Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Way of the Househusband
Tatsu was once the scourge of the underworld, a powerful yakuza nicknamed “The Immortal Dragon.” Those days are behind him though, and now he's the happy househusband of a hardworking designer, spending his days waging battles against forgotten lunches, sale bins, and that deadliest of foes, the Roomba. Housework is not for the faint of heart.
The original 1972 novel Freaky Friday and its 1976 film adaptation, both written by Mary Rogers, taught kids that being a housewife was not the picnic teenager Annabel Andrews (and plenty of real kids) assumed it to be. Now that torch has been passed to manga creator Kousuke Oono and his humorous series The Way of the Househusband, which chronicles the domestic adventures of former yakuza enforcer Tatsu as he embarks on a new path in life: homemaking.
Part of the humor could reasonably be said to come from the idea that this ultra-masculine man is the homemaker of his household. Glances through texts like The Good Housekeeping Marriage Book or other similar guides certainly show that they're directed towards the wife (and that the assumption is that it will be a man/woman marriage), and even if the man is the homemaker, the assumption is generally still that he won't be hypermasculine. Fortunately for readers, while that can be part of our interpretation of the humor, the actual story never devolves into the useless dad trope or other similar nonsense – yes, part of the amusement is that Tatsu's a man, but most of it is that he's a former yakuza boss feared throughout Japan as The Immortal Dragon and now he's buying cabbage on sale.
We're dropped into the story with virtually no context, which works very well. We see a grim-visaged man with a tattoo-covered back wake up in the morning and begin dressing for the day, including sticking a sword in his belt. It looks ominous…until he whips out an apron emblazoned with a goofy picture of a Shiba Inu and begins preparing an adorable lunch box, complete with animal-face onigiri and sweet rolled omelet. He then poses it for the perfect Instagram photo before his wife comes tearing past him in a suit, shrieking that she's late for work and completely forgetting the beautiful lunch he made for her. As jokes go, the ending is a bit of a letdown, an issue across the first few chapters, which don't carry a punchline through at all, but it gives you a very good idea of what you're getting yourself into with the book.
It also introduces the concept that Tatsu consistently dresses like a yakuza boss in a skeezy-looking suit which he then covers with his Shiba Inu apron, even outside the house. A later chapter makes it clear that he hasn't forgotten to take it off, although we don't know why he's decided to wear it constantly; possibly he thinks it makes him look less scary. (He's visibly shocked when his wife tells him that his appearance scares people.) It does make for an amusing juxtaposition, however, as does his consistent scowl when he's just going about his daily life – no one makes taking a cooking class more alarming than he does. Occasionally his mask does slip, generally when he's making goo-goo eyes at a cat, and the very fact that these moments are so few and far between adds to the book's humor value.
Oono also plays a bit with the somewhat tropey idea of the gangster with a heart of gold. At a few points in the volume, Tatsu runs into a former member of his gang (or rather, a member of his former gang; the gang itself no longer exists) who can't quite reconcile with what his boss has become. Tatsu drags him to class to learn how to make cheese croquettes and tells him that being a househusband is just like being a yakuza boss, citing the discipline of his way of life while neglecting to mention that the underlings he's been ordering around are his (potentially evil) Roomba and his cat Gin. Masa, the young thug, seems like he might be ready to work towards shifting over to Tatsu's new househusbandly ways, and that could make for a fun sideline to the main story of the former Immortal Dragon dealing with a dishonest knife salesman or attempting to entertain a small child.
Generally speaking, the funniest gags are the ones that directly lampoon Tatsu's past occupation, such as when he attempts to bury the “body” of one of his otaku wife's broken figures or when he brings a bullet-proof suitcase to buy her anime blu rays. The two standout chapters are probably the Roomba-and-cat versus Tatsu (a deadly combination) and a short told from the point of Gin the cat, when he runs into a current yakuza boss' hulking beast of a dog named Elizabeth. There isn't a dull chapter in the book, though, and while there is a slight sense of repetitiveness to the set-up – Tatsu does a basic household task while looking scary and using violent moves and terminology – it works because it doesn't get any less ridiculous as a concept. Oono is also adept at drawing a guy who looks like he'd rather kill someone than go grocery shopping, and the pages are clean and clear, reading easily. There are a few places where a cultural note would have been helpful, but it's evident that publisher Viz assumed an older readership for this one, which is probably fair given the domestic focus of the plot.
The Way of the Househusband is a delightful piece of absurdity. While it never shakes up its basic formula, it does make the most of it and clearly enjoys itself as a story. It will need to vary things at some point down the road, but as of this first volume, it's just good cleaning fun.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Consistently funny, remains entertaining despite repetitive format
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