How a dark/realistic view on reality presents itself in anime and manga; Uramichi oniisan

{light spoilers for Uramichi oniisan volume 1}

Uramichi Omota is two-faced, or so firstly implies his name, as he smiles brightly at the children of the television show he works in, before letting the existential dread set in.
In the new wave of manga and anime that are feel-good slice of life set in a fantasy setting, Uramichi oniisan presents what is a reality for many: having to pretend to be happy go lucky, despite your cynicism. A lot of things in our daily lives, from youtube videos to posts and motivational quotes, focus on being productive and actively maintaining a positive mindset that is considered to be a healthy way to life, even leading to happiness, feeling content and grateful about your life. Kuze Gaku’s 2017 manga provides a look into a different type of mindset.

Working a job you hate, with people that you are either disinterested in, share the same feelings with or who downright fear you, that is the reality of the titular Uramichi, who works as an exercise instructor. Throughout the manga Uramichi gives out various advice and remarks, both to his audience and participants, that range from what microaggressions are in relation to position, what is job-hunting or why is it important so that the children won’t become like Uramichi, to the lonely reality of the main character’s routine of coming home to drink cheap liquor, all done with a straight face of someone who is dreading everything around him and his own existence.

The main draw of this manga is its relatability and dark humor. While most of us are not as jaded as Uramichi (hopefully), we can all relate to studying something akin to a dead end in life or feeling trapped in a hated job, this manga seems to release this frustration out. Uramichi is put in all kinds of situations, most of which he is forced to do unwillingly, just to please the higher-ups at his job. The children participating in the program all balance on a thin line between being aware of Uramichi’s dark remarks and blissfully ignorant, providing even more of a spotlight to how dark and down to earth the main character can get.

Of course, this is not the first comically dark work of fiction, as there are many others that are gaining popularity, making it almost a genre of its own, a “dark slice of life”. The most well known and associated with this type of humor anime/manga is without a doubt is Sayonara zetsubou sensei. Following its depressed protagonist, who often tries to take his life while shouting about despair, as he tries his best to teach his class full of unique students without spiraling out of control, it ran for three whole seasons of hilarity (the manga is completed, so feel free to check it out if you’d like). Even the first episode starts with him swinging from a sakura tree, so the viewer knows what they are getting into from the very beginning.

Oregairu and Watamote are another set of examples that, while way lighter on the topics they cover, both have “dark” protagonists and are extremely popular, especially with Oregairu’s upcoming 3rd season. The jaded main protagonist is slowly overcoming the now usual and somewhat tired blank slate type, which used to be popular for their traits that many people share therefore theoretically being universally relatable. Hikigaya Hachiman is sarcastic and disillusioned with any career goals or school related activities and actions. He is forced to join a club in order to socialize, while Tomoko Kuroki is obsessed in her means to achieve popularity and socialize with others, as well as blaming them for her lack of popularity, causing many awkward events for both herself and others.

Another topic often used for dark comedy is the subject of NEETs. Starkly contrasting most depictions, Konosuba and Welcome to the NHK, despite both of the series age difference (released in 2016 and 2006 respectfully), show that the image of a NEET is changing and somewhat morphing with the dark/jaded/more realistic and imperfect protagonist. Kazuma doesn’t shy away from being lazy or making perverted jokes. He and his party members live life from day to day, deadpan humor being one of Konosuba’s strong points that emphasize the parody elements of the anime. Although Welcome to the NHK is not a purely comedy anime like Konosuba, it has comedic elements targeting NEETs and even has self aware NEETs. Although the anime itself tackles the problem seriously and is both relatable and somewhat educating, the dark humor remains a key part. Uramichi oniisan carries most of the negative feelings towards jobs and career goals onto its pages, as we quickly see, as soon as we reach the midpoint of chapter 1.

Another one and the most recent example of “dark slice of life” is Oresuki or Ore wo Suki nano wa Omae dake ka yo, that follows the kind and sweet Jouro-kun as he juggles trying to support a weird love triangle between his friends, as well as keeping his stalker/girl who’s in love with him and who knows about his true jaded personality (also named as his Hyde persona) silent, so that his reputation and friendships remain intact. Uramichi’s name might mean two-faced, but over various twists and turns we get to see in the 12 episodes, in both drama and comedy, that no one is who they seem at first in the world of Oresuki and that we seriously have to look carefully at all the tropes and cliches presented not taking them immediately to heart.

While Uramichi oniisan doesn’t have a wide cast of characters, the ones it does, provide a view into all kinds of lifestyles and personalities. Under its facade of masks worn by the characters who are all working adults and their cynicism towards each other or life in general, lies a story that hits close to home for many different reasons. Its comedy makes it a worthwhile read and is the strong point, aside from the clean and expressive art that portrays all kinds of shades of despair in Uramichi’s face, keeping its realism and grasp of the harsher truths in check while we continue to float in a sea of what sometimes seems like nothing but mindless positivity. Of course, this is not some handbook on how people should view the world, if so it would be worrying, but a dark comedy that offers a glimpse into the fun of it and the harder aspects of our own lives.

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