Six faces, six decades. How has the Osomatsu franchise changed over the years?
Mr. Osomatsu, a revival of Fujio Akatsuka's classic Showa-era comedy, Osomatsu-kun, has made big waves both in Japan and in the West. Revolving around the daily lives of a group of unemployed sextuplets, the new anime series has done a fine job in changing with the times. While other franchise reboots have stayed a bit too true to their roots to reach a contemporary audience, Mr. Osomatsu is boldly in touch with its new generation of viewers. It's a comedy series that tackles touchy subjects with conviction, but holds enough self-awareness to poke fun at itself in the process. At times crude and unrefined, at others strikingly perceptive, Mr. Osomatsu is a hearty belly laugh that many have found enjoyment in.
Before delving into this feature, I'd recommend reading Part 1, where I discuss Osomatsu-kun as well as the cultural climate surrounding its style of humor. This half of the feature is intended to be somewhat of a comparison piece, looking at how Mr. Osomatsu has revamped the franchise's formula to better suit the tastes of a contemporary audience.
Fast forward 25 years from Osomatsu-kun. In contrast to the economic boom of the 80s, Japan has now entered a recession. In addition, its aging population continues to grow, while many young adults face challenges finding employment and romantic relationships. As Japan’s people continue to live amidst these rough times, humor becomes an effective tool at tackling the country’s touchiest subjects. As anime such as Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei have proved in the past, a touch of satire and black comedy can go a long way.
While Osomatsu-kun’s approach to humor was a product of its era (lengthy slapstick skits with wacky, absurd tangents), Mr. Osomatsu director Yoichi Fujita chose to adapt the manga into a format closer to other skit-based, meta comedies. Fujita had served as the series director for a large chunk of Gintama’s anime adaptation, and many of his comedic sensibilities can be seen throughout Mr. Osomatsu. However, this is not to say that Mr. Osomatsu is simply another Gintama clone; rather, the staff at Studio Pierrot were respectful of Osomatsu-kun’s legacy. Both writing and animation teams were asked to check out specific episodes from Osomatsu-kun (1988) for inspiration, cementing Pierrot’s decision to respect the franchise’s forefathers.
Throughout the first season’s run, Mr. Osomatsu made the occasional nod to plotlines from Osomatsu-kun, with one of the more notable examples being the Wacky Races homage. At the same time, Studio Pierrot crafted a unique identity for Mr. Osomatsu by drawing upon the characterization and comedic stylings of modern anime. To that end, Mr. Osomatsu is both a celebration of the old and the new – and is one of the few comedy anime that has found commercial success in that marriage between past and present.
One of the primary alterations Pierrot made to Osomatsu-kun’s formula was in the casting. Iyami and Chibita were relegated to side characters and the Matsu brothers were given the spotlight once again. While Osomatsu-kun effectively treated all six Matsu brothers as a homogenized entity, Mr. Osomatsu was quick to build each brother into his own memorable character. A far cry from the bratty, rambunctious youths of their golden days, now each Matsu is a fully-grown adult NEET in his 20s.
The title character, Osomatsu, is perhaps the most basic of the bunch. Despite being the eldest brother, Osomatsu is very self-centered and insensitive to his brothers’ troubles – traits that certainly run in the bloodline. When he’s not staring aimlessly at the ceiling, Osomatsu can be found squandering his time away at pachinko parlors and race tracks. So much for setting an example for the younger siblings!
The next in line is Karamatsu, a self-appointed ladies’ man who quite literally wears himself on his back. Karamatsu is a narcissist by nature, sporting shades, a leather jacket, and his own theme song wherever he goes. He frequently tries to play it cool and smooth for the mythical “Karamatsu Girls” in the audience but unfortunately neither his brothers nor anyone in the anime seems to care. When Karamatsu spouts a line that he considers to be magnificent or intelligent (often accompanied by his broken English), he is either outright ignored by everyone on screen or cast into a fiery pit for a slapstick gag. Regardless of how painful Karamatsu’s presence is, he is an inseparable part of the show and is one of the most popular Matsu brothers.
Choromatsu is the third brother, and compared to the over-the-top Karamatsu is more down to earth (relatively speaking). Choromatsu fits the mold of an otaku to a T and is often found obsessing over the latest female idols in a frenzied state. His character is intended to be a satire of idol otaku in Japan, but Choromatsu also plays the obligatory tsukkomi (straight man) in many gags.
The fourth brother, Ichimatsu, is a natural loner with a bad case of social anxiety. He keeps to himself and becomes absorbed in his dark, depressing thoughts – with his only friends being the neighborhood cats. Despite that, Ichimatsu still hangs around with his brothers a lot, bickering and getting into fights when there’s an issue that concerns the entire group. Throughout Mr. Osomatsu, Ichimatsu shows the occasional sign of wanting to open himself up to human contact, but his mental health issues often prevent him from doing so. Whether his troubles are played for laughs or a serious examination of an individual struggling socially, Ichimatsu is a character that many audiences found themselves attached to. As a result, he is also one of the most popular Matsu brothers.
The fifth Matsu brother is quite honestly the most difficult to describe. Jyushimatsu has a perpetual smile plastered onto his face and has an undying love for baseball. Perhaps this is why he’s responsible for the anime’s most left-field outbursts and actions. Jyushimatsu just seems like he’s living in his own universe half the time, which may explain why he’s rarely shown to be bothered by being a NEET. He remains cheerful and upbeat to the point where even his own brothers question his sanity. Has Jyushimatsu simply found a way to cope with the dread of being unemployed, or has he truly lost his marbles?
Last but not least is Todomatsu, the youngest brother. Totty acts in an effeminate manner and is very vain, being concerned with his physical appearance and public image. While the other Matsu brothers are borderline hopeless with women, Totty has shown some success in being able to go on dates – albeit as a result of his fake persona. Sadly, jealousy is something that runs in the Matsu family and Totty’s brothers often sabotage many of his attempts at getting the girls. Goes to show that a Matsu brother can’t escape his genes.
In short, the Matsu brothers were meant to embody some of the least desirable personality traits in Japanese society. Yet in spite of all their inadequacies, they collectively managed to garner a huge fan base – many of which were young women, no less! While a character like Ichimatsu was a social reject, many of his fans either found him relatable or endearing. Many perceived his inability to voice his inner feelings and friendship with cats as being moe traits, which is why you’ll find lots of people with Ichimatsu as number one in their hearts. On the other hand, a character like Karamatsu provided some of the best comic relief in the anime through his absurd behavior and hammy lines.
In an industry where anime needs recognizable, visually-appealing character designs and likable personalities to sell merchandise, Studio Pierrot made the right move with Mr. Osomatsu. Although distinguishing one Matsu brother from the next proved to be difficult at the start of the series (due to their appearances being identical aside from minor facial features), their personality quirks were distinctive. Additionally, the occasional focus episode on each brother granted a touch of character development, allowing audiences to connect with each brother on an emotional level beyond what a gag comedy would normally offer.
However, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the cast of Mr. Osomatsu. While the Matsu brothers certainly took up the microphone and stole the spotlight, some of the supporting cast received the short-end of the stick. Iyami is perhaps the most notable example, given that he was previously the heart and soul of Osomatsu-kun (1988). The issue with Iyami’s character in Mr. Osomatsu was that he didn’t change, unlike the Matsu brothers. Iyami was still the same conniving conman that he was in Osomatsu-kun. His catchphrase became the bread and butter of his character, and unfortunately defined him as a recurring punchline. As a result, he received far less screen time during the latter half of Mr. Osomatsu’s first season.
Likewise, Studio Pierrot faced a similar hurdle with adapting Chibita and love-interest, Totoko, to fit the contemporary slant of Mr. Osomatsu. While their transition wasn’t as awkward as Iyami’s due to their occasional interaction with the Matsu brothers, both Chibita and Totoko’s personalities were simplified in comparison to their Osomatsu-kun counterparts. Totoko, for instance, was still the same vanity queen as she was in Osomatsu-kun, but her portrayal in Mr. Osomatsu was limited to her fake idol persona. Unfortunately few attempts were made to stretch her beyond that mold throughout the show’s run either comically or emotionally.
With that said, the weakness of the side cast was hardly a call for concern with Mr. Osomatsu. In keeping with the show’s spirit, Studio Pierrot thought up some rather creative ways to make the best of the worst. One of Mr. Osomatsu’s strengths was its awareness of the fact that it was a reboot of a franchise nobody knew of anymore. Case in point, the anime’s first episode kicked off with a scene produced in the style of the 1966 adaptation of Osomatsu-kun, with the characters shocked their show was going to receive an anime adaptation in the year 2015. However, being from the Showa era, the Matsu boys were not accustomed to the style of modern anime, feeling their simple catchphrases would not be enough. Eventually the brothers settled on trying to do an anime in the style of a bishonen idol anime, as they believed it was the best way to market their all-male cast. Unfortunately, their other cast members joined the fray, desperately referencing popular anime from other genres. This culminated in a shameless parody of Attack on Titan and was never brought up again.
This self-awareness would persist throughout the entirety of Mr. Osomatsu, with characters stating that their crude behaviors were going against the wishes of their late creator, Fujio Akatsuka. Iyami even acknowledged that nobody knew his catchphrase and was furious audiences weren’t finding him funny anymore. As such, the anime always had that slight touch of meta humor in its back pocket and even evolved alongside its rapidly-growing fan base to focus on its more popular aspects. One instance of this was when Studio Pierrot included alternate universe skits featuring gender-swapped versions of the Matsu brothers. This “GirlyMatsu” episode was produced in response to the anime’s large female following and translated each Matsu brother’s personality traits into a female counterpart. For example, the idol-obsessed Choromatsu became the fujoshi, Choroko. In short, Mr. Osomatsu’s meta humor was strongly tied to its identity as a malleable franchise that had survived for over half a century.
Amidst all the meta humor, crazy alternate universes, and crude slapstick, there exists one aspect of Mr. Osomatsu that firmly anchors it to its passage in time. The decision to cast the Matsu brothers as NEETs was not simply an aesthetic choice, as certain segments of the show are very upfront about being a wake-up call for the young adults struggling both financially and romantically. While the cartoony depictions and general wackiness are still present, the issues that Mr. Osomatsu tackles are a reality for Japan. This is a major departure for the franchise, as Osomatsu-kun had always used satire to poke fun at less-pressing idiosyncrasies of Japanese culture as opposed to addressing current issues.
Through the skits focused on the mundane lives of the Matsu brothers, we see a lot of their worries, anxieties, and frustrations surrounding their futures come to light. The brothers are all jobless, socially and romantically inept, and waste their lives away gambling, drinking, and looking at pornography. Their characterization alone is a blunt reflection of NEETs taken to the extreme, and the show does not shy away from depreciating the brothers for laughs. Family and friends alike will often call them jobless virgins, with the Matsus themselves internalizing their own hopelessness. However, in keeping with their unique personalities, each brother deals with these social pressures differently. For instance, Ichimatsu constantly refers to himself as “human trash” and chooses to isolate himself as much as possible to avoid being hurt. On the other hand, Karamatsu and Choromatsu simply escape reality by becoming enveloped in their fake narcissist and idol producer personas, respectively.
Interestingly enough, Mr. Osomatsu never proposes an idealized or romanticized solution to the brothers’ struggles. This is perhaps a result of the anime’s skit-based format and only minor threads of continuity, making Mr. Osomatsu more of a humorous portrait of contemporary NEET life, rather than a social discourse on it. Nevertheless, it’s a very effective one, and is in many ways a more powerful statement than some anime attempting to be dramatizations of reality. Mr. Osomatsu effectively uses satire and black humor to bring to light the shortcomings of its society.
In closing, the Osomatsu franchise has had one hell of a ride for the past half century. What started as a slapstick gag comedy has now evolved into something that creator Fujio Akatsuka could have never predicted. While respecting its roots, Mr. Osomatsu has achieved both commercial success and worldwide notoriety all thanks to Studio Pierrot’s willingness to adapt the franchise’s material into something more befitting of a contemporary audience. With six unforgettable faces and a second season underway, who knows where the Osomatsu name will end up in the future?
Let us know your thougths about Mr. Osomatsu in the comments below!
Brandon is a Features Writer for Crunchyroll and also a freelance writer about anime. Follow him on his Twitter at @!