Ok, ok, maybe I don’t *hate* it. That was my initial impression for the first hour or so after watching the episode. But I haven’t encountered an anime series that has provoked such a rapid descent towards mere dislike for a while now.
Blown expectations played a role in my disappointment. Having just returned from a job in Japan, I went into the first episode hoping for a relatable, adult look at working life in the country to balance out all of the copy-paste high school and isekai comedies flooding the season — some satirical knocking on the plight of the stereotypical salaryman as Japan’s “Lost Decade” of economic recession rounds out its third decade. Just, you know, with a bunch of animal jokes thrown in.
The series starts about where I expected: for breakfast, Lion eats massive meatchops straight from the bone with his pride-family; before leaving for work, he has to remove his own hair from his suit with a lint roller and again when he puts his jacket on; when walking to work, a rabbit school-child and his mother shriek “Don’t eat me!”
The office itself triggered a few brief flashbacks to my own brief stint in Japanese salaryland — alcoholic, tobacco-addicted management trying to drag their coworkers to uncomfortable drinking parties while work itself suffered from comical technical inefficiencies:
But then the office also introduces the audience to Toucan, an aggressive ass of a young secretary who takes over for Lion as the main point-of-view character for the rest of the episode. Between the humdrum, misunderstood Lion and the competent, compliant Lizard – the two straight men – Toucan provides most of the episode’s shouting comedy after proving himself time and again to be a crass, shallow moron by indulging in road rage or bailing on work or trying to steal his boss’s ham (what was this plot?).
I understand Toucan’s satirical role as caricature of the societal ills that Africa no Salaryman wants to poke fun at – the news report droning on while Lion eats breakfast calls out two of Toucan’s behaviors ahead of time: “Road rage and train-car groping have become social issues of late.” Lion himself tells Toucan to stop with the road rage at least: “But that’s becoming a real social issue. You should cut that out.”
However, the series also seems willing to excuse Toucan to a degree. Later in the episode, Lizard complains about Toucan’s bad work behavior to Lion only for Lion to respond that Lizard should go easy on him: “Now, now. That’s just Toucan — you know that. And I know you’re serious, but maybe lighten up a little, hmm?”
You know, boys will be boys. Stop caring so much. Ughhhh, how do I groan in lion?
Even Lizard – the most straight-laced character in the series – gives Toucan a pass in the train groping scene early in the episode. The train jolts, Toucan accidentally bumps into a high school girl and the girl reacts by accusing him of groping her. But as Lizard argues to make the joke, Toucan has car payments to make and prefers the big-tit XL Cow MILFs bouncing across his phone’s home screen anyway. The punchline? Toucan would never risk a thousands-dollar fine for a feel of a couple flat high schoolers, especially not an “uggo” like the gorilla girl.
However, by defending his friend from a false groping accusation, Lizard unwittingly defends the men who commit real crimes as well. If Toucan wouldn’t want to do it, real salarymen shouldn’t either …except thousands of them do despite the potential criminal consequences, with close to 4,000 arrests in 2015 (and then the arrest number underestimates the problem by at least an order of magnitude: only about 10% of women even report groping cases. According to some surveys, up to 70% of Japanese women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public). Instead of condemning the harm done to women, the scene mocks the legal consequences* for men.
* [pedantic aside — notice difference in punishment here between false accusation and actual crime: as Toucan notes, “Article 172 of the Penal Law stipulates that a false complaint is punishable by imprisonment for no less than 3 and no more than 10 years.” By contrast, what does Toucan face if convicted for groping? A maximum of 6 months in prison OR a 500,000 yen fine (about 5,000 dollars) under local ordinance. Only in rare cases do Japanese courts try under the national Penal Code for the matching 10 year maximum conviction. I wouldn’t be surprised if that asymmetry has a chilling effect on reporting.]
I don’t want to rely on an over-general comedy cliché, but the scene punches down. In a gross irony, it even flips the script to make the girls the literal (as animals!) predators. When they turn to see Lizard, they fall for his scaley looks and smooth voice and immediately lust for him. Toucan sees that as hypocrisy, as if they would have enjoyed the imagined groping if only Lizard had done it: “That’s a predatory high-school girl for you!” (or more outrageously: “Wish I were a high-school girl getting settlement money for being groped!”). But again, in real life, high school girls are the victims. The comedy in the scene punches down to attack vulnerable people.
The mistargeted humor repeats in Toucan’s gold-digging attempts at a couples’ mixer. He pairs with a pig who, he learns, is the heiress to a wealthy international conglomerate. So, he decides to put up with her slobbish eating and incomprehensible squeals for a chance at the fortune. But nope, he had no chance; the real heiress skipped out on the mixer and sent her pet pig in her place instead. The joke? Well, Toucan makes himself an ass again for ingratiating himself to a pet. But the reveal also attacks the woman: oh, that fat, ugly (literal) sow stuffing her face – she’s not even sapient! With the animals standing in for people in the satirical allegory, the scene presents her as inhuman. And for what, being fat?
Let’s back up to that early gag about Lion scaring the rabbit-child during his walk to work. Considering the misogynistic tone set by the rest of the episode, does the joke have a second layer beyond its simple absurd play on the animal cast? Is it also trying to comment on hysterical women screaming pedophile whenever an innocent man approaches their children, a marginal problem that men’s rights activists nonetheless use to insist that men are the ‘real’ victims of gender discrimination?
I don’t know, that feels like a serious stretch. But for a goofy show about animal office workers, so much of the humor in Africa no Salaryman feels so mean-spirited. The first episode has poisoned whatever enjoyment I might get out of the rest of the season. Maybe I don’t hate it like I thought when I first started writing this post, but Africa no Salaryman is a hardest drop I’ve encountered in years.