It’s 2022. The COVID-19 pandemic is still a problem. Nobody’s life is what they expected it to be. Which is why now is the perfect time for Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan. The show follows an approaching middle-aged man in his not-ideal job with often idiotic coworkers. He can put on a happy face, but sometimes he’s just barely getting by. Just like us! Except with the juxtaposition of a children’s show star making do, it becomes a bit easier to laugh at the situation. (Even if sometimes it does get a little too real.)
Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan is a slice-of-life show. But it isn’t necessarily one filled with heartfelt, sweet moments. Rather, it’s more about what life might actually be like for people in their 30s. Things aren’t as they expected. Uramichi Omota is a talented gymnast. But instead of doing something in sports… he’s one of the cast members on Together with Maman and tends to handle the exercise segments. Both Iketeru Daga and Utano Tadano hoped to find major roles as singers. But the former failed as a musical actor and the latter couldn’t make it in a variety of other genres like idol or enka. Tobikichi Usahara and Mitsuo Kumatani went to college with Uramichi and also went into athletics. Now? They wear animal costumes and play Usao-kun and Kumao-kun on the show. They’re also all dealing with other issues, like being unmarried, buried in debt, depressed, or immature. They have to be “cheerful,” because it is a kid’s show! But stuff bleeds through! (And is often ironic, given that the failed singers are played by Nana Mizuki and Mamoru Miyano in Japanese!)
It’s how Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan handles things that makes its dark humor really come through. There are some serious issues there. Uramichi is genuinely depressed. His work situation also isn’t great, as an original character he created and used in a skit is then turned into merchandise his employers can profit off of, due to his contract. This isn’t exclusive to him, as both Uramichi and Iketeru end up with bad costumes too. The Bacterian and Germinator outfits are a good example. But the tone and way it is handled somehow makes it more palatable. While he might get real with the kids about his loneliness, job, and life, he’s never cruel or mean. He’s more genuinely letting them know what’s going on. But it’s handled in a way where the kids wouldn’t necessarily catch on, but an older viewer absolutely would and probably find it hilarious. Which means that we, the viewers, are “in” on the joke. We get that their lives aren’t genuinely terrible. They’re just not what they expected. And that makes it all, well, really funny sometimes!
See, even though things aren’t ideal, there’s hope in Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan. For example, there are the children themselves. All of the cast members are working with kids on Together with Maman. They’re genuinely sweet! While they do sometimes really land some great and pointed digs (unintentionally), they really do mean well. And even though Uramichi’s lessons and Utano and Iketeru’s songs might not always be “appropriate,” they do genuinely care about the kids too. Using the Germinator and Bacterian skit as an example again, Uramichi goes out of his way to ensure the kids can hit him.
There are also the relationships between the Together with Maman cast. Even if people seem to be annoying or angering each other, they do care about each other and get along. Usahara might be absolutely terrified of Uramichi, but they do hang out together. Kumatani looks after both Iketeru and animals. Everyone also works well together. Sure, sometimes this involves Uramichi threatening Usahara or Kumatani, but there’s a chemistry and rapport that works. Once again, going with Bacterian and Germinator—since it keeps there from being too many spoilers—Iketeru comes to Uramichi with a genuine apology for getting too into pelting him with toy balls during the segment.
Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan nails its landings. Former gymnast Uramichi is doing his best. So his mask slips sometimes. Given what he’s dealing with, it’s understandable! Also, it’s often pretty darn funny. We know him. We could be him. And if we aren’t, then maybe we’re in the same situation as one of his coworkers. While everyone’s arguably doing “well,” none of them are doing what they always wanted. But there’s still some happiness and hope there. Which highlights that even if things aren’t the way the viewer wanted them, especially in times like these, they might appreciate the good in their own lives.
Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan is streaming on Funimation. Kodansha is handling the English localization of the manga.