Monday, May 10, 2021

REVIEW: Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan (manga, vol. 1) by Gaku Kuze, translated by Matt Treyvaud

Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan is a dark workplace comedy series. It's licensed by Kodansha Comics. I bought my copy brand new.


Omota Uramichi is a 31-year-old kids' show host who used to be a professional gymnast. His filter is almost entirely off. Although he's able to keep a smile plastered on his face while the cameras are rolling, he can't stop himself from making depressing comments about adulthood when the kids on the show remind him that they still have their dreams and whole lives ahead of them, while he just has meaningless workouts, an empty apartment, and a job that's slowly killing him inside.

Uramichi's coworkers include: Daga Iketeru, a handsome 27-year-old singer/actor who can't tell time on an analog clock and has a weakness for juvenile jokes; Tadano Utano, a 32-year-old failed idol singer who's in a dead-end relationship with a failed comedian; Usahara Tobikichi, a 28-year-old who has an unfortunate habit of pissing Uramichi off; and Kumatani Mitsuo, a 28-year-old who seems to somewhat unwillingly be Usahara's friend by virtue of them having been college roommates. 

This series did not pull its punches. Right from the start, Uramichi was on camera with the kids, smiling as he explained that his voice was raspy because he'd drunk too much the night before. To be honest, this portion of the volume was a little too direct for me. I expected Uramichi to have a little more of a filter than he did - in the real world, someone would have frantically turned off the cameras and pulled him off-stage before he'd gotten more than a few sentences out. In the world of this manga, however, apparently just about anything was fine as long as Uramichi and his coworkers could manage to keep smiles on their faces, follow at least the overall skeleton of the script, and wear whatever they were asked to wear.

For the most part, the kids on the show weren't kids, but rather kid-shaped constructs designed to rub the cast's faces in the fact that their lives weren't going the way they'd hoped. They were also possibly intended to be concerned reader stand-ins. I doubt real little kids would have responded to Uramichi overdoing his usual introductory routine by asking each other "Is it just me, or is he really on today?" I tended to prefer the moments when the kids did feel a bit more real and were clearly concerned and worried about Uramichi, who constantly seemed moments away from snapping.

I wasn't a fan of the first half of the volume, but the humor started to grow on me in the second half. I preferred the parts of the volume that were more focused on the characters as dysfunctional coworkers to the parts starring the adult cast plus their strange child-shaped audience members. For example, the beach shoot was both horrible and absolutely hilarious.

The character dynamics were occasionally a bit weird and almost certainly unhealthy, which I think was the point. Uramichi was functionally depressed and had literally no one but his coworkers. He hated Usahara but still put up with Usahara showing up at his apartment and annoying him, because what else could he do? A little interaction with adults you dislike is better than no interaction with anyone except at work, I guess.

This series is dark and won't work for everyone. I'm not even sure yet if it works for me - although I liked the second half better, I have no clue what my reaction to Volume 2 will be. And I'll be continuing on, by the way - I ordered both volumes together. On the plus side, the artwork is excellent, and there are definitely some good "adulthood sucks" pages and panels throughout. The page where Uramichi basically explained spoon theory to the kids made me wince in sympathy. This is definitely a series that will stick with me, whether it entirely works for me or not.


This is actually an omnibus edition containing the first two volumes of the series, so there's color artwork at the beginning of both volumes (3 pages total). There are also character profiles (you won't learn their likes and dislikes, but you will learn how much they smoke and drink), the full lyrics of the songs they sing on the show ("The Cat's Staring at Nothing Again" made me tear up a little), a few bonus comics, a one-page afterword comic, and 6 pages of translator's notes. As expected, some of the humor is the kind of stuff that'll go over the heads of readers who don't speak Japanese - I knew the character names seemed a bit odd (and recognized the "rabbit" and "bear" parts of Usahara and Kumatani's names), but hadn't realized that all or most of them were intended to be jokes or puns.

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