What’s it about ?
Osomatsu-kun was a 60s family-friendly gag manga which got an anime adaptation at the time, then another one in the 80s. This year would have marked the 80th anniversary of its creator, so here’s another go at it. But freshening it up for a modern audience is by all measures an uphill challenge, for reason I’ll get into just below.
You can just hear the producers behind this revival loudly shouting : CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.
So, the gimmick here is that Osomatsu is the eldest of sextuplet teenagers. And the gag was that they’re indeed all identical, with only their voices and personalities barely helping the audience to call them apart. Well, that and their really dated 60s-pop-culture-derivative catchphrases. Let’s even politely not talk about the supporting cast, a bunch of ridiculous-looking stereotypes. There’s no way modern audiences will want to watch this, right ?
But then, what are you going to do ? Stunt-cast A-rank voice-actors, the likes of Takahiro Sakurai, Hiroshi Kamiya, Jun Fukuyama & Daisuke Ono, to play the sextuplets ? Turn them into a colour-coded boys’ band attending (*snicker*) “BL Academy” ? Have them act out awful cliché personas that are wildly out of character for them ? Have the supporting cast turned into more “cool” clichés, such as the delinquents or the Awesome Rival who’s totally not the French caricature from the original show ?
This naked commercial grab is a complete disaster, as the characters end up being completely exhausted and direly long for the commercial break to come. Even the most gratuitous Attack on Titan parody ever, or downright blatantly copying famous shonen shows, can’t stop this from falling apart. It’s just… not what them, you see ?
And so the show ends with the sextuplets still grasping for an answer to their conundrum. And they’ve been at it for so long that they’re now all in their mid-20s ; which is a new status quo that should give the writers enough rope to tell new stories.
At least, they really hope so.
Studio Pierrot have outdone themselves here. The fake-retro opener, in a B&W 4/3 format with tons of artefacts, feels true to the original show. The parody section that constitutes much of this first episode both feels true enough to work, while still having enough weirdness in the background to sell that this is all a sham. And the final designs it settles on are decent modern upgrades that feel true to the source.
For the record, I don’t believe this episode is really indicative of what’ll come next ; it’s here to make a point about how anime has changed over the decades (and not always for the better), while acknowledging that just slavishly copying either what was done in the 60s or what’s popular now just wouldn’t work. It’s the writers clearly stating that nostalgia alone can’t carry the show.
It’s also absolutely hilarious from start to finish, with impeccable comedic timing, even when they have to deliver bad jokes on purpose. This is metafiction on steroids, but done really well. And since it’s a gag show, they can totally get away with it.
Now, there are worrying signs. The joke may have gotten a bit overextended to fill the whole episode ; not all of the gags land. I still can’t tell too many of the sextuplets apart. (There’s Osomatsu, the “leader” ; Choromatsu, the straight man to most of their ramblings ; and maybe Todomatsu, who’s the “youngest” one ? The others are still a bit of a blur.) And most importantly, there’s no evidence yet that the writers have solved their central quandary, i.e. how to tell modern stories with these characters without losing their soul in the process. Can this premise actually support a full season ?
But hey, this first episode was fun enough that I’m willing to give them a bit of rope to see them try.