What’s it about? King of the jungle, meet the concrete jungle! Lion, Toucan, and Lizard work in an everyday corporate office. Lion looks scary, but he’s a big fuzzy teddy… uh… lion. Toucan drives a fancy car, wears expensive suits, and wants to marry rich. Lizard is just trying to be a normal guy, but it’s tough when Toucan uses his detachable tail as an easy escape from tough situations.
The rule of thumb in comedy is to never punch down. Take aim at people who have more societal power than you and punch up. Punch sideways by taking shots at people who are your equals. But never, ever make the powerless and vulnerable the butt of the joke. Unfortunately, Africa Salaryman tries to punch sideways but often ends up misfiring and punching down instead.
There’s already a recent show out there about animals working in an office environment: Aggretsuko, which is delightful, and if you haven’t seen it yet you absolutely should drop everything and watch it now. Go on, I’ll still be here when you get back.
Africa Salaryman takes a distinctly different approach, using CG models that are proportioned about the same as humans. There’s only three main characters thus far, and they are all men. However, the most important difference is that, while Aggretsuko was about something, Africa Salaryman has absolutely no point-of-view, and is worse off for it.
Africa Salaryman, like many other comedy anime (such as Azumanga Daioh and Asobi Asobase) is divided up into shorter segments within one full-length episode. The shorts about Lion are harmless enough, even cute—he’s a total softie but, as an apex predator, his coworkers are naturally intimidated by him. It’s nice enough, but there’s not much to say there.
Fortunately for this review (but unfortunately for this reviewer), most of the segments focused on the largest personality of the central trio: Toucan. Toucan is The Worst. He’s introduced in the episode by him talking about how he drives to work hanging out the window of his “Lexun,” honking his horn and giving everyone the finger. He’s thoroughly unlikable.
But then he transitions to talking about his and Lizard’s commute that morning, when he had to take the train while his car was in the shop. He starts complaining about how they’ll probably get some high school girls pretending he groped them and trying to blackmail him. And lo and behold, his prophecy comes true!
Let’s step away from what a misogynistic creep Toucan is for a moment. I am so goddamn tired of these false accusation narratives, y’all, especially when it comes to train gropers. Women getting molested on the train is a serious social issue in Japan, but, as the Japan Times points out: “Society thinks it’s scarier for men to be falsely accused of groping, no matter how rarely that happens, than it is for women to be groped on a daily basis.”
America isn’t much different, as the patriarchal justice system remains more concerned about accusations, whether true or false, ruining the life of the perpetrator than the already-damaged life of the victim. Lizard even stops and explains why it’s totally implausible for a salaried worker to risk his livelihood just to touch a butt, which creates the subtext that most girls who claim to have been touched are just liars preying on wealthy men and their wallets.
On top of that, one of the girls is a gorilla, anime shorthand for a girl who isn’t sufficiently feminine (except in the case of Aggretsuko’s lovely Gorimi). She herself ends up the butt of the joke more than once, hoping that an accidental collision on her way to school will result in a romance. You know, because girls have to conform strictly to their gender to be attractive or worthy of love.
Over and over, Toucan acts like a gross predator in the name of “comedy.” His behavior is the butt of the joke. We’re obviously not supposed to root for him, but there’s a couple problems here. One is that predatory behavior just isn’t funny. And as much as straight-man Lizard shakes his head and says, “I don’t feel sorry for you at all,” he still hangs out with him, even though Toucan uses him as an easy out.
The two just keep spending time together, even as Toucan hits on underage girls and yells about his expensive suit and…
Oh my God.
Oh my God.
I just realized.
Toucan is Gob Bluth, but without the witty writing or Will Arnett’s comedic chops.
Can you imagine if Arrested Development focused entirely on a less-funny version of Gob instead of being part of an ensemble? If that’s your idea of a good time, then maybe Africa Salaryman will work for you. But I, for one, quit.