The Fall 2015 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Mr. Osomatsu ?
A successful anime comedy is a rare and valuable thing. Most anime comedies either rely on entirely repeated jokes, think “wild overreactions” by themselves constitute humor, or play out as simple manzai routines. To find a show that actually possesses both restraint and creativity in its humor, genuine wit, is always a nice surprise. Mr. Osomatsu's first episode isn't the most consistent comedy, but its best moments raise some hope that that might just be what we have here.
A takeoff of an “ancient Showa era anime,” Mr. Osomatsu introduces us to six identical siblings, all of whom are very excited to learn their anime is for some reason getting a new season. But after playing out all their hideously outdated original gags, they realize an update is an order - and so begins a manic buffet of modern parodies, starting with the Osomatsu brothers reinventing themselves as a shimmering idol group. Desperate to please a new audience, the siblings jump from genre to genre, moving from pretty boy archetypes to Love Live! and Yowamushi Pedal costumes to an extended riff on Attack on Titan, all before settling back down on a slightly updated, colorized version of their original style. And then they're out of time, so they apologize for wasting all of it and hope you come back next week.
Mr. Osomatsu comes off almost as desperate to please as its stars - the jokes are fast and diverse, and though not all of them land, this is certainly a funnier premier than your average anime comedy. The show understands that for many anime tropes, you don't really need to mock them to make them funny. By simply throwing crap like every conceivable reverse harem character type in a row, and having them all fight each other for main character status, Mr. Osomatsu is often able to ride on the inherent ridiculousness of the genres it's aping. Little touches of absurdity, like fangirls constantly screaming “take me!” or one brother saving a kitten from a car inside their school, smartly elevate jokes based in ready-made humor.
Mr. Osomatsu gets a bit less sharp in its final act, when it moves from smartly riffing on genre ideas to simply throwing a lot of parodies out in a row. That extended Attack on Titan parody is lacking in actual jokes (although I did appreciate how well the show mimicked Titan's visual style, from the melodramatic camera angles to the thicker linework for the characters - in fact, the strong visuals here very consistently improved the comedy), and it ends with a bunch of characters just dressing up like other characters. For every joke that works here, there's also one that doesn't, and the fact that this episode ends with the characters having settled into a reliable “default” style means this episode gives us little indication of how the actual series will play out. But Mr. Osomatsu's first episode made me laugh, and there's little more important for a comedy than that.
Mr. Osomatsu is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Whatever you may have been expecting this to be, it probably isn't that. It is, instead, easily the funniest first episode of the season, and it would probably be the most bizarre if not for Concrete Revolutio. Unlike that one, though, this one actually makes sense, albeit with a certain charmingly perverse logic.
The original Osomatsu-kun is a comedy series which originally aired in 1966-67 (hence the Showa era references) and was remade for a second, even longer run in 1988-1989, for a total of 148 episodes. It was the brainchild of Fujio Akatsuka, a creator of several popular family-friendly titles from the '60s through the '90s, and its timing is in honor of what would have been his 80th birthday last month. Even given the slapstick-style humor that the original was apparently predicated on, though, I seriously doubt that the original ever got as crazy as this.
The basic premise is that the sextuplet brothers who starred in the original series have learned they are going to be made into a new anime, and so they maneuver to update their look and shtick for a 21st century audience. Their first turn for the weird comes when they try to capture popularity by remaking themselves into an all-boy idol group in a full-blooded rip on the kind of series that STARMYU is aspiring to be for serious. This is done so over-the-top and ridiculous that it's almost impossible not to laugh at, especially if you have a cynical view of that whole subgenre to begin with. When they start struggling to maintain their new identities, that is when the parodies start rolling in, including spoofs on various popular recent sports anime, Attack on Titan, Naruto, Bleach, Sailor Moon, and possibly others. Eventually, it all collapses on them and they revert back to their black-and-white Showa-era forms. Ten years later, they are at least colorized but still lost about what they should do.
There may not be a clear direction for the series yet, but who cares? It was having way too much fun (the episode had me locked in at “School Filled With Bewilderingly Good-Looking People”) and doing it too well for anything else to matter. Perhaps most importantly, it was done smartly. As crazy as it gets, there is a point and careful timing to each gag, and yet it is still able to keep its audience guessing what it might pull next. It melds elements from completely different eras with surprising ease and plays them against each other brilliantly. (Hell, it even manages to pull off a “tiny dick” joke.) Some fairly sharp artistry and animation also help, and its closer – which is animated across food – is neat, too.
I seriously doubt the series can maintain the level of magic that it shows in this episode, but if it even comes close then this one will be a major winner. Just be sure that you don't give up on the episode at any point.
Hey, does anyone remember the classic 1960's anime sitcom Osomatsu-kun? No, of course you don't! Even if you did remember it from growing up in Japan, you probably wouldn't assign it any more fondness than you would an equally dated and embarrassing old American budget cartoon like The Archies or something. Well, it doesn't matter, because it's the 80th anniversary of the original creator's birth, so TV Tokyo has decided that it's time to revive the show! All your favorite characters are back like that guy with that one catchphrase that doesn't make sense to modern viewers, and that other guy with another catchphrase that doesn't--okay, we may have a problem. The old show's titular protagonist knows they have a problem, so he decides to do everything in his power to update this musty old black-and-white Showa-era sitcom into something that modern otaku will flip for like pancakes!
(20 minutes later...)
Well, I don't know what that was, but it was hilarious! This supposed "commemorative remake" of Osomatsu-kun turns out to be an April Fools' Joke of sorts, a gimmick to make a brand new wacky parody series. Yōichi Fujita, the director of Gintama and Good Luck Girl!, knows exactly what kind of show he wants to make, unlike the poor outmoded Matsu brothers. First of all, the animation is surprisingly good for a comedy series, featuring a sharply choreographed dance number that perfectly mirrors the feel of UtaPri and an Attack on Titan-themed fight scene in the super-saturated Production I.G style, among other nice-looking vignettes. These aren't just thoughtless references to other anime, either. Mr. Osomatsu is a parody with a surprising amount of bite to it, and this first episode explores the ridiculous levels of homogeneous pandering that the industry trades in these days without getting bitter over it.
Comedy is a highly subjective thing, but every beat of this episode won me over completely, as Osomatsu and his family tried to warp their tired old selves into different genres and art styles. They know that the Showa style of anime doesn't work anymore, and for good reason: those repetitive gags are lame now. (Osomatsu's gradual loss of faith as he saw his family breaking out their ancient catchphrases was comedy gold.) Unfortunately, when they try the repetitive gags of fujoshi shows on for size instead, it's just not who they are. The "BL School for Bewilderingly Good-Looking People" (a line that nearly had me on the floor) isn't the place for them, so they end up parodying something else and then yet another thing until the episode around them begins to come apart from the strain. After an exhausting and frantic series of aesthetic shifts and outrageous versions of popular tropes, the Matsu brothers decide they should just try to be themselves next week, and I officially have no idea what to expect.
If future episodes feature even more parody in this vein, with that ideal mix of cynicism and joy, I'm totally on board. This show came completely out of left field for me and probably most people reading this, but I'm really glad I saw it. If you have a taste for irreverent anime comedy, you should absolutely give this a chance. The production staff on Mr. Osomatsu wanted to give everyone a big surprise, and I think they absolutely succeeded.
How do you update a cartoon from 1967 based on a manga that began in 1962? Forget the established “gritty reboot” method we usually see; Mr. Osomatsu, in fact, would like you to forget that there are any real rules at all...well, except for Choromatsu, one of the original sextuplets the story was about. Choromatsu is really concerned that a show from the Showa era can find an audience today, but his five brothers assure him that it'll be okay – they just have to update the anime to suit the times! Thus begins a metafictional, parodic journey into absurdity that had me laughing out loud.
So what makes a hit anime today? Well, there are pretty boy idols with distinct personality traits and color coded hair, exclusive high schools where said gorgeous boys rule the hearts of maidens, yaoi, giant naked monsters, sports...lots of stuff. The prevailing theory of the sextuplets (or at least five of them) is that if they throw all of those things into the show, it will have to appeal to modern audiences. Hence the siblings become idols who attend a school that follows the BL System, where they are known as the F6 with idol powers so great they can destroy comets with their love rainbows. Meanwhile ordinary girl Totoko (heroine of the original) is so overcome by them that she dies. Oops.
References to popular titles abound, from youngest Todomatsu reading Red Spring Ride to cosplay from Love Live!, Haikyu!!, Yowapeda, and others popping up. And then of course a Titan. You've gotta have a Titan, right? How else will we know this is a hip, modern anime? The characters, particularly Choromatsu, make constant references to the fact that they're in an anime, their first since the Showa era, and they're really concerned that maybe they're squandering both this chance and the opportunity to honor their creator, the late Fujio Akatsuka. Yes, like last season's Ranpo Kitan, this series is intended to commemorate a great author, but this is much more accessible in terms of the references. It's totally silly and slapstick, which may not appeal to everyone, and really it feels as much an homage to anime pop culture in general as an attempt to update an old favorite.
The art is one of the most striking aspects of the show. Both start and finish are drawn in the style of the original, in black and white, and with the crackle of an old film reel. Middle portions are drawn in contemporary style, updating all of the characters to fit the modern aesthetic...mostly. But if they get tired, they revert back to black and white Fujio style. (This is not, luckily, overused.) All of this was deliberately concealed from viewers until the show actually aired, which has made it doubly entertaining, but even knowing, this is one of the best comedies to come out in a while. I'm not sure how long the series can keep it up, but I'm hopeful that it will be able to pull off a full run of slapstick and parody-filled silliness, because right now this series is looking like the cure for a bad day.
Osomatsu-kun, the precursor to Osomatsu-san, was a gag anime that aired in the 1960s and again in the late 1980s. It starred a set of sextuplet brothers who were visually indistinguishable from one another and relied on repeated catchphrase jokes. It's the Japan-flavored variant of Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
I was initially suspicious of this show's latest incarnation. It was repeatedly ranking in the Top 10 Most Anticipated Series for female viewers in Japan. Yes, it stars identical guys (all with numbers in their name, followed by -matsu) but these aren't attractive, reverse-harem guys that the average female anime fan go gaga over. Where's all the hype coming from?
Three minutes into the episode, everything made sense. The first episode is a one-off bait-and-switch by Gintama director Yōichi Fujita. The original show's cast of characters (shown in black and white) have a fourth-wall breaking conversation about what they have to do to be a popular modern anime. The answer is to take notes from shows like UtaPri and become bishonen idols, completely ditching the character designs and art direction that was announced leading up to the premiere. Each brother adopts a stereotypical male idol persona and runs full steam ahead with it, while mixing in absurd gags.
When the facade starts to fall, they turn to imitating other popular shows. The anime's straight-man, Choromatsu, watches in horror as his brothers turn into Love Live!'s Honoka, Haikyu!!'s Shoyo, and Yowamushi Pedal's Sakamichi to fight a titan-sized Chibita. The entire episode encapsulates what I wish Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! had managed to do with its premise.
The staff's ability to write physical humor and parody really shine in this opener, even if the character design switch is a farce. The next episode promises to go with the look that was promised, which is little disappointing. Not just because the brother's stint as idols was more eye-catching, but the next episode's art design marks another entry in the soft pastel palette that's become slightly popular. Audiences already have Concrete Revolutio filling that spot, and given how retina-burning the style can be, one is certainly enough.
If the writers can keep up the comedic pace that was set in this episode, Osomatsu-san could be one of the best pure comedies we've gotten in a long while.
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