It was a casting decision made in heaven. Kenjiro Tsuda voices the former-Yakuza-turned-perfect-husband in Netflix's adaptation of the cult hit manga. The excitement for the series began to wither as it became more obvious that the anime isn't really..."animated."
This series is streaming on Netflix
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Nick, I don't know about you, but I've been blown away by the overall quality of the new premieres this season. Episode after episode, show after show, my arms can barely hold all of the quirky, interesting, and bold new anime titles that aspire to push this quasi-medium of ours forward. I can't wait to talk about them! Too bad we can't yet! We gotta pay the Netflix tax first, so let's break down just what the heck happened here.
Ah yes, the highly anticipated adaptation of a cult-favorite manga that was easily the most talked-about thing announced back during that overlong Netflix Anime Announcement TV special last year. Surely nothing could go wrong he-
Man this sure was a weird way to release a second season of Back Street Girls: Gokudols.
Okay, as someone who actually had to suffer through the entire length of that garbage, I can at least qualify every ensuing criticism I'm going to make here with the acknowledgement that Way of the Househusband, even in this form, is a billion times better than sitting through Back Street Girls: Gokudols again.
And if we do get a Back Street Girls season 2, ANN better be ready to break out the hazard pay.
That's fair. But also any daylight between these two productions is in spite of some higher-up's best efforts to make Househusband the biggest disappointment of the year. Do not believe these lies:
Yeah so that's the elephant in the room with a big dragon tattoo on its back. What we have here is an adaptation one might generously describe as a "motion comic," in which the source manga panels are recreated as faithfully as possible in anime form, with minimal motion and even less in-betweening. It's, uh, a choice.
Let me be clear: I by no means think animation should be limited to a certain way of doing things. Part of my love for anime is just how experimental and adventurous creators can be in the medium, and that includes using highly limited animation. There's more than 1 "right" way to do anything with art.
But there's also plenty of wrong ways to do it and uh, this is one of em:
And I believe the story is that this style was a request/demand by one of the bigwig producers, so I'm not laying any blame on anyone actually involved with the hard work of making this style work as much as possible. It's a shitty situation. And it certainly doesn't help that this has been applied to the genre that probably requires the most fine-tuning out of all of them when it comes to stuff like presentation and pacing: comedy.
As somebody who's ready the first several volumes of the manga, lemme tell ya, nothing's funnier than watching jokes you've already read, but delivered worse and also so quickly you can't even tell the punchline happened half the time.
I haven't read the manga at all outside of the scattershot pages that get posted on Twitter all the time (which are consistently very good). So having the element of novelty on my side, I still had some good chuckles, but I couldn't escape the nagging feeling that a lot of these jokes probably worked a hell of a lot better in their original form.
Let's be up front. Househusband is a dirt simple premise. But that's exactly why proper delivery - setup, anticipation, punchline - is so important to make it work. The manga is 1 joke over and over again, and the only way to keep that fresh is to nail the timing. If you don't do that, you wind up with a repetitive slog.
Like, we don't have to talk shop too deeply—mostly because I don't know what the hell I'm talking about—but manga and anime two fundamentally different mediums. The way you process information by reading a still picture with printed words is completely different from how you process information from moving pictures and spoken words. Translation from one medium to the other involves just that: translation. You have to make educated decisions and changes in order to take a joke that worked in a manga and make it work in an anime.
And if you don't do that, the best you can hope for is the charm of the original gag working despite yourself, which is more or less what happens in this anime's best moments.
And I lied, I will talk shop a bit more: one way manga controls pacing is by the size and placement of its panels. I read the first chapter of the Househusband manga after watching the anime, and the manga's sense of paneling is really smart! There's a conducive rhythmic crescendo to its punchlines. But the anime recreates the manga so faithfully it won't change the size of the panels, so you get these awkward pans over a portrait-oriented image when seeing the full picture at once is usually integral to the joke. The end result just looks weird, and it doesn't work.
It's a ridiculously silly choice. Like when Masaomi Andō uses cutouts or "panel" layouts, it's part of a purposefully considered style of presentation, to place emphasis on certain parts of an image in context of their surroundings. Here it's because they weren't allowed to actually storyboard the thing for television screens.
And you can use negative space constructively in an anime! Osamu Dezaki did it all the time. But there has to be a reason for it beyond "whoops, all motion comic!"
What sucks more is that even with a middling but traditional production, none of this would be an issue, and we could actually focus on the actual material. This should be an uncontested slam dunk of a hit just on Tatsu alone!
Honestly, in spite of my complaints (which I haven't exhausted yet), the intrinsic charm of the material still ensured I had a pretty darn good time watching it. Tatsu is a fun character, and anime does at least one thing right by casting the single most perfect voice actor for him: the inimitable Kenjiro Tsuda.
TsudaKen is indeed the saving grace of this whole thing. If you wanted you could probably set up episodes to play while you read the manga, and get the best experience as this gravel-throated voice sings Happy Birthday to you.
That scene is legit the one part where I laughed out loud. Absolutely nothing better than hearing TsudaKen tunelessly wring Happy Birthday out of his vocal chords, with the exact texture of having just gargled an asphalt milkshake.
In a better world Tatsu and Miku would be the Anime Power Couple of the year. C'mon y'all. There's still time to go back and try again. They deserve it.
Just imagine TsudaKen doing a Borat voice.
Oh believe me, I have been, and all too easily.
I genuinely believe a lot of Househusband's success stems from people who just wanna see a happy couple who love each other very much. It's a beautiful and uncomplicated thing to behold.
It really is immeasurably wholesome. This man gave up his violent life of crime to become the supportive home body of his Police-themed Magical Girl loving wife. We should all aspire to this kind of partnership.
It also helps that Tatsu is the platonic ideal of the Venn diagram intersection between Wife Guy and Malewife.
He's just that good.
What a catch.
See what I'm saying? This should be an easy pitch! You have to actively try to screw this up when the entire internet has already turned multiple chapters of the manga into inescapable memes. Yet somehow they did it.
Somebody's pinky finger is def gonna have to roll for this.
Lest I complain too much about the adaptation choices, however, I do have a Netflix-centric complaint: they don't translate one of the best Tatsu & Miku moments! He only wins his Instagram contest because Miku gives him his sole like.
Now that's true love.
I mean if we're talking Netflix problems I could also mention the bingewatch model is terrible for this show in particular. This release is five 15-minute episodes, each divided in about 6 short segments, all with the same basic structure and pacing. Even if the animation doesn't put you off, watching all of this in one sitting is a great way to make a breezy comedy feel interminable.
Yep! I mean at this point I'm used to slamming back these shows for the column, but nobody should aspire to be as broken as us. Please savor your anime.
Also while we're here, RELEASE GODZILLA SINGULAR POINT YOU BASTARDS. GIVE US THE THICC LIZARD FIGHTING JET JAGUAR.
To be fair, we do get to see a cat dueling a pooping cat. That's pretty epic.
Oh right, we also deserved a better rendition of this idiot cat's adventures in irritating the neighborhood.
I'm also assuming the decision to give all the animals googly eyes was another thing ported faithfully from the manga. Which in this case was actually very good.
Though perhaps the biggest regret about this whole show is they couldn't do justice to the Volleyball chapter. This deserved Haikyu!! levels of spectacle dang it!
Yeah I imagine one of the fun things about adapting a comedy to animation is how it opens the door to enhancing the material with new jokes you can only do in animation. Just spitballing, but consider if you took all the effort spent redrawing the manga panels exactly, and instead directed it towards some absurd sakuga localized entirely in that scene. Boom, you have a novel visual component that complements the deadpan over-the-top humor of the source material.
According to some comments from director Chiaki Kon, it was actively more work to figure out how to make panel-by-panel recreation work than it would be to just direct and storyboard the episodes like a normal show, too. So this is basically a no-win scenario for anyone involved.
It makes sense! Animators new and old are gonna be more familiar with the usual workflow. And if you're gonna rock that boat you better have a good reason for doing it.
What kills me is there are even some shots that almost fill the entire frame. But we have to keep the exact proportions of the manga panel, so here's some weird letterboxing like we're back to watching DARLING in the FRANXX:
Dang, I thought I was being mean, but I didn't even think to compare The Way of the Househusband to DARLING in the FRANXX. That's ice cold. Fair, but cold.
Oh yeah, and sometimes the negative space is filled in with random colors, because why the hell not?
Personally I love it when anime looks like a Youtube Let's Play video of a game made before widescreen.
All we're missing a bouncing Vtuber head in the corner and a chat scroll filled with unintelligible emojis.
So yeah, there are parts of Househusband good enough to not be totally ruined by the baffling choices behind this adaptation. This isn't EX-ARM levels of self-sabotage. But when the best thing I can say is that they didn't manage to fuck absolutely everything up, that's your sign to just read the manga.
If you have a Netflix subscription anyway and you're curious, you might as well check it out. Like I said earlier, I still had a pretty good time with it, and the voice-acting is frequently its saving grace. But the manga is probably the safest bet.
Ha, I knew I'd find a way to slide the mahjong scene in here.