WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Life Lessons with Uramichi-Oniisan, Episode 1, “Uramichi-Oniisan,” now streaming on Funimation.
Uramichi-Oniisan is the latest Japanese comedy series that plays on an extremely pessimistic protagonist who offers inappropriate but insightful commentaries on life and society. Other works in this very niche category include WataMote and Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, and the latter just happens to share Uramichi-Oniisan's main voice actor: Hiroshi Kamiya. He is only the first one in a very long line of voice actors that will appear in Uramichi-Oniisan who seem to be deliberate casting choices.
The anime Uramichi-Oniisan is based on the comedy manga series of the same name by creator Gaku Kuze. The manga’s joke premise is simple: protagonist Uramichi Omota is a failed gymnast turned children’s program host with an incredibly pessimistic outlook on life. His pessimism often seeps out during his day job, and he tends to make inappropriate comments in front of small children, traumatizing them.
This joke, while simple, is very effective with the right audience (adults who are disillusioned about life), as well as an observation about Japanese society that is also quite astute. But the element that makes this dialogue-heavy comedy work is definitely its star-studded voice cast, particularly Hiroshi Kamiya, who is famous for delivering long and rambling dialogue with laser-like precision and a naturally sarcastic tone. His previous roles, such as Nozomu Itoshiki from Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, Koyomi Araragi from the Monogatari series, and Izaya Orihara from Durarara!! all display this characteristic.
Uramichi Omota seems to be a combination of all these characters and more: he is not only pessimistic, but he also has to pretend to be happy for his job with kids. As such, his voice needs to have a delicate balance between pretending to be cheerful, holding back his negativity and outright depression. And Kamiya transitions between all these emotions with ease.
The pressures of life also make him quite sadistic, and he often takes out his frustrations on his younger peers, Tobikichi Usahara and Mitsuo Kumagai, played by Tomokazu Sugita (Escanor from The Seven Deadly Sins) and Yuichi Nakamura (Gojo from Jujutsu Kaisen), respectively. Sugita and Nakamura are good friends in real life and their dynamic is surprisingly similar to the one between Usahara and Kumagai, with Usahara often being the comedic/clownish member of the duo and Kumagai being the straight/deadpan presence. But Sugita and Nakamura are much more successful voice actors than Usahara and Kumagai are as mascots.
The most thoughtful casting, however, is definitely Mamoru Miyano (Light Yagami from Death Note) and Nana Mizuki (Saya Kisaragi from Blood-C). Miyano and Mizuki have two of the most successful singing careers among Japan’s voice actors. They contribute to the opening and ending songs for many anime (they both sing the opening for Uramichi Oniisan), in addition to performing on mainstream TV shows. But they play failed singers Iketeru Daga and Utano Tadano in Uramichi Oniisan, and since they don’t really have to sing in the anime, their casting can be explained as deliberately playing with the contrast between the actors and their characters, which definitely adds an extra layer of hilarity to their scenes.
Despite the contrast in the level of success, Iketeru actually has similarities to Miyano’s own on-screen persona, who often likes to act buffoonish and tell childish jokes in public. His dirty joke scene with Uramichi is one of the more memorable moments in Episode 1 precisely because he sounds so similar to Miyano in real life.
Another Easter egg hidden within the casting is with Assistant Director Eddy Edei. He is played by Natsuki Hanae (Tanjiro from Demon Slayer). Hanae used to be a real-life children’s program host just like Uramichi -- he hosted a morning show called Oha Suta from 2016 - 2020, and his persona was highly energetic and fast-talking, which seems to be the opposite of Edei. Hiroshi Kamiya even went on Hanae’s show once to promote their anime The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.
For a comedy show like Uramichi Oniisan that’s driven by characters and dialogue, the voice actors are the soul of the series, and Uramichi Oniisan is making great use of its cast, not only with their on-screen performances but also by playing heavily into the actors' personas in real life. It is certainly paying off so far. Many more big-name voice actors are about to show up in later episodes, including Kamiya’s longtime collaborator Daisuke Ono (Jotaro Kujo from the JoJo series), and it will be very interesting to see how they will be used in the anime.