Photo: ‘Uncle from Another World’
The Beginning of an Unlikely Comedy Anime
Firstly, I would like to go on a rant about how Netflix releases content, because it’s been a real thorn in my side for the past few years and I feel like it’s somehow become more of an issue recently. You see, I was expecting to see the first episode of ‘Uncle from Another World’ when I logged into Netflix on July 6; sites that track new releases for streaming services said the show would premiere on the 6th. The problem is that these sites were not exactly wrong, as ‘Uncle from Another World’ did premiere on July 6 — in Japan.
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In the US, we had to wait until the 20th, and by that point, there were already three episodes out in Japan (if my math is right), and those “in the know” would have already caught the second episode elsewhere subtitled. All this sounds fine and dandy, except ‘Uncle from Another World’ did not premiere on Netflix in the US with an English dub track; now, this is by no means the end of the world, but may I ask why we were given the wrong information about when American Netflix subscribers would get this show?
The worst part is that (so far, anyway) this new anime was actually kind of worth the wait. ‘Uncle from Another World’ starts strong, and while I’m restricted to only talking about the first episode, this is a fantastical comedy anime that hopefully people will be coming back to week by week. Oh yes, week by week, as opposed to what Netflix normally does with anime, which is either to release everything at once or (and this is specially done with anime) split a season up into smaller chunks.
As for the show itself, the premise seems simple at first, but it’s effective at crossing two genres that sound disparate but which work together well here: the fantasy adventure and the family comedy. Here’s how it goes: Takafumi is a young man living on his own and working part-time, and he has an uncle who has been in a coma for the past seventeen years. The year is 2017. One day, the uncle (we don’t get his name apparently, “Ojisan” is simply Japanese for “uncle”) wakes miraculously from his coma — but that’s not the weirdest thing about him. You see, while the uncle was comatose in our world all those years, his consciousness had been transported to an otherworldly fantasy realm.
During his time in the other world, the uncle learned swordsmanship and the ways of magic, even being able to use his magic in our world; one thing he did not seem to learn was how to interact with other people. The uncle himself was seventeen years old when he slipped into his coma, and while it would be enough of a challenge to catch up with a world that has changed for seventeen years without him, he’s also a shameless nerd who fawns over video games — specifically Sega video games. Of course, the uncle is a socially inept nerd who can also use his own body as an interdimensional portal, so powerful that he can bring items from the fantasy realm into ours at will.
A Serious Boy and His Goofy Uncle
For those of us who have watched plenty of anime in our time, ‘Uncle from Another World’ very clearly falls into a simultaneous niche and yet omnipresent (some would say over-saturated) genre: the isekai. What is an isekai? The word “isekai” means “another world,” and basically it’s when someone from our world is transported, in time, place, or both, to another world — or maybe a version of our world that’s so different that it feels alien. A textbook example of an isekai would be ‘Sword Art Online’, although truth be told, the framework of the isekai is by no means a new one; you could go all the way back to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars, wherein the hero John Carter is astral projected to a highly fantastical version of Mars, and you could probably go back even further.
One of the kickers with ‘Uncle from Another World’ is that it’s both an isekai and a reverse isekai (i.e., someone from another world being transported to ours, a la ‘The Devil Is a Part-Timer’), since the uncle is essentially a fish out of the water once he returns to the normal human world — not to mention whatever he might bring from that other world. I don’t know where this show is heading, frankly; we could stay in the human world, or there could be shenanigans in the other world. Probably the latter, since we get projected memories of the uncle’s time in the fantasy world, and we’re introduced to characters who we’ll probably run into again later.
The meat of the first episode, though, and what makes it so entertaining, is the relationship between Takafumi and his crazy uncle — how these guys barely know each other, despite being family. Takafumi himself is a good straight man, not being timid by any means but rather utterly flabbergasted by his uncle a) waking up from his years-long coma, b) having basically become a wizard in the interim, and c) being a little too concerned about Sega having lost its console war with Nintendo. Normally with real-life properties, a flimsy thinly veiled analogue is used in the show (a classic example is McDonald’s becoming WcDonald’s), but they straight-up use ‘Sonic the Hedgehog 2’ at one point, complete with the music for Hill Top Zone (not my favorite, but to each his own), which makes me wonder if Sega put some money into this show.
Regardless, the uncle’s obsession with old-timey video games (he did slip into a coma way back in 2000) is used just frequently enough without becoming obnoxious. This is a show that hinges on the strength of its dialogue, since God knows visual humor is not its forte; in fairness to the studio behind ‘Uncle from Another World’, AtelierPontdarc, this is like their second anime ever, and you have to start somewhere. My main complaint with this show right now is, indeed, that the characters are a little too sketchily outlined for my liking, and their movements are not what we’d call the most fluid ever. A small price to pay, for sure.
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‘Uncle from Another World’ – Swords, Portals, and ‘90s Video Game References
I tend to avoid isekai anime like the plague, since not only are there so many of them, but too many of them come off as too similar to each other. I could be biased, but I would also say too many of these isekais suffer from taking themselves too seriously, a problem ‘Uncle from Another World’ does not have. If you’re not one to watch anime subtitled, then you might be hesitant to check this one out, as it doesn’t have an English dub at the time that I’m writing this, but once you get into it I don’t think the subtitles will be an issue. ‘Uncle from Another World’ is not the funniest anime of its kind, but it balances humor with genuine curiosity in a way that grants both the familial dynamic and the fantasy stuff a certain appeal, and also without making them seem at odds with each other.
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I do wish Netflix would make up its mind as to how it wants to release anime in the US, though, and something tells me that given how the Netflix release model usually works, people will also be turned off by ‘Uncle from another World’ being released weekly instead of all at once — you know, like a real TV show. What I’m trying to say is that this show is quite charming, but I also worry that Netflix will do with it what it does with the vast majority of its content, which is to say nothing whatsoever in terms of marketing. It would be a shame, because assuming you like dialogue-driven comedy, and also that you get some of the nerdy references, you could get a good amount of fun out of this show.
‘Uncle from Another World’ is available to stream on Netflix.
CAST: Takehito Koyasu, Jun Fukuyama. Haruka Tomatsu
CREW: Director: Shigeki Kawai, Writer: Kenta Ihara
By Brian Collins
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