To say Osomatsu has gone through many changes since 1962 would be an understatement. Originally a gag manga by Fujio Akatsuka, Osomatsu-kun has been adapted twice to anime in 1966 and 1988, each with its own take on the series and sense of humor. The manga, as well as both versions of the anime, also shifted from their initial premise of rambunctious identical sextuplet children–Osomatsu, Karamatsu, Choromatsu, Ichimatsu, Jyushimatsu, and Todomatsu–to focus on their neighbors Iyami and Chibita when those characters proved more popular.
In 2015, director Yoichi Fujita and series writer Shu Matsubara of Gintama fame rebooted the series to refocus on the sextuplets and bring them into adulthood. In modern Japanese society, the main characters live as social misfits: the Matsuno sextuplets having aged into NEETs (“Not in Education, Employment, or Training”) and the sole heroine, Totoko, becoming a floundering local idol. The sextuplets have always sought attention from girls, and now they’re horndogs desperate to have sex for the first time. Totoko refuses to date them, even if they’re her only supporters.
Not all characters from Osomatsu-kun carried over, including girls like Chikako. Only Totoko and Matsuyo, mother of the Matsuno family, remained as recurring characters. Besides them, women generally make limited appearances. Try as they might to get girlfriends, women outright reject the sextuplets or a relationship doesn’t last longer than an episode. (To be fair, it makes sense that women don’t want to be around men who objectify and insult them.)
Now in its third season, Osomatsu-san (localized as Mr. Osomatsu) has somewhat shifted its approach to women. Although the season premiere couched any balance between male and female characters going forward as “compliance” to appease the show’s production committee, episodes have sincerely focused on Totoko, Matsuyo, and the reboot-exclusive Nyaa-chan more than ever.
This post contains discussion of misogyny, transmisogyny, and sexual harassment, as well as spoilers for all seasons of Osomatsu-san and Osomatsu-san: The Movie.
Although Osomatsu-san doesn’t have many recurring female characters, it has a devoted fan following among women. While Osomatsu-kun ran in magazines aimed at young boys back in the day, every Osomatsu-san-related manga has been in magazines aimed at young girls or women. At the peak of popularity during season one, anime magazines aimed at women like Otomedia and Pash! sold out of their Osomatsu-san cover issues. Even An An, a women’s lifestyle magazine, has featured the sextuplets in special issues and books.
Anime with predominantly male characters being popular among women is nothing new or unusual. Osomatsu-san is well aware of such titles, having its own parody of otome games and male idols with “F6,” the ikemen versions of the sextuplets. Although F6 originated as a disguise through which the Matsunos hoped to be accepted by modern anime fandom (in the show’s metanarrative), the majority of female fans actually prefer their “Muppet Beatles” appearance. Things came full circle in Osomatsu-san: The Movie, which emotionally climaxes on a metaphor for the show’s fanbase. In the film, a magical cat transports the sextuplets to a recreation of their high school memories that hinges on a love letter from a classmate named Nozomi. Her letter thanks the Matsunos for lighting up her life even if they never spoke to each other, just as fangirls find comfort in their favorite fictional characters.
Initially, some of the more prominent female characters were merely extensions of the sextuplets themselves, similar to F6. While some segments follow the actual lives of the cast in modern Japan, others have them play roles within the skit–teacher, business man, detective, etc.–as if the characters are actors in a sketch comedy. The sextuplets occasionally take on female roles, such as season two’s “Inn” where three out of four play a zashikiwarashi, a proprietress, and a woman on vacation.
Season one introduced “Girlymatsu-san,” a recurring segment starring a group of unlikely female friends played by the sextuplets. Unlike the Matsunos, they are not related to one another. “Girlymatsu-san” approaches topics like dating and beauty from the point of views of multiple women, which would be impossible coming from the sextuplets themselves or even the limited number of regular female characters. Rather than working with their established female characters or designing brand new ones, they recreated the dynamic of the sextuplets with slightly different dispositions (such as the elegant Ichiko compared to the unkempt Ichimatsu).
As much as I may relate to parts of “Girlymatsu-san” (apologies to anyone who’s had to deal with me acting like Osoko in episode 15) and appreciate their character designs, I’ve always felt they were a shallow way of acknowledging and reaching out to the women fanbase. “Here are the sextuplets you know and love, but now they’re women.” Maybe the “gender balance” initiative to replace the Matsunos with six identical women in season three’s premiere was poking fun at the old unambitious idea.
In any case, I personally find “Girlymatsu-san” redundant when Osomatsu-san already established Totoko as a female counterpart to the NEET sextuplets. She may have a career, but she’s unsuccessful in her idol ventures and also can’t land a date. Despite her beauty, she’s really just as hopeless and off-putting to other people as the Matsunos. She looks down on other women and refers to them as “commoners” to feel better, when she’s merely the daughter of a fishmonger. Totoko-centric skits often follow her attempts to become popular, as an idol and among potential boyfriends, taken to absurd measures.
Appearances from other female characters are short-lived, compared to the slew of recurring male characters carried over from the manga–Iyami, Chibita, Hatabou, Dayon, Dekapan, and Matsuzo. Nozomi only appears in Osomatsu-san: The Movie, for example, written in a way that ensures she cannot retroactively meet the teenage sextuplets in flashbacks nor reunite with them as adults. Classic female characters like the Flower Fairy, Okiku, and Kinko are reserved for special occasions to retell iconic manga chapters. All three play into the “manic pixie dream girl” trope to varying degrees: the Flower Fairy played straight (even down to the “pixie” part) in “The Life of Chibita’s Flower,” Okiku in a father-daughter take on 1931’s City Lights in “Iyami Alone in the Wind,” and Kinko befriending the Matsunos much to Totoko’s dismay in “The Cutie Next Door.” Women leave an impression on Chibita, Iyami, and the Matsunos respectively before they make their dramatic exits.
Season one has the inaugural take on the formula in “Jyushimatsu Falls in Love,” with a story original to the reboot. In the episode, an unnamed woman interrupts her suicide attempt to save Jyushimatsu from drowning, and they start going out. Although most people find Jyushimatsu incomprehensible, the pair connect emotionally and make each other laugh. Osomatsu recognizes her from pornography he’s watched, but keeps that to himself and lets the couple be. When she’s forced to move and effectively break up, Jyushimatsu gives her one of his sweatbands as a memento and sees her off through his tears. There’s no punchline, just bittersweetness. Many fans appreciated the unexpectedly serious and heartful episode of a gag anime about love between one of its most outlandish characters and a suicidal sex worker.
When Jyushimatsu’s girlfriend (known simply as “Girlfriend” in Japanese-speaking fandom and dubbed “Homura” by English-speaking fandom) returned in season two, it did not reference her previous episode. She trains Jyushimatsu, a human who wants to become a dolphin to escape being a NEET, when all the Girlymatsu (minus Jyushiko) refuse to. As nice as it was to see her and their relationship acknowledged again in a humorous light, it had no connection to “Jyushimatsu Falls in Love.”
Instead, the skit reinforces a “star system” approach to characters, in which characters serve as actors cast in different roles. Fujio Akatsuka himself used a star system for his many creations, including having the young sextuplets show up in his other manga. In the second season of Osomatsu-san, more than just the sextuplets took on roles within skits, including Homura and the Girlymatsu in “Jyushimatsu and the Dolphin.” The Girlymatsu, no longer restricted to their designated segment, may appear in any role, gendered or not.
Other female characters in the Osomatsu-san star system include Sacchi and Aida, an inseparable pair often seen in the background, and Dobusu, a stock character design first used for Karamatsu’s flower fairy in “The Life of Chibita’s Flower Fairy.” Dobusu, from “busu” meaning “ugly,” is generally used in contrast to conventionally cute characters like the Flower Fairy or Totoko.
Osomatsu-san has its share of odd-looking male characters, such as Iyami with his comically large overbite or Dayon with his horizontally elongated head, and will even contrast the sextuplets themselves with conventionally attractive men. Dobusu is not alone in being portrayed as unlikable or unappealing, but it’s far more mean-spirited considering she appears solely to be maligned. It speaks to a wider pattern of misogyny in the show, such as sexual harassment by Choromatsu being played for laughs throughout. Blatant episodes can be skipped, including “Mr. Osomatsu Returns” which depicts the show’s own female fans as shallow or “Iyami and Chibita’s Rental Girlfriend” which ends its transmisogynistic plot with essentially “trans panic,” but cannot be avoided entirely.
“Iyami and Chibita’s Rental Girlfriend” directly follows “Jyushimatsu Falls in Love” in season one, which especially stung. Osomatsu-san featured a sex worker with dignity and grace one week, violent repercussions for sex workers “deceiving” their clients the next. I don’t blame anyone for dropping the show then and there. As someone who continued watching, the show’s better moments–the pleasantly surprising friendship between Totoko and Kinko in “The Cutie Next Door,” the sympathetic portrayal of Nozomi in The Movie, the evolution of Nyaa-chan as a character–have been worth it.
As memorable as their appearances can be, female characters rarely return for more. The exception to this lack of reappearing female minor characters has been Nyaa-chan, a successful feline-themed idol adored by Choromatsu for her beauty and charm. Unlike Dobusu or the Girlymatsu, she consistently plays the same role established in the second episode of the whole show. Nyaa Hashimoto debuted as a riff on gimmicky idols, wearing cat ears and meowing her song lyrics. Osomatsu also used her as a stepping stone to embarrass Choromatsu, by interrupting his brother’s turn in her handshake event to harass her with talk of sex.
For the longest time, her character amounted only to that, but her number of appearances grew and her character gradually deepened. In the penultimate episode of season one, Nyaa flaunted her engagement to lonely Totoko, revealing a vindictive side that goes against her flawless idol image (as well as kickstarting the events of the first season finale). She returned in season two with a series of skits co-starring Totoko, in which they brawl with each other at Chibita’s oden stand. Female characters interacted at length for the first time outside Girlymatsu, even if to only get into squabbles.
Through those appearances, Nyaa’s character became similar to Totoko–sweet on the outside, sour on the inside. Osomatsu-san: The Movie added more depth by revealing Nyaa admired Totoko in high school, retroactively painting their relationship in a new light. Perhaps Totoko resents her underclassman for turning the tables and becoming more popular than her, and Nyaa wonders what she ever saw in her self-centered upperclassman.
Now, season three has revisited Nyaa’s relationship to Totoko and revealed another side of her in the process. In “Unit Formed,” Nyaa confesses she divorced her husband from the first season finale, and Totoko realizes she’s a single mother. She may be the more popular idol, but Nyaa lives in a humble apartment and motherhood takes its toll on her body. She faints after a day of performing and Totoko tends to her despite the animosity between them.
At Nyaa’s house, Totoko holds a baby for the first time ever and panics as it starts to cry. Her frankic inner monologue is comedic, but goes to show how much effort goes into even the simplest of childcare. Like “Jyushimatsu Falls in Love ” before it, this episode of a gag anime approaches serious subject matter, namely the stigma and poverty facing single mothers in Japan. To support Nyaa’s dream of having a career on stage, the two women join forces–as a wrestling duo, cementing the skit as an homage to GLOW as well as a callback to their brawls in the second season.
The opening and ending credits sequences reflect their team-up. In season three’s first opening, Totoko and Nyaa stand back-to-back as they shoot rayguns that electrocute the lovestruck sextuplets. In the first ending, Aya Endo (the voice of Totoko) and Nanami Yamashita (Nyaa) join Shuta Sueyoshi for “Max Charm Faces.” By singing an ending theme, Nyaa has achieved the same status as Iyami, one of the most iconic characters of the Showa era. Each episode plays a variation on the song, with Totoko and Nyaa performing alternate lines. In all versions, a stop motion cat and fish symbolizing the duo frolic and even ballroom dance together, a la puppet Legoshi and Haru’s jive in the first opening of Beastars. Combined with crediting the voice actresses as “Tototo♡Nya,” the couple may as well be official.
Nyaa isn’t the only established female character to rise in prominence in season three, either. Even with the induction of Pickled Plum and Salmon, two new lead characters, they’ve found time for established characters like Matsuyo. It only makes sense to acknowledge the mother of the sextuplets, who supports their perpetual NEET lifestyle and will apparently live with them forever. In “Matsuyo’s Trap,” she shows off her devious side by boobytraping the house to prevent her sons from eating her stash of instant ramen. Those treacherous boys take after her, it turns out.
On a more serious note, “Let’s Do Chores” humbles the sextuplets with the effort required to be a homemaker. When Matsuyo takes a day off after one too many nitpicks from her sons about her cooking, the sextuplets take up household duties to get back on her good side. They discover upkeep never ends, their inconsiderate actions create more work for others, their favorite foods cost most than expected, and more. In Ichimatsu’s own words, “Mom deserves to be paid.” Nyaa makes a cameo at the supermarket before Osomatsu and Ichimatsu can spot her in loungewear, to remind the audience the same goes for single mothers like her.
Even Dobusu has apparently come into her own as a recurring character. She has appeared as Iyami’s lover as well as Nyaa’s babysitter in different skits, which don’t contradict each other as much as her previous roles in the star system. Other characters no longer comment on her looks, dampening any mean-spirited reasoning behind her presence. Instead characters like Totoko and Nyaa subtly value her presence, by paying her to babysit in skits or laughing at her jokes as they hang out in the latest opening credits sequence.
It remains to be seen if Dobusu’s cameo with Totoko, Nyaa, Salmon, and Pickled Plum in the second opening will be reflected in the rest of season three. We’ll see if this trend with female characters will continue in the remaining cour. So far, incorporating social issues and spotlighting female characters has appealed to me more than, say, the Girlymatsu segments of the first season. It feels as if the show is finally embracing the potential recurring female characters have for comedy as well as commentary. Osomatsu-san still doesn’t always drink its respect women juice, but has certainly acquired a taste for it. Here’s hoping there’s more in store.
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