DRAWN & QUARTERED
Open-ended story leaves fans hanging
One-Pound Gospel" is either the greatest Rumiko Takahashi story ever written, the worst or something somewhere in between.
Here's a look at the series that Wilma and I cover in "Project T." Articles will run in "Drawn & Quartered" the second Sunday of each month; past articles are available on starbulletin.com:
» October: "Urusei Yatsura"
» November: "Mermaid Saga"
» December: "Maison Ikkoku"
» January: "Fire Tripper," "Laughing Target" and "Maris the Chojo"
» This month: "One-Pound Gospel"
» March: "Rumiko Takahashi Anthology"
Which one it is, no one is really sure. For while most of the artist's other major series -- "Urusei Yatsura," "Maison Ikkoku," "Ranma 1/2" -- have endings, and presumably Kagome and Inu-Yasha will find all the shards of the Sacred Jewel someday (we hope), "One-Pound Gospel" remains incomplete.
It's not that Takahashi has abandoned the story. As recently as the June 2005 issue of Animerica magazine, she told writer Urian Brown, "I think I'd welcome an end to it sometime in the future."
But it also is not a series that has been a main focus of her time -- the first story was published in Young Sunday magazine in Japan in 1987, according to the Rumic World Web site (www.furinkan.com/gospel), and new stories since then have only been released sporadically when Takahashi has free time or is in between series. The last chapter to date was published in Young Sunday in 2001.
Viz has released all but a handful of the latest chapters in three graphic novels: the original "One-Pound Gospel" collection, published in 1996; 1997's "Hungry for Victory"; and 1998's "Knuckle Sandwich."
What has been written so far is a story that has all the hallmarks of a Takahashi romantic comedy: quirky characters placed in situations with a splash of wacky hijinks and a dash of action.
THE MAIN HERO of this story is Kosaku Hatanaka, the first professional boxer ever to come out of Mukaida's Gym.
This would be a cause for celebration at most any gym, except Kosaku is the type of guy who also has a perfect record in the battle of the bulge -- perfectly miserable, that is. The only reason he won his debut match to qualify as a pro with a first-round knockout was because Coach Mukaida promised him a steak dinner if he won.
Kosaku's constant struggles with making the proper weight for his fights aggravates Mukaida to no end. The coach once had high hopes for his protégé, but repeated failures have jaded him to the point where he openly encourages Kosaku to fail so he can get out of his life. As Kosaku approaches his next bout, constantly training in the day and eating ramen at night, it would seem only divine intervention could save him from losing.
In a sense, a miracle does happen. In an effort to correct his wayward ways, Kosaku has been visiting St. Mary's Church and going to confession with Sister Angela, a young nun just starting out at the church. Of course, what he would really like to confess to her is that he likes her, because she is rather cute.
When he finally does gather up his courage to make his confession, Sister Angela rocks him with a counterpunch of her own: She had spoken to Mukaida, drunk and despondent in a back alley, and learned about how Kosaku had fallen to temptation time and again. His confession of love only serves to anger her, and she slaps him, calls him a coward and runs off.
Yet she can't help but care about the poor schlub. And when Kosaku sees her drunk, yet still defending him, at the neighborhood Korean barbecue, he vows to get his affairs in gear and concentrate on his upcoming fight.
With Sister Angela in the crowd rooting him on (and a well-timed, frustrated cry of "You COWARD!" during the match), Kosaku is actually inspired enough to knock out his opponent. Thus begins a beautiful relationship, the reversal of Kosaku's misfortunes and a step away from the shameful reputation he brought upon Mukaida's Gym.
At least, until the next story begins, anyway. Then Kosaku is back to eating and struggling with his weight, Mukaida is back to developing yet another ulcer and Sister Angela is back to praying for the lot of them.
THIS IS not to say that this cycle ever becomes predictable. Throughout the series to date, Takahashi has added enough twists and turns in her plots to keep readers on their toes. Kosaku's opponents are presented neither as extremely powerful monsters nor complete pushovers, but as well-rounded characters with their own motivations for fighting (and at times even gaining a degree of sympathy in readers' eyes).
The relationship between Kosaku and Sister Angela adds another dimension to the story as well. While Kosaku's love for the young nun remains constant for the most part, she is often caught in a struggle to reconcile the tenets of her faith and her growing fondness for him. It also doesn't help that Kosaku made a poor first impression on her superior, Mother Abbess, and the rest of the convent, and that they are fighting to protect her soul as well.
The beauty of "One-Pound Gospel" is in how Takahashi seamlessly blends the action and kinetic energy present in the boxing ring with her trademark comedy out of it. In one story arc, she establishes how one of Kosaku's opponents is a complete coward outside the ring, appearing to be ready to fight but ducking for cover when Kosaku is running toward him while being chased by the St. Mary's nuns. This sets up a gag during their match where the guy does the same thing as Kosaku charges toward him.
If Takahashi were to declare the series over immediately, there would certainly be some disappointment in there never being a definitive resolution to the love story. What has been written so far, though, certainly shows promise.