What’s it about? Takafumi’s uncle was hit by a truck in the year 2000 and spent 17 years in a coma. Upon awakening, he tells Takafumi he actually spent those 17 years living in the other world of Granbahamal—and he has the magical powers to prove it.
I so want to be on board with what Uncle from Another World is selling me, because “isekai Jumanji” is a very funny concept. Unfortunately, the premiere seems determined to squander its good ideas with a combination of misdirection and persistent inconsistencies.
Kawai Shigeki is taking the head director chair for the first time, and his previous outings as episode director have almost exclusively been on action shows (including infamous JSDF propaganda vehicle GATE). His lack of comedy chops are painfully apparent, weighted down further by a thudding script from Ihara Kenta (Trapped in a Dating Sim, The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter, the unpleasantly sleazed-up-to-eleven Mieruko-chan adaptation). There’s an effective opening where the show leans into the dark possibility that the titular Uncle might just have a persistent delusion (which has its ableist issues as a comedy premise but at least as a piece of bleak satire or parody it’s something), but it lasts all of five minutes before confirming that not only was the other world real, but the Man Named Uncle has kept his magical abilities in our world.
The rest of the episode goes on to recycle about three jokes: Uncle’s life in another world was relentlessly bleak; he’s out of touch with modern technology; and he had no idea that the woman following him around in the other world had feelings for him. These range in execution from “not really a joke but sure” to “I see the joke you abandoned halfway up the road back there” to “pedant mode activated.”
I confess to feeling a blossoming canker of cynicism during that cold open I praised, where the room of haggard-looking, heavily outlined male characters were interrupted by a female nurse who had the face of a pleasant but deeply uncanny robot. Hard to sell me on your “this is the real world” premise when men get to look schlubby but the women are equally airbrushed in fantasyland and modern Tokyo even when doing a decidedly hard and unglamorous job. But to be fair, there’s a dire lack of visual contrast between the real world and Granbahamal overall.
It’s supposed to be a land of magic where everyone is hot, even the rando bandits, but it’s still drawn and lit with heavy lines and dark colors, meaning there’s no shock value when the Uncle reveals the horrible things that happened to him. The punchlines are as if we’re looking at Happy Tree Friends, but all I can do is shrug and say “what did you expect, landing in Berserk?”It makes it dead dull to look at too. Somewhat minimal animation wouldn’t be a problem with more striking boarding and color composition, but this is a series of grey rooms occasionally broken up by a breathtakingly brown forest.
But what really kills me is the lack of care. Obviously, I don’t need this to be meticulously worldbuilt just to tell some “Gen X Man Miss Sega” jokes. But I do expect a show to adhere to its own rules—so why does the cold open rest on the Uncle realizing he needs to use Japanese for his spells to work in Japan…only for him to swap back to activating them with fantasy language later? But what really broke the premise for me was one word: tsundere.
A third of the three jokes rests on the premise that Uncle didn’t recognize that the elf woman following him was being tsundere, and so he took her at her word when she said he was hideous and she hated him (frankly? Fair enough). Takafumi posits that this is because tsundere didn’t become a popular concept until 2004, after his uncle was taken into Truck-kun’s loving embrace. To which I respond: motherfucker, Ranma ½ started airing in 1989.
Even if we argue that tsundere as a term wasn’t in the lexicon until the early 2000s, the archetype was so suffocatingly prominent in the 90s that by 1996 we already had a critical interrogation of it. Uncle was isekai’d with a buffet of tsundere love interests in popular culture, from Kimagure Orange Road to Full Metal Panic! to Love Hina. It’s the kind of detail that wouldn’t matter in a one-off throwaway joke or if there was a one-title exception to a generally true observation, but they’ve chosen to hinge an entire joke around it in a series whose bedrock is about the gulf between 90s otaku entertainment and the landscape circa 2017. And also, I was just so bored by that point.
A quick glance at the wiki indicates that future episodes will introduce Uncle’s childhood friend, who’s apparently been nursing a crush lo these 17 years that he’s naturally oblivious to. [This is a misreading on my part y’all, I’m sorry; it’s Takafumi’s friend who joins the cast. My overall feelings on the show’s weird treatment of women stands though.] I’m not sure I have it in me to slog through more of the show’s weird-feeling treatment of women (Tsundere Elf looks like a teenager, incidentally, while Uncle looks like his 30-something self), especially not when it’s so bad at landing a joke. A more skilled creative team might’ve been able to sell the dark comedy or at least keep the pace clipping along serviceably, but unfortunately the show as delivered has left me in despair.
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