Buried Treasure
One Pound Gospel

by Justin Sevakis, Aug 27th 2009

I love food. I get incredibly excited over it, even giddy. All it takes is a well-cooked ethnic meal, or a innovative invention, or just something that tastes really good, and I pretty much lose all self control. I've had to watch myself as I've gotten older, and as my metabolism slows I've had to really struggle to keep myself in check. Gone are the days when I could stuff away pounds of food with impunity. Heck, after an Indian meal I have trouble enough peeling myself off the couch.

I've always marveled at the strict diets that athletes put themselves through. Of all the various types of athlete, I think boxers probably have it the toughest; the amount of weight control inherent to the sport requires horrifying diets, outright fasting, dehydration, and other potentially dangerous acts of restraint. It's something I could never, ever picture myself doing. I simply love eating too much.

This clash between two utterly incompatible value systems, the love of eating and the love of boxing, is the centerpiece behind a remarkably cute and touching love story courtesy of Rumiko Takahashi. It's a great manga, and it was also a great OAV once upon a time...

Kosaku Hatanaka is a pro boxer, but not a particularly good one. In fact, his career is on the brink after he threw up in the ring, an unfortunate side effect of pigging out after making his weigh-in. Dieting is a big problem for the guy. He simply loves food, and can't help himself. He's gone up more than a few weight classes, his coach is about to give up on him, all of his future opponents have cancelled on him, and... well, he's still hungry.

So hungry, in fact, that while out training one day he passes out in front of the local Catholic preschool/church, only to be discovered by nun-in-training Sister Angela. Assuming he's simply a starving vagrant, she takes him in and feeds him, only to be informed by her co-workers that he is, in fact, someone who should NOT be fed. Ever.

It's then that Sister Angela meets his coach, and finds out what a truly dark place the poor kid is actually in. She cheers him up, and freshly energized by the tenderness of a beautiful girl, he goes out jogging and training... and accidentally punches a guy in the face. As it so happens, the guy is a former gold-medalist who can't believe such a loser managed to give him a black eye. The next day, Kosaku gets his second chance. Now, if only he can manage to not blow his diet...

The formula is a simple one. Things are kept light. Never mind that Angela is a nun and really can't have any sort of romantic fling (though the on-screen text is careful to point out that she hasn't yet taken any vows), the real drama here is in Kosaku and his inability to keep himself in check. Angela's temptations are more internal, and as she starts to develop feelings for the big lug, she becomes more and more wrapped up in his world of crazy. (One night even she consumes to excess... except it's alcohol, and she is a MEAN drunk.)

I love these kids. I love Sister Angela and her passive aggression and her disaster-causing good intentions. I love Kosaku and his well-meaning but self-defeating doofiness. Ultimately, what Rumiko Takahashi does best is create characters, really great ones that we can all get behind. Watching Kosaku flail his way to weight loss, crushing and agonizing self-defeat never more than inches away from him, it's impossible not to root for the guy. Just like the boxing match itself, Kosaku's war with himself is just plain compelling, creating the sort of tension you wear as a big stupid grin on your face. Of course, in pure 80s sports movie style, the Japanese power-pop soundtrack is incredibly effective at amping up the energy.

What's more unusual is the chemistry between Kosaku and Angela, a love that we're pretty well certain won't be fulfilled. Like most great anime loves, their relationship is chaste and innocent; Kosaku's head pretty much explodes every time she so much as brushes his hand. In personality he's alarmingly close to Godai from Maison Ikkoku, a bumbling loser who happens to be good at something, and falls in love in the most clumsy manner possible. Angela plays her cards a bit closer to her chest, but nonetheless is not exactly an unending source of empathy. Even she gets pissed off at Kosaku's boorishness at some points. In terms of comic dysfunction, they're a perfect fit, and yet, it's just so hard to imagine the two of them ending up together that we can scarcely take the idea of it seriously.

Directed by Osamu Dezaki (under a pseudonym, Makura Saki) a few years after the Rumik World OAV series came out, the show looks and feels nothing like his other work. That isn't to say it isn't deftly handled: his use of staging and camera movement has always been some of the best in the industry. But here, he's working with a light story, cute round-faced characters and quirky comedy. There's simply no room for his usual melodrama. Things have to move fast. The animation, shoestring budged though it may be, is handled nicely by Studio Gallop. I was particularly impressed by character designer Katsumi Aoshima's ability to articulate Takahashi's blobby, cherubic manga characters into anime designs, though I'll admit Kosaku's bulked-up athletic body looks a bit strange with a Takahashi style head.

Viz released One Pound Gospel back in the VHS days, when, flush with the success of Ranma ½, they were grabbing onto anything and everything Takahashi. One Pound Gospel unfortunately didn't have proper music and effects tracks, so no dub was possible. Viz put it out subtitled-only, and it found a few fans but never reached the wide audience enjoyed by her other works. Those that did take the bait were treated to voices by Hiromi Tsuru as Angela, and Tohru Furuya as Kosaku -- essentially reprising their cute couple roles from Kimagure Orange Road a few years earlier. Kaneto Shiozawa, ever the perfect bad guy voice, makes for a gleefully condescending Jiro, the guy Kosaku has to fight. I would have liked to have heard a dub, but with a Japanese cast like that, it's hard to complain.

Last year One Pound Gospel got remade as a Japanese live action TV drama, and while I appreciated the attempt, I had trouble buying the scrawny idol Kazuya Kamenashi as a pro boxer of any kind (let alone one with an eating problem). Like the recent Maison Ikkoku drama adaptation, the drama had a sterile, over-produced feel, and was missing the warmth that the anime had in spades. So much of Takahashi's warmth comes from the actual look of the characters, I have to wonder if her work can even be adapted to live action successfully. Nonetheless, I could see One Pound Gospel making for decent Hollywood fare, with only minor tweaking.

Romantic comedies seem pretty easy to assemble on the surface: take two likable characters, put some silly obstacle in the way, and let the personalities run wild. In practice, however, there are far more romantic comedies that completely fall on their face than ones that work, that make us laugh as well as cheer on the characters in their poorly thought-out attempts at wooing each other. Rumiko Takahashi is indisputably a pro at this, and One Pound Gospel is perhaps one of her best personality-driven stories. I haven't yet finished the manga, but I can't wait to do so: she apparently, after 20 years of occasional publishing, corrects the one flaw that seems to constantly gnaw away at every one of her major works: she provides an ending.


Obscure-O-Meter™
A Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.
C Common. In print, and always available online.
R1 US release out of print, still in stock most places.
R2 US release out of print, not easy to find.
R3 Import only, but it has English on it.
R4 Import only. Fansubs commonly available.
R5 Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.
R6 Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.
R7 Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.
R8 Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.
Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.

Where to get it:
If you need English, VHS is your only option, which I was able to find used online for just a few dollars. And, unless you really want a raw Japanese VHS or Laserdisc, it may be your only option even if you don't need the subtitles! I can't find any DVD release at all in any country (though hopefully someone in the forums can prove me wrong).


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