shonen series today have some difficulty in doing. Unlike mainstream titles like One Piece, Naruto or Dragon Ball Z, One Pound Gospel is just a straight up romantic comedy that revolves around the sport of boxing. No gimmicks, no “I’ve got something even stronger up my sleeve,” no flashy moves; just boxing.
Maybe it’s due to the time it was written in, or maybe it could be from what’s being pumped out into mainstream media today, but I found One Pound Gospel to be a thoroughly enjoyable read and the OAV was alright, but nonetheless entertaining to watch. I found the story to be heartfelt and moving, still allowing the reader to enjoy a nice relaxing manga series that doesn’t drag on unnecessarily and ends on a sweet note. If anything, the series helped to give non-boxers an idea as to what boxing may entail; in fact, it actually made me interested in picking up the sport. Granted if it wasn’t so expensive, I’d be doing much more of it.
Manga Rating: 4.75-5/5
OAV Rating: 4.5/5
Live Action Rating: 3/5