Osomatsu-san: An Unexpected Cultural Phenomenon

The year of 2015 was gradually moving to a close and anime fans around the world were largely satisfied with the list of anime the seasons had delivered. While fans of the “I got transported to a parallel fantasy world and met some cute girls” plot munched happily on DanMachi and scrambled for Hestia merchandise, One Punch Man lived up to the hype by rocking its fanbase with a satirical yet heart-pounding story of an overpowered superhero. Meanwhile, the Gundam series launched another installation as Himouto! Umaru-chan fans still waited for their hamster hoodies to arrive. The most successful anime of the year were boiling down to a few, obvious choices. However, nobody – not a single soul – could have predicted the sonic blast of success that one show achieved throughout Japan and even beyond its borders. This anime broke dozens of records in rapid succession, this anime infiltrated cities and homes and hearts of every age, this anime was only supposed to be a mediocre revamp of a popular comedy from the 1960s… This anime is Osomatsu-san.


Described by the Japanese as a “shakai genshou” (cultural phenomenon), this anime soared to unbelievable heights. It was, and still is, adored by young and old, male or female. Every week a new episode aired, the identical brothers dominated 90% of the trending topics on Twitter Japan. Combined DVD and Blu-ray sales of the first volume topped 115,00 total units within a few weeks – something that is quite unheard of in this age of online streaming and pirating. Popular karaoke booths reported the opening theme “Hanamaru Pippi wa Yoiko Dake” as their top pick, and the ending theme “SIX SAME FACES” was given the certified Gold Disc Award by The Recording Industry Association of Japan for selling over 100,000 copies within a month. Animage, a popular anime magazine, sold out for the first time in 36 years while PASH depleted their stock in only five days! Hundreds of collaborations with well-known organizations, ranging from Sanrio to the official Kabuki theater, rapidly began to form like weeds on a hot summer day. Even local businesses tried to hop on the bandwagon by creating homemade signs or using the six specific colors that are attributed to the brothers. When my family and I visited Japan last summer, not a day went by that we didn’t catch some glimpse of the identical sextuplets. Frustrated, my younger brother exclaimed, “You can’t escape them! They’re everywhere!” Osomatsu-san had achieved a level of its own.


In celebration of the late author’s 80th birthday, Osomatsu-san was created as an upgraded sequel to Osomatsu-kun, the popular comedy series by renown manga-artist Akatsuka Fujio (Himitsu no Akko-chan, Tensai Bakabon). The manga ran in the 1960s, produced its first TV series during the same decade, and another in 1988. The manga originally featured the misadventures of six identical and equally mischievous sextuplets. In Osomatsu-san, the six brothers are now all grown up, but unemployed, and spend their days lazing around the house. In other words, they have become NEETs.

Admittedly, the storyline does not sound very interesting or promising. In fact, basically everyone expected this anime to pass quietly under the radar. So when this dark horse flashed across the finish line, leaving all other contenders choking on the cloud of dust it left behind, the anime kingdom and even the mass media began to question… WHY? How did this anime, originally from the 60s, with no pretty-boy character designs and a seemingly boring plot become one of the most popular anime of all time?

(The quality of this clip is poor, but it does well in portraying the impact of Osomatsu-san on Japanese pop-culture.)

Although no one has been able to find the exact answer to this question, there are undeniably multiple factors that, in hindsight, contributed to the show’s popularity. Join me below the jump as I dissect and attempt to unlock the mystery behind this unexpected cultural phenomenon!

As I mentioned before, Osomatsu-san wasn’t “meant” to be popular. In fact, even the creators have admitted their plain disbelief. How was a remake of a series nearly half a century old supposed to compete against the big shots? Although the overall animation was polished, the characters retained their old-fashioned designs. There were no handsome anime men to woo the ladies and there certainly were no cute “waifus” to attract the male fanbase. On top of that, the story of six lazy brothers appeared lackluster compared to the epic tale of King Arslan or the action-packed adventures of Saitama. At this point, who would even bother to watch the first episode?

…Actually, there were a few factors that helped Osomatsu-san grab some early viewership. First, the director and the screenwriter – Fujita Yoichi and Matsubara Shu. Both previously worked on one of the most popular comedy anime of all time, Gintama. Fans who were quick to notice the inclusion of this dynamic duo on the staff list became curious. They were eager to see what Fujita and Matsubara were conjuring next. Additionally, before he turned to screenwriting, Matsubara was an aspiring comedian in the Japanese “owarai” industry. However, unable to make a break, Matsubara chose to pour his comedy spirit into anime scripts. At times, he uses this medium to express his views (positive and negative) of the Japanese TV industry. This is a man with experience in owarai, and some seasonal watchers felt compelled to witness how he would work with this seemingly simplistic plot.

Another major factor was the brilliant chose of seiyuu, or Japanese voice-actors. The six brothers and much of the minor characters were voiced by extremely popular and talented seiyuu. (The insane popularity of seiyuu in Japan is worth a post of its own, so I will refrain from discussing it here.) Some of the cast includes the voices of Levi from Attack on Titan, Lelouch from Code Geass, Sora from Kingdom Hearts, and Sebastian from Black Butler. Honestly, the extravagant cast is what attracted my attention to this series, as well as many others. Diehard fans, such as myself, felt the need to examine this new show out of sheer loyalty to the seiyuu. Inevitably, quite a number of criticizers – those who believe that this anime did not deserve half of the attention it received – attributed the success of Osomatsu-san purely to its all-star cast. Yes, this was a major factor. However, it still fails to explain everything. If the golden team of voice-actors was the only positive, how did the show manage to garner a large viewership from people who normally do not watch anime and have no knowledge of seiyuu? Why are other anime with luxurious casts not obtaining the same level of popularity?

Which brings me to my next point: the first episode. Opening in the classical black-and-white scheme of the original 1966 adaption, the episode begins with the characters fretting over how well their “outdated” series will be received amidst the plethora of modern anime. Osomatsu, the eldest brother, devises a master plan…

Yes. They decide to upgrade their overall look and copy practically every popular anime in history, from Dragonball Z to Attack on Titan. Although Osomatsu’s plan ultimately failed in the episode, it proved to be a tremendous success in the world outside of the screen. Social media exploded with original viewers sharing clips and recommending others to join in the laughter. Unfortunately, this soon hit a nerve with copyright infringement, and the first episode was banned from home video release, as well as being pulled from all legal streaming websites. Nevertheless, this act only seemed to add gasoline to the bonfire as people became even more curious about the infamous anime with a banned pilot episode. Natural progression. Although it was brilliantly unintentional, the staff of Osomatsu-san succeeded in creating their own Colossal Titan out of old source material.

The final point, and my answer as to why this show managed to retain and rapidly increase momentum, is based on the content. Osomatsu-san is simply hilarious, but at the same time, deep and well-informed with Japan’s current situation. GuardianEnzo, an editor of MyAnimeList describes:

My best guess is that somehow, some way, Osomatsu-san has struck a perfect resonance with anime fans of a certain generation. Too much can be read into the sometimes-frantic hand-wringing over the “lost generation” of Japanese and their seeming lack of interest in work, marriage and even RL sex, but there is an undeniable malaise gripping young adults in Japan. They are marrying less, working less, expressing less interest in the opposite sex, and living at home more. The Matsuno sextuplets aren’t hikikomori or social wallflowers – they’re just a bunch of young adults with almost no ambition. They’re NEETs who live at home and have no experience with girls, but they actually seem to enjoy their lives. They play pachinko, they eat oden, they torture each other, they pursue their own interests, be they otaku concerns, impersonating college students to work at Sutabaa (Starbucks), or whatever, and even occasionally toy with the idea of getting real jobs.

Personally, Osomatsu-san secured my complete viewership during one of its earlier episodes when the fourth brother, loner Ichimatsu, accidentally reveals his innermost fears and insecurities. We learn that Ichimatsu is not just a simple NEET – he feels like a failure in life because his social anxieties cripple him from taking a step into the big world. As a college student with scarcely any friends and heavily unsure about her future plans, this struck a painful chord with me. In fact, most people can relate. This series does more than hit the mark on the comedy board. Although they have identical faces, each brother is very different and carries their own bag of aspiring hopes and broken dreams that many young adults, like myself, can relate to. The show does not try to forcibly solve any of these issues, however. Instead, it cleverly acknowledges them, sympathizes with them, but most often, pokes fun at them. It provided an outlet for young adults to laugh at their problems. It makes sense. Why wouldn’t a show like this be popular?

It is impossible to say that just one factor caused Osomatsu-san to explode in Japan. Somehow, it just happened to equip everything that it needed to be successful. “It’s something cosmic, the stars aligning perfectly at exactly the right time” (GuardianEnzo). Osomatsu-san is not the perfect show and it is definitely not for everyone. Just like any other comedy, the jokes might raise the roof for some or fall flat for others. People may harshly criticize the show for gaining more popularity than it deserved, but I felt that it earned every word of praise. From the edgy slapstick comedy to the emotional moments of social insecurity, it was one heck of a ride.

(Post by Gina)

GuardianEnzo. “Sheeh! How Osomatsu-san Became the Unlikeliest Blockbuster in Anime
Crunchyroll. “Osomatsu-san” 1st Volume Becomes Top-Selling Anime DVD of 2016
+ “Otamart Research: Japanese Fans Pick “Osomatsu-san” as The Most Successful Otaku Franchise of 2016

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