Gaku Kuze’s Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan, Volume 1 is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. The cynical perspective of a 30-something whose life didn’t turn out how they thought it would is already a topic rife with potential for black comedy, but run through an extremely questionable kids variety show, that humour hits a whole new level.
“Okay kids, what does the U in Uramichi stand for?” “UNFULFILLED!” “And the R?” “READY TO CHECK OUT!” … “You did a great job faking interest in that, kids! That’ll definitely help when you’re job hunting!”
Such is Uramichi Omota’s (aka Uramichi Oniisan) approach to playing the exercise leader on a little show called Together with Manan. He’s a former pro gymnast who somehow wound up in a job he hates, whose only option is to just get by, one day at a time. So how does he get through the day? By playing peekaboo with his will to live; by singing children’s songs about struggling to get dressed in the morning because you have no energy left for basic chores; rewriting the lyrics to try speak out against Japan’s equivalent of the RIAA (and then giving up the protest amongst immediately because “sometimes grown-ups abandon their principles overnight because they’re weak! ⭐”)
There’s no real ongoing narrative direction to Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan; it’s a slice-of-life manga with each chapter focused on some specific incident or event in the studio. But through these moments, the book paints a picture of the depressing lives of Uramichi and the misfits he’s surrounded by, and finds every opportunity to pull laughter out of that bleak reality.
Awful though the whole crew may seem on the surface, there’s an endearing quality to them. They’re all a bit pathetic, quietly supportive of one another, and all just hanging in there together. They seem to dislike one another, and Uramichi especially seems to find his co-presenters especially annoying, but they also find comfort in each other’s company—though they’d never admit it.
We are all Uramichi, in some way or another. What makes Life Lessons so funny, aside from the absurdity of it all, is how relatable it is. “It’s funny ’cause it’s true”, but also, it’s depressing ’cause it’s true, and it’s funny ’cause it’s depressing. Such is a cycle that comedians have worked forever, and Gaku Kuze’s oddball twist on the timeless formula is delightful—not just despite the bleakness of the topic, but because of it.
Life Lessons also often delves into some fourth-wall-breaking humour, like a gag whose punchline relies almost entirely on a change in colour—before Uramichi points out to the person trying to make the joke that this is a black-and-white book, so it’s not going to work. There are little margin notes, the likes of which you often seen in manga, but with comical little reflections on the comic itself (“We’re spending a whole page on this?”) or things like an erroneous literature citation to back up Uramichi’s claim that “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!” is “one of the top three most useful adages in life!”.
A lot of credit has to go to the translator here, Matt Treyvaud. Translating is a difficult job, but translating comedy is especially so, especially when you’re dealing with puns or other such language-specific things. The English version of Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan manages to keep all that humour and all the comedic timing perfectly intact.
The result is a book that is, as I said, one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. The grind and monotony of adult life has long been a fountain for black comedy that’s all the more humorous for how relatable it is, and seems more relevant now than ever. Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan, Volume 1 takes an offbeat approach to that tradition that’s hilarious from cover to cover.
Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan, Volume 1 written and illustrated by Gaku Kuze, and published by Kodansha Comics. It’s available now in digital and print formats.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.