Everyone in the yazuka has heard of the infamous boss nicknamed ‘the Immortal Dragon’, said to have single-handedly taken down a rival gang. What they haven’t heard however, is that he has now retired and become a househusband. Tatsu spends his days cleaning the house, doing the food shopping, cooking dinner and so on, whilst his wife works on her career. You can take the man out of the yakuza, but can you take the yazuka out of the man?
There’s a famous phrase that goes, ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity’ which can be strongly argued against, especially in today’s climate of calling out and cancel culture, but the original phrase has some truth to it. There are some media that gain some traction online for negative reasons, but can lead to readers ending up checking out said media, whether it’s out of morbid curiosity or just to see if it’s as bad as people made it out to be. For example, The Way of the Househusband is a beloved comedy manga (available in the UK via VIZ Media) that got a Netflix-funded anime adaptation. It was talked about a lot in the run-up to its April release due to its style of animation: to present the series akin to a ‘motion comic’, where the characters would barely move and panels would be lifted almost wholesale from the manga itself, just coloured in and give the barest hint of movement. According to an interview, the style was a deliberate choice, and one that the staff really struggled with at first, going against their natural instincts to actually ‘animate’ characters. The choice was praised by the original mangaka, but has gathered controversy elsewhere, with many writing off the anime adaptation, but just as many recommending the manga. It’s this passion and love for the original material that got me interested in checking it out.
Let’s ignore the animation for now and look at the basic concept. You would expect this sort of story to go a certain way, with Tatsu maybe struggling to adjust to his new circumstances, or constantly compare his new circumstances in a negative way to his old life. I’m happy to report that none of that happens, and it’s incredibly refreshing to see. Tatsu shows no qualms about his new life, if anything, he seems very happy and takes his new role as seriously as his time in the yakuza. Tatsu is a badass at everything he does: he makes perfect dinners, tackles the crowds at sales with finesse, he even buys his wife a Blu-ray of her favourite anime for her birthday. There are a few side stories where either the yazuka or a rough gang try to face off against him, but Tatsu takes it all in his stride, and never shows any signs of returning to his former life. But that’s not to say that his old job doesn’t have any impact on him as a character. There are a few times where his natural yazuka instincts kick in (such as comparing yoga poses to activities he did back then, or asking if the glass is bullet-proof when buying a car) but the best comedic moments stem from seeing this large, scary-looking man doing household chores, and his intense expressions being a mix of gruff and deeply sincere loving efforts to make his wife happy. Tatsu is a good guy, and very funny in each story he’s in, with the extended cast including his wife and former yazuka-underling Masa, who bounce off him incredibly well. You get the deep love Tatsu feels for his wife, and the patience he has for Masa who tries really hard to do what Tatsu does on a daily basis but fails miserably.
OK, no more beating around the bush, time to discuss the animation. I’m going to give some props here; it’s definitely a unique take on ‘animation’ per se, you’re definitely not going to watch many other anime out there that look like this, and the colouring work is fairly good all round. I went into this series wanting to like it, or at least give it the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t deny that a lot of the low points of the series are because of the animation. The framing and aspect ratio changes from moment to moment, which can create some confusion. Some of the physical comedy (like the few punch-ups we get, or the wacky clothes sale hoarding sketch) falls flat as the animation isn’t there to give it the ‘oomph’ it needs to really stick the landing. They do try to compensate by adding text sound effects around actions (like you have in manga, which are also translated here) but all it does is clog up the frame and create extra reading material. Then there’s the inexcusable lack of consistency when it comes to facial animation – there’s one scene where the wife’s nose is completely missing – it’s a still frame, how do you miss that?!
But due to this, there is an upside. If you’ve ever been in a blind restaurant, where your sight is taken away but as a result your other senses are heightened so the food tastes differently, then you’ll experience something similar here. Due to the lack of animation, the sound designers have to really up their game, and carry the motion of the moment to moment. Whoever did the sound design for this series deserves an award because it is super good; you can feel every action on screen, from the chopping of vegetables, to the bike Tatsu rides to get around the city. There’s the right volume and weight to each sound and so many comedy moments are saved as a result. The composer for this series is a very-hard-to-google-name of ‘Gin’; he has a few credits under his belt, but as each episode is short, he has less to make music for. His score has many rock-themed short pieces, and he makes great use of the ‘boom’ drop beat when the situation calls for it. The opening and closing theme songs performed by UchikubiGokumon-Doukoukai are fun at first listen, but rather forgettable.
As this is Netflix release, it comes with multiple dub and sub options, including the original Japanese, but I have to give props to Jonah Scott’s performance as Tatsu; he strikes the perfect tone balance between growly, serious, dorky and sincere. His performance whilst singing ‘happy birthday’ to his wife in the monotone and loving way, is hilarious. It also helps that since this series doesn’t really have much animation, there’s less lip flapping/matching to worry about, so performances are more free-flowing than usual.
The Way of the Househusband is a series I want to recommend but struggle to do so; it;s a very funny short series (there’s only five episodes, roughly 20 minutes each, including the opening and ending songs, so you could technically binge watch them in a few hours) but I can’t deny that the animation is going to turn off a lot of people as a result – so do I recommend the anime regardless, or just direct them to the manga? If you already have Netflix, and like other comedy anime on the platform such as Aggretsuko, then you’ll probably really enjoy this, but the series isn’t enough to recommend getting a subscription for.
The Way of the Househusband is now streaming on Netflix; available in Japanese, English, Spanish, French and Portuguese dub with English, French, Arabic and Polish subtitles.