Cry with Laughter at Triads and Yakuza

Time for a break from all the serious stuff! Shed some tears of hilarity over the absurd 'Crying Freeman' and possibly genuinely brilliant 'The Way of the Househusband.'
John Maher
Jun 12 2021
6 min read


Giggling at Gangsters

On rare occasions, I like to watch things that make me laugh. (Unbelievable but true!) Everyone craves release now and then, even those of us dedicated to writing about all the sad cartoons and therefore to watching them often. Not that crying over sad things doesn't provide release. But sometimes I also like to cry over happy things. (My moon is in Cancer. Could you tell?) Or even funny things.

The funny things that have made me cry with laughter over the past couple of months are quite different but both, coincidentally, involve rather unique agents of violence. Crying Freeman, a six-part original video animation series released from 1988-1994, is about a legendarily dangerous Japanese assassin hypnotized by Chinese triads to kill in their service who sheds tears of regret after every kill. The Way of the Househusband, an original net animation series released by Netflix this year, is about a legendarily dangerous yakuza who retired from the gangster business to make adorably twee bento boxes for his wife and otherwise generally delight over domestic duties.

These two anime, despite both having terrifying protagonists with dragon tattoos covering nearly their entire bodies, are very different. The Way of the Househusband is a slice of life comedy. Crying Freeman is a gangster drama. The Way of the Househusband episodes are only a few minutes long. Crying Freeman has a total runtime of about five hours. The Way of the Househusband is funny because its clever core concept—very scary man lives very ordinary suburban life—is sublimely simple and filled with narrative possibility. Crying Freeman is funny because it is utterly over the top and very, very dated.

I'm not sure I would actually recommend Crying Freeman. In a lot of ways, it's the perfect example of why people who don't watch anime say they hate anime. It's filled with stilted dialogue and confused narrative pacing. The male gaze is omnipresent and the sex scenes excessive and fairly frequent. The violence is only a little less excessive, but even more frequent. But the show takes itself and all of its now self-evidently ridiculous tropes so seriously that it proves impossible not to guffaw your way through. At least it did for me.

Is Crying Freeman, to use a questionable cliché, so bad it's good? No. But it's such a relic of its time that it can be very, very funny. I started tearing up from laughing so hard around the point at which I realized that the show's first sex scene was going to last for almost two minutes. That was not the last time the show made me double over in such a way.

I would, on the other hand, very much recommend The Way of the Househusband, even for people who hate anime, because it is hysterical, full-stop. It's humorous in the same good-natured way as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson holding small dogs is humorous; the contrast is so marked that farce is inevitable. And the show really leans into it: just when you think, for instance, that its leering lead, Tatsu, is about to pull out a knife and carve up the traffic officers who have pulled him over for biking too fast, he instead reveals coupons for deals at the local supermarket. Oh, and he's exceptional at Jazzercise.

The show's focus is so single-minded that it could could easily feel one-note, and yet it doesn't. The tension between Tatsu's history and appearance and his actual behavior never ceases to amuse. And the short runtime makes these episodes feel, for American audiences, more like Looney Tunes shorts than what we now think of as traditional television cartoons. There are a lot of anime like this, although they tend to get buried in the U.S., which tends to favor shōnen. (If you like The Way of the Househusband, seriously, do yourself a favor and watch Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san next.)

I'm grateful for Netflix's relentless dedication to anime, and that it's willing to take chances on shows like The Way of the Househusband as its efforts continue to help grow the anime market globally. Shows like this have, up until now, so rarely made a splash in the American marketplace. It's a pity. I love the tear-jerking existentialism of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as much as, if not more than, anybody. But sometimes you just need to laugh to keep from crying. Or, in my case, to cry a little differently.

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