Story and Art by Kousuke Oono
Translation by Sheldon Drzka
Edited & English Adaptation by Jennifer LeBlanc
Touch-Up Art & Lettering by Bianca Pistilla
Design by Alice Lewis
“So, you’re not a felon, just feminine.”
This quote, said by a relieved police officer after tailing Tatsu through town over a misunderstanding of what’s in his briefcase, encapsulates the premise of The Way of the Househusband in a nutshell. It takes a stereotypical Yakuza gang member, typically characterized in media as hyper-masculine and violent, and directs the cliches associated with that archetype towards traditionally feminine pursuits. Tatsu worries about staying fit, he obsesses over getting stains out of clothes, and takes pride in his home cooking; interests that have been culturally coded as feminine, and stories you’d see written about housewife characters like Marge on sitcoms like The Simpsons. Househusband’s brilliance lies not in the humor of a Yakuza member performing these duties, but in Tatsu’s sincere enthusiasm for them.
Tatsu describes his tasks and approaches them with the same attitude he brought to his Yakuza work; that’s the life he used to live, so he understands them best in those terms. He takes everything he does seriously; whether it’s playing volleyball with his friends or playing the Stamp Rally. More importantly, people treat him seriously. Few people question or look down on him for caring about domestic duties; they’re mostly supportive. He’s still feared by Yakuza and law enforcement and is still capable of intimidating them without actively trying to. The few naysayers and doubters Tatsu does have are eventually won over by his unwavering confidence and unquestionable homemaking skill. Tatsu’s effeminate behaviors are never the butt of the joke, only the Yakuza-like line of thinking and gusto he brings to everything he does.
By demonstrating that Tatsu takes his domestic duties as a househusband just as enthusiastically as he did his former Yakuza tasks, Househusband portrays homemaking activities as important and that the work and passion involved in them should be respected. Moreover, by showing that Tatsu can perform domestic duties and remain respected by his peers as he was when he was a Yakuza, the series communicates that having feminine interests doesn’t compromise a person’s masculinity. Tatsu embraces traditionally feminine roles, and by showing him engage in them with the macho vigor of a Yakuza, the series challenges the boundaries of what is considered manly and depicts what a healthy, well-rounded example of what masculinity looks like.
While Househusband’s premise is brilliant, its comedic success owes a lot to the unique situations Tatsu finds himself in and how he plays off of other characters. This volume introduces new members of the supporting cast who bounce off Tatsu in fun ways and help expand his character. The housewives he makes friends with at the fitness club become recurring characters he can hang out with, opening up new possibilities to see how Tatsu fits in with a group like in the volleyball club chapter, and depicting healthy and supportive platonic friendships between men and women. Rival and ex-gang members provide a good insight into the kind of person Tatsu used to be and demonstrate how he’s able to channel his old skills into his new pursuits. His relationship with his father-in-law explores the necessity of communication for healthy parental bonding. Above all else, the series really shines when it highlights the relationship between Tatsu and Miku. Miku doesn’t always understand what Tatsu’s thinking, but they have a great sense of trust and boundaries with each other, evident whenever Tatsu listens to and follows through with Miku’s suggestions without fuss. The shining moment in this volume, of course, is Tatsu’s proud declaration that “My wife’s smile is the real first place!” upon winning a lottery prize that he didn’t personally want, but makes Miku happy. Tatsu genuinely cares about his wife’s happiness, and invests time into learning skills and acquiring tools that will make housework easier and their life together even better. Tatsu’s interactions with Miku and other characters highlight the sincerity and sweetness that make him and the series so appealing and fun to watch.
Another key factor in Househusband’s humor is its art. The series very much elevates its humor through the contrast of serious imagery and the goofy or mundane activity being performed. Oono is great at dramatic drawings of Tatsu showing him wear a sinister expression while doing something totally innocent, like in the panels where he takes out the sodium percarbonate or when he holds out a rubber ducky while saying “rub-a dub-dub.” In general, Tatsu’s creepy grins and dramatic expressions while he’s doing anything are the jokes in of themselves, so Oono’s ability to consistently make entertainingly weird and goofy faces are a real strength. Their comic timing is nothing to sneeze at either, particularly during action-reaction moments like when the Saruwatari thug keeps doubling over and hurting himself while overreacting to the items Tatsu’s offering him as a gift. In the same way Tatsu’s serious approach to simple tasks elicits humor, the seriousness of the art depicting these activities adds another dimension to the joke, complimenting and completing it through the emphasis of contrast.
It’s ironic that the back cover of Househusband parodies the title of the song “Battle without Honor or Humanity” with the label “Housework without Honor or Humanity,” when the series’ strengths, in fact, lie in depicting housework as honorable and in respecting the humanity of its characters. Househusband is a wonderful exploration of healthy, modern masculinity channeled through domestic pursuits that’re taken seriously and performed proudly. Tatsu is a great character whose enthusiastic approach to domestic chores underscores his compassion and considerate nature. That said, this volume leaves me feeling that there’s more to explore with Tatsu’s past and how his relationship with Miku came to be. While he’s embraced his new life as a househusband, he seemingly can’t escape his Yakuza-like habits and are informed by those experiences. This is best evident in the PTSD-like paranoia he experiences while driving a car in the proximity of pedestrians he imagines as secret assassins out to get him, thoughts that become so overwhelming that he ultimately bails on driving altogether. While this is played for laughs, there could still be some traumatic experiences in his past that he’s still working through that could interfere with his domestic life, and I’ll be interested to see if Househusband touches upon that more in future volumes. For now, Househusband is a book that knows how to please, and I look forward to Tatsu showing us more of his honorable, humane way of life.