by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Mr. Osomatsu ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Mr. Osomatsu ?
As one of Weekly Shonen Sunday's earliest hits, Fujio Akatsuka's gag manga Osomatsu-kun was one of Japan's most popular anime and manga franchises throughout the 1960s. The slapstick-laden, pun-infused misadventures of 10-year-old identical sextuplets (Matsuno Osomatsu, Karamatsu, Choromatsu, Ichimatsu, Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu) evolved over a 34-volume manga series, two anime adaptations, and a made-for-TV film. Despite the first animated series being largely focused on the Matsuno siblings, the second adaptation, a late '80s revival, saw the spotlight shift to a number of secondary players, including the sextuplets' mutual crush Totoko, their (very) prematurely balding rival Chibita, and faux-French swindler Iyami. In this respect, the series became more akin to other animated comedies with well-developed supporting casts, like Sazae-san and The Simpsons.
In celebration of Akatsuka's 80th birthday, Studio Pierrot has revived the anime once again, this time with young adult versions of the central characters. Fresh from his stint as the Gintama anime's longest-serving director, Yoichi Fujita puts a bizarre parody-centric spin on the classic series with hilarious results. The first episode begins with the iconic black and white versions of the characters debating how to market their dated franchise to a starkly different generation of anime fans.
After talking it out, the Matsunos decide to take the bishonen route, turning themselves into easy-on-the-eyes pretty boys and shifting their backdrop from a drab living room to an elite private high school. In this revamped setting, the sextuplets are regarded as the idols of their school, à la Boys Over Flowers's F4. Totoko, the apparent shared object of their affection, is the unassuming heroine. From the child-like sweetheart to the brooding tsundere bad boy to the genius who's constantly adjusting his glasses, Totoko can choose between every garden variety bishonen type. Despite doing their best to excel in their new roles, the strain of keeping up the modern anime façade ultimately proves too much for the time-displaced Matsunos and their friends, and things quickly come crashing down in a comically overblown fashion. Fortunately, seeing them fail at keeping the women of the school enthralled is just as funny as seeing them succeed in the beginning.
Not only do the prettied-up versions of the characters function as spot-on parodies of bishonen archetypes, they serve as an effective means to introduce the Matsunos to a contemporary audience. Since the sextuplets are so identical as to be indistinguishable in their classic appearance, their decidedly more varied pretty boy designs—same face but different hair color—make it much easier for viewers to tell them apart. Of course, how much of their bishonen-form quirks genuinely reflect their respective personalities and how much of it can be chalked up to pure satire remains to be seen. Since the first episode is solidly focused on parodying everything from Attack on Titan to Sailor Moon, viewers are left to wonder what the show is truly about afterward.
The second episode, which encompasses two segments, is probably more indicative of what we can expect moving forward. In the first segment, the sextuplets look for work—with varying levels of interest in securing employment—and wind up falling for Iyami's sketchy promise of factory jobs. The evil-looking "Black Factory" is headed by a diabolical man who states outright that his company is engaged in numerous illegal activities but refuses to reveal exactly what the factory makes. In the end, the boys' desire to find work wins out, and they don the factory's uniforms, take up residence in the prison-like structure, and work endless hours at an assembly line. When Osomatsu wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes what he and his brothers signed up for, they make a break for it and start working at a Chinese restaurant, where they fool the manager into thinking they're the same person. Per this arrangement, the boys continuously switch places throughout the day. (Still, they're only getting one salary!)
The second segment finds the naïve but well-intentioned Osomatsu interfering in each of his brothers' private lives. As the oldest of the bunch, he wants to share in his siblings' individual interests, but he invariably winds up embarrassing them and drawing their ire. When only-child Chibita tries to talk Osomatsu into appreciating his siblings, he blows up and admits he wishes he didn't have any. However, after reflecting on his actions, Osomatsu has a change of heart and tries to make amends with the rest of the Matsunos. Unfortunately, they've already replaced him.
Although the second episode isn't as parody-centric as the first, it's still a riot. The most troublesome aspect is how difficult it is for the uninitiated to tell the sextuplets apart now that they've reverted to their classic designs. There are subtle differences like their voices, but don't be surprised if you have no idea which brother is which until a name is mentioned. The intentionally simple character designs, vibrant color scheme, and outline-less backgrounds are beautiful to look at and highly reminiscent of more artsy comedies like The Tatami Galaxy. In a way, the color palette seems somewhat ill-suited to such a gag-heavy affair and worked better in dramatic humor series like Your Lie in April. However, these unique visual choices help set the series apart and loan an air of comic surrealness to the proceedings.
I imagine Japanese audiences see the new Mr. Osomatsu in a different light than us latecomers in the West. The experience is probably comparable to seeing a revamped, unapologetically self-aware version of The Flinstones that showcases parodies of modern-day hits like Adventure Time and Steven Universe. (Cartoon Network: Get on that.) Nonetheless, you don't have to know much about the classic Osomatsu-kun to appreciate the insanity of this update. Recommended for fans of anime comedy and anyone who enjoyed Fujita's work on Gintama, Mr. Osomatsu is an ambitious series that experiences no difficulties in bringing the funny.
Mr. Osomatsu is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for two decades.
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