One-Pound Gospel packs a lot of good boxing action, but is hurt by its bumbling hero.
Translated by:Gerard Jones and Mari Morimoto
What They Say
Times are tough at Mukaida's Gym. Though a promising novice with a surprise win in his debut bout, Kosaku has since adopted a steady regimen of extremely unhealthy eating habits - enough to make his coach ready to permanently throw in the towel. Will Sister Angela's teachings help Kosaku realize that the road to victory is not paved with bowls of ramen? Or will Kosaku's burgeoning feelings for the young nun undermine his ability to concentrate on training, fighting and binge eating?
The front cover artwork, featuring a diagonal split between portraits of Sister Angela and Kosaku, is brightly colored and bears a slightly tacky "One-Pound Gospel" logo. The black-and-white printing inside is typical of $10 manga paperbacks, in that it generally looks OK but dark artwork tends to be softer than the rest of the line art. Still, overall the quality's reasonable for a mass-market release.
The only extra is a one-page author's biography.
Takahashi's artwork is generally clean and economical: characters often stand against sparse or empty backdrops, and foreground objects tend to have flat shading. The fight scenes tend to bring out much more detail in the art, but even then she keeps things uncluttered by placing Kosaku against simple or white backdrops when the framing is tight. Takahashi's strategy backfires a little bit when Sister Angela is dressed in white, since her unshaded habit gives her a ghostly appearance that I doubt she intended; but this is a relatively minor complaint, especially since it's a non-issue when Sister Angela is dressed in black.
Viz's English script is printed in a simple, legible comic typeface without any noticeable typos. The numerous Japanese SFX are replaced with English lettering.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Despite being the only boxer trained at Mukaida's Gym to go pro, Kosaku Hatanaka has a frustrating lack of discipline: he undermines his long training sessions by gorging himself at meals, and ends up winning his matches mainly through sheer luck. When his self-control fails for the last time, Kosaku seeks the assistance of a higher power, calling on Sister Angela at the local nursery school to help him through his temptations. Of course, vow of celibacy or no vow of celibacy, this just wouldn't be a proper manga storyline without some romantic tension between the two, and it takes all of 30 pages for Kosaku to start putting the moves on her.
This doesn't go over well with the Sister, who ends up drowning her sorrows at a local Korean BBQ joint while Kosaku stuffs his face in the same restaurant. Seeing each other in this condition finally gives Kosaku the inspiration to take his training seriously (until the next time he changes his mind, anyway) and make the featherweight class in time for his next match. This match is the first time we see Kosaku fighting in this volume, and it's the only time where he really wins out of hard work rather than extreme luck; and even then, he stupidly puts his own life in jeopardy by drinking his mouth-rinsing water in the middle of the fight.
This basic pattern repeats through the rest of the volume for two more major fights. At the opening of the next three-part story arc, Kosaku vomits during a fight and is subsequently laughed out of the boxing league. Shortly afterwords, he accidentally sucker-punches another boxer in the middle of the street, giving himself an extremely unlikely opening for a comeback fight. In the four-parter that closes the volume out, Kosaku decides that the best way to deal with his chronic overeating is to put on 20 pounds and jump up four weight classes before his next fight. Takahashi adds to the stakes by making his rival an expectant father who takes his boxing skills as a point of pride and promises his wife that he'll retire if defeated. A common thread through all of these matches is that Kosaku seems to be fighting his own poor decision-making more than he is the other boxers: he succeeds despite ignoring all the good advice coming from his coach, ranging from "drinking water during a match could kill you" to "you won't be able to box with 20 more pounds of fat". (I guess if it works, don't knock it...)
One-Pound Gospel's main weakness for me is that its protagonist is often hard to like. Kosaku's gluttony and lack of willpower are sometimes funny, and the inner klutz in me is happy to cheer for the guy the first time he manages to squeeze his way out of his own messes. But when he just keeps stumbling his way into victory in spite of all the things he's done wrong, it starts getting hard to sympathize with him. As intense and well-composed as One-Pound Gospel's fight sequences typically are, the fact that Kosaku wins mainly out of convenience for the plot takes a lot away from the drama; I even found myself rooting a little for Kosaku's opponents, since by all rights they're usually the ones who'd deserve to win.
Even if Kosaku isn't always the best choice for a sports manga hero, the chemistry between him and Sister Angela is very well executed. Takahashi makes a good call by eliminating the "will-they-or-won't-they" element of the story early on: Kosaku makes his move in the first chapter, getting rid of the annoying spinelessness of stereotypical manga leads without sacrificing the romantic tension between the two. The fact that Angela has every right to dislike Kosaku -- and that I actually bought when she puts up with him anyway -- speaks volumes about how well Takahashi handles this part of the storyline.
I'm really very ambivalent about One-Pound Gospel at this point. There are a lot of elements that I like about it, but it's also hard for me to work past a protagonist that I don't have much respect for.