Story & Art by Kousuke Oono
Translated by Sheldon Zrzka
Edited by Jennifer LeBlanc
Touch-Up Art & Lettering by Bianco Pistillo
What would be your first impression of a muscular man with a broad back decorated with a massive dragon tattoo that extends all the way to his elbows, replaced by popped-out blood veins extending all the way down to his wrists? A guy who has just washed his face, and tucked a concealed knife into his pants. A guy who suddenly puts on his black coat with a dramatic “SWF,” and dons his shades over his scarred face, glaring with purpose. If you were to see a guy like this in real life, you’d probably back away. You might consider him dangerous, potentially violent. After all, what else could he possibly use his knife for?
Then what if, as immediately as he puts on the shades, this dangerous-looking fellow ties on an apron with a goofy-looking cartoon dog on it. Rather than use that knife for killing, he delicately carves up some breakfast – making some adorable-looking bear-shaped rice balls. Not only that, he’s so proud of what he’s made that he begins carefully taking pictures of it with the same effort of any foodie Instagrammer wanting to share their creations. Within the span of fives page, your impression of Househusband’s protagonist Tatsu completely changes. Just like how there’s more than one way to use a knife, and there’s more than one way to live a life. Househusband’s comedy is rooted into the subversion of appearances and stereotypes, illustrating that what things look like at first glance doesn’t reflect the nuances of reality.
Word about The Way of the Househusband started making the rounds on MangaTwitter long before its official release, and it’s not hard to see why. From the dorky sincerity of Kuwabara in Yu Yu Hakusho to the surprisingly worldly life lessons taught by the irreverent Great Teacher Onizuka, anime and manga fans love stories about street punks with hearts of gold who humorously use their hardened skills to succeed in honorable endeavors, or otherwise display a sense of compassion and sweetness at odds with their demeanor. There’s a certain gap-moe appeal in watching a muscular tough guy draped in dragon tattoos feed a kitten. The dichotomy of a dangerous guy who’s also the kindest in the world fulfills two roles for readers, who want their protagonists to have attitude but also have their cute moments too. I can’t speak for everyone, but I find punks with hearts of gold appealing because I want to think of delinquents and gangbangers as badasses. After all, the fantasy of people who stick a middle finger to authority without a second thought, and who kick butt and act tough without caring what the world thinks of them is appealing for those of us who’re already anti-establishment. However, if all such characters are is violent and rude then they’re just bullies and troublemakers, which makes them hard to root for. So by subverting stereotypes about their rough edges and portraying them as softies who use their badassery in helpful and constructive ways, Yankee and Yakuza characters can get to be two types of character in one, and that gives them an endearing, broad appeal.
So by its very premise alone, The Way of the Househusband is effortlessly funny. The very idea of a former Yakuza dude using his mobbish talents in the service of domestic chores and making his wife happy is already awesome and adorable. A lot of the humor in the book just contrasts people’s expectations of the Yakuza husband to the mundane task he’s really doing. For example, the most popular sequence from the series that’s been floating around Twitter recently is where he asks a convenience store girl for “the good white stuff.” He means flour, but she misunderstands him and thinks he wants drugs because, well, he’s a Yakuza so of course you think he’d be into drugs. There series’ premise and humor is built around the idea of a Yakuza guy doing household chores and people misunderstanding his intentions being consistently funny both in concept and execution.
This gimmick plays into the manga’s strengths as a social satire. It’s easy to box people into having certain characteristics based on stereotypes of who or what they are, but there are certain quintessential commonalities everyone shares, such as buying groceries or cleaning the house or being a considerate partner, which ring universal no matter what you do for a living. Househusband subtly raises the question of why we characterize people based on how they look. Why do we place their words into a certain context we might not with someone else? The series doesn’t set out to answer these questions explicitly, but tacitly every chapter revolves around the assumptions of people who don’t know Tatsu contrasting with reality. In the very first chapter he’s stopped by the police because they assume he’s up to no good just because of the way he looks, when all he was doing was biking to deliver his wife her lunch. They assume the worst – they think he’s taking out a gun when he’s really grabbing a coupon. Granted, Tacchan does have skills as a former Yakuza, so part of the humor is that he uses these skills harmlessly without much thought. Other people are quick to place more meaning on what Tatsu does, usually in a negative light, in spite of his sincerity.
As the only consistent character and the primary source of humor in the series, Tatsu succeeds in being an interesting and entertaining protagonist. He prides himself on being the best house-husband and takes it as seriously as when he was a Yakuza. His previous job influences how he approaches situations to a fault; when he buys his wife Miku a PoliCure set she already has for her birthday, he’s prepared to punish himself by slicing off one of his own fingers. He talks to a roomba like its a real person when he needs it to clean the house. He buries a toy he accidentally breaks six feet underground like a person he might’ve killed in his previous job and bows apologetically to his wife afterwards. While this approach is one-joke at its core, Oono’s imaginative application of Yakuza story cliches to the mundanity of daily life allows for a variety of comedic scenarios to easily manifest themselves and keep each chapter of the series feel fresh and funny.
The series plays with whether Tatsu is willfully ignorant of how others perceive him and their intentions, or is genuinely oblivious because of his single-minded dedication to being a good househusband. Tatsu thinks of ordinary tasks in Yakuza terms and uses gangbanger lingo in daily conversation. He often subdues his enemies by rekindling warm emotions inside them, like reminding the knife-salesman of his hometown or a former rival of his mother. There are a few jokes that don’t involve people reacting to Tatsu’s strangeness, so the jokes in reverse are quite refreshing – for instance, when the store clerk goes into a long rant about the Policure series after Tacchan asks if he has the blu-ray box set. A lot of the comedy relies on suddenness – things happening unexpectedly and characters literally crashing into or stumbling upon Tatsu in action. The series also gets mileage out of something ordinary helping Tatsu out in a serious situation – like when he uses a DIY book for housewives to block an enemy gangbanger’s knife attack.
This humorous subversion of mundanity into absurdity is the bread and butter of Househusband’s humor. One particularly great, strange sequence is when Tacchan tests the knife-seller’s cutlery to make a delicious hamburger. After tasting his food, the knife seller goes on a long monologue about how delicious the food is and the emotions it evokes from him as if he were in a food manga. The suddenness of him thinking to himself that he needs “get the hell outta here” while still wearing a blissful expression is a great punchline to the whole skit, taking the scenario to an unexpected but absurd conclusion. Really, the chapter’s final two panels illustrate a huge point of appeal in the manga’s use of visual contrast to inner reality; Tacchan’s wears a smug look, clearly proud of the dish he’s made and waiting expectantly for the salesman’s praise, but he comes across as menacing while in contrast, the salesman smiles blissfully while thinking to himself that he needs to “get the hell outta here.” The series knows just how long to let its subversive sequences play out – taking a couple of pages just to explore Tacchan going about his tasks matter of factly – before swinging the story back into reality. Rather than let the straight man constantly comment on how ridiculous Tacchan is being, it smartly times out their reactions at just the right moment to maximize the comedic effect, which helps keep the pace of the manga quick and the tone less manzai-wacky and more wryly understated.
There’s not much in the way of other characters besides Tacchan in the book, with two exceptions. The first is Masa, a former underling of his, but he mostly just serves as a straight-man like other characters Tacchan comes across. Tacchan’s wife, however, is much more interesting. We only meet her about halfway through the book, and it’s clear from the beginning that Tacchan adores her, but why? We don’t find out too much in the first volume, but unlike other characters she’s given a lot more characterization; she’s a busy career-woman, likes the Pretty Cure expy PoliCure, and loves to play games and collect figures. From her sparse appearances, it’s clear she’s witty enough to deal with Tatsu’s oddities and strong enough to punch him out a window and over the balcony of their apartment. While she mostly still serves as Tatsu’s straight man, in contrast to other characters, she’s aware of Tacchan’s true intentions when other people misunderstand him and is self-conscious about how other people perceive him. Her ability to understand the real him sets her apart from other characters in the series and provides just enough information for readers to get why they’re a couple, though a more dramatic origin story for their relationship is definitely teased in the last chapter of the volume.
Since much of the humor is simply based on how Tacchan looks while he’s doing something, the series really relies on its art to sell its comedic ideas. Thankfully, Oono’s talented at drawing a variety of humorous expressions, so the repetitive gag of Tacchan saying something innocent with a scary face remains successfully funny throughout the volume. Oono’s shading work is great too since the series relies on stark lighting to absurdly depict innocuous events as being dramatic. His non-reactions are just as funny as his wild takes, like when the store clerk’s face remains locked in a doofy expression after Tacchan suddenly slaps his chin, or when Masa is very seriously looking up how to fight many opponents on “Guugle” while his enemies patiently wait for him. Oono’s expressive art and comedic timing are definite strengths of the book, and their excellent execution is what keeps a potentially one-joke concept consistently entertaining.
The Way of the Househusband is the way to do a seemingly one-joke comedic premise right. Its simplicity is its success, centering its stories and comedy around an endearing character and finding great jokes to make about an unusual person navigating an ordinary life. What it lacks in complexity it makes up for in sincerity, and its earnest and good-natured comedy is consistently refreshing throughout the book. With a protagonist both badass and adorable, and comedy based around universal situations, Househusband has a broad appeal and well worth picking up for any fan of Yakuza or delinquent stories, or just fun comedies in general. Plus, Tatsu is a wonderful and wholesome role model and every dude should read this manga to learn how to channel their masculinity in constructive ways! Just don’t be so hard on yourselves and try chopping off your fingers if you make a mistake.