My most immediate concern with Uncle From Another World is what we’re supposed to categorize this series as. It’s hardly pure isekai, since all the alternate-world action that forms its basis occurred in the past before the titular Uncle returned to our world. But it’s not really a ‘reverse’ isekai either, on account of the character being from the regular world in the first place. I suppose ‘post-isekai’ would be the best term for it: an irreverent analysis of how a real-world nerd would actually handle being stuck in a sword-and-sorcery realm for a huge chunk of their life, and how that would factor into their reintegration into society upon returning. As with so much else out there in the isekai-derived genre, it’s the kind of conceptually-interesting thought experiment you can understand an author working through, then putting on the page with the barest semblance of a story presenting that.
Make no mistake, Uncle From Another World is derivative, and it pretty well knows it. The entirety of the plot is predicated on assumed audience familiarity with the isekai concept, with a lot of the humor therein stemming from subverting expected tropes with askance observations and reactions from audience-surrogate Takafumi to keep us abreast of what’s being parodized here. Much of it is based around addressing elements of the otaku landscape, like the concept of tsunderes, or understanding of basic RPG plot beats, while also making time to chill out on regular references to Sega fanboyism and modern YouTuber trends. Isekai in general has regularly relied on having an otaku viewpoint to appreciate its appeals, and Uncle From Another World‘s doubled-back premise simply steeps that in another layer of insular indulgence.
That means for about 90% of this manga’s first volume, there isn’t really much of a ‘plot’ to speak of, and we’re instead getting by on knowing genre gags. The ‘character actually returns from the isekai after several years’ setup apparently wasn’t enough of a subversion, so the series also throws in its own odd spins on the Uncle’s actual adventures in the other world. It’s mostly in service of mocking how things would ‘actually’ turn out, like how a schlubby everyman in a land of attractive anime characters would be seen as ‘hideous’ and mistaken for a monster. Similarly, we find out how the Uncle did obtain fantastical magical powers in his time there, but utilizing them only ended up with him nearly getting executed as a heretic. It’s stuff like that which cements Uncle From Another World as a parody of isekai apart from simply being another spin on the concept.
Meanwhile, that same deadpan observational humor manifests in the everyday interactions between Takafumi and his Uncle as they live out their new days together. A lot of the framework is rooted in Takafumi prompting his Uncle to tell him stories of his fantasy-life times, but instead of these being parables to impart some kind of applicable wisdom to Takafumi like you might expect from setups like this, they just end up being shaggy-dog stories that make it clear how inept Uncle was within his situation. That itself ties into the inherent ‘man out of time’ aspect of Uncle From Another World‘s setup, with Uncle having missed out on seventeen years of cultural evolution. That does lead to some pretty great gags on either side of the story, as we and Takafumi recognize the tsundere disposition of the elf girl’s infatuation which Uncle failed to pick up on, or quick bits like him being shocked that Kochikame finally ended while he was out of this world. When the dry irreverence of Uncle From Another World is speaking for itself, it mostly works, even as it’s perhaps too reliant on audiences who recognize things like specific plot points from Alien Soldier.
The thing is, a few good high-concept observations aren’t necessarily enough to sustain a whole volume of this idea. You can only watch Uncle geek out over vintage Sega games or talk about how much being in an isekai actually sucked so many times before the project stops feeling like a clever dissection and starts becoming self-indulgent. There is an attempt in the last chapter of this volume to tackle subjects with more momentum, in the form of Takafumi reconnecting with a former classmate and Uncle’s intersections into the relationship. But even then, most of the jokes therein are repeats from several previous chapters, and it passes with little to say save for the possibility that Uncle may be more earnestly worldly than his honestly uncomfortable behavior at the chapter’s intro lets on. It leaves the possibility of following up with further development, but that’s all it is: vestiges of potential in a volume that otherwise coasts by on a few sensible chuckles.
All that’s not even getting into the way this first volume of Uncle From Another World looks. The art is, to put it charitably, unpolished. The character models for the two main characters are pointedly rough and minimally expressive, and I can almost buy that as intentional to sell the ‘real-world’ aspect of their setting. But so much of the backgrounds, the environments they occupy, look downright amateurish in their rendering, to the point that you question if more minimal backdrops would have been better for Hotondoshindeiru‘s skillset. Notably, several of the parts of the story we see in the fantasy world look a bit better, with the various cute girl characters rendered with noticeably more polish, possibly intended to sell that aforementioned story point about how impossibly attractive everyone in that world was. It works in communicating that to a degree, but arguably makes it even more noticeable when the art straight up comes off like it had much less effort put into it in the other places. It gets to the point where you’re scanning through the story almost entirely focused on the dialogue text, the awkward art barely a medium for following the decent observational humor along. Also – and this is a relatively minor thing – but at least on the digital copy from Yen Press I used for this review, the translation notes in the back are printed on a screen-toned background that renders them nearly unreadable, which is frustrating.
Like so many other aside Isekai projects, Uncle From Another World has the makings of an entertaining concept, but thus far hasn’t fully delivered as a complete story. It’s a full volume mostly carried by jokes that might have worked better filling out a forum post, with only a little thematic substance and genre-aware analysis to make you think it may be worth following past this first book. Yes, it can be very funny at times, but one has to wonder how much of this wry otaku-targeted humor would even work for people who weren’t already so deep into understanding isekai as a genre that they could come up with most of these jokes and askew observations on their own.