Uncle from Another World First Impressions, feature image

Uncle From Another World is the best anime on streaming platforms right now

Uncle From Another World dropped onto Netflix last week, promising a somewhat unusual take on contemporary Isekai anime tropes by thrusting my Japanese doppleganger into the story. It is arguably the greatest new anime streaming on any platform right now, with scenes like this dominating the narrative:

Uncle from Another World First Impressions, Yosuke asking about the console wars

The above is from the opening episode where Takafumi’s uncle, Yosuke, has recovered from his coma after getting hit by a truck 17 years prior in the year 2000. If I were in his shoes, I could see myself asking the same thing.

Uncle From Another World feels like a very silly and self-indulgent web comic (it’s actually adapted from a manga) that taps into a niche within a niche by putting a diehard Sega fan from the 90s into the position where he constantly finds himself defined by his nerdy otaku habits from 20 years ago. While we’ve come to embrace nerdy pasttimes like comics, superhero movies, anime and video games in a broader sense in the West, a single man in his mid-30s caught in a vintage otaku loop was (and I’d argue still is) somewhat frowned upon.

What makes this interesting is his otaku-like ramblings of being stuck in a D&D (or, to localise, Record of Lodoss War/Dragon Quest/Wizardry) fantasy world for the duration of his coma materialises in his ability to perform magic in the real world. But even then the show’s dedication to absurdity undermines this by seeing him use his skills to perform videos on YouTube to earn money through advertising revenue (where he gets gutted by the volume of haters in the comments). It follows up by venting his frustration that Guardian Heroes was ranked 197 out of a list of 200 games by a Japanese Sega Saturn magazine by triggering a tremendous lightning storm. Finally, he decides to utilise his ability to travel at super sonic speed to avoid paying for postage on vintage tech purchased via Yahoo Auctions Japan.

Uncle from Another World First Impressions, Takafumi with Guardian Heroes

There’s a degree of fish out of water being explored which is entertaining in and of itself, and the bemusing relationship with his nephew keeps the broader story rolling along, particularly when an old friend of Takafumi’s shows up and gets exposed to the oddball Yosuke.

Part of my intense and irrational love here is for the super deep dive into otaku subculture from the 90s and early 2000s – the generally under-appreciated Sega Saturn is still one of my favourite consoles and the deep cuts being made are so much fun. This ranges from the sound effects pinched from the Saturn’s BIOS menu for whenever Yosuke projects a memory from the other world, the eyecatch artwork adapted from Panzer Dragoon Zwei, riffing on the Golden Axe theme in the other world, the references to key art for the Monster World games when Takafumi’s mind starts spinning after finding out his uncle can perform magic in real life and confessing his first love was for Sonic and Tails as a result of watching the opening sequence from Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive in a local store over and over again.

Oh, there’s also references to cult classics by Treasure in the form of Guardian Heroes (above) and Gunstar Heroes, the rise of the tsundere archetype, a daft (but representative of the time and Yosuke’s emotional intelligence) reading of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Alien Storm and I think you could draw a bit on Dragon Ball Z and Yu Yu Hakusho from the lightning-related outburst noted above.

Uncle from Another World First Impressions, Yosuke's (incorrect) theory about Evangelion

The way it incorporates RPG and fantasy properties of the time into building up a picture of the other world have also been enormously fun to indulge in, particularly the other world marking the seemingly ordinary Yosuke as an ugly, hideous monster misinterpreted as an orc despite the average townsperson looking not too dissimilar to a human.

Yosuke’s activities in the other world undermines the usual fantasy/JRPG tropes by ignoring the clearly articulated (and accordingly convoluted) hero’s journey at times, and the deadpan way he navigates (or rather, doesn’t navigate) potentially amorous relationships was genuinely funny and is a nice juxtaposition to the usual male fantasy fulfilment that is typical of the genre.

Uncle from Another World First Impressions, Yosuke talking about Alien Storm with Takafumi

The production design’s really interesting as well. Whether triggered by budget or as a deliberate choice, it eschews slick digital linework for more organic and raw animation with various digital effects overlaid where appropriate. It got me thinking about another anime released earlier this year also based on a Sega property, Shenmue the Animation, which sometimes felt a little overly clean without the sense of organic flow that can make digital animation come off as a bit too clinical. Going further back, when reviewing the first season of the Netflix Castlevania series I lamented that the organic feel to the line art got lost as part of the digital production workflow, so in that respect I’ve really enjoyed that there’s some roughness to the art direction in Uncle From Another World. It would be nice to see more productions being a little bold with their productions in this sense if the anime warrants it.

Uncle From Another World probably isn’t for everyone given there’s a relative sense of self-indulgence at play, but if you appreciate absurdist satire in your anime and/or connect on a deeply irrational level with Yosuke’s views on nerd culture from his heyday, this is an amazing anime. Turns out another two episodes have dropped since I started writing this over the weekend so I’ll be looking forward to catching up on Yosuke’s latest irrational adventures!