The Fall 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Africa Salaryman ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
There are two series this season which focus on anthropomorphized animals working in a corporate scene. Of those two (BEASTARS being the other), this selection is the purely comedic one. If you can handle comedy that is comically graphic and gross and occasionally crosses lines into bad taste then this one can be good for a few laughs.
Though the series nominally focuses on all three of the featured trio, the lion's share of attention for the skits in episode 1 actually doesn't go to the Lion, who is mostly an afterthought after the first couple of scenes. Instead the emphasis falls much more squarely on Toucan, and to a lesser extent on Lizard, who is basically Toucan's foil. It's not hard to understand why this would be so, as Toucan is certainly the most vibrant personality of the lot. He's also a completely self-serving scumbag, the kind of character who doesn't think twice about distracting Lion with catnip so he can snatch Lion's gifted ham and is almost ready to date an actual pig whom he thinks is an heiress due to a series of misunderstanding. By comparison, Lizard mostly just gets caught up in Toucan's stunts and doesn't have much going for him yet beyond the recurring joke about how he can regrow his tail. Lion also isn't dazzling at this point, with his only joke so far being how he's far less intimidating than he comes across.
Some of the humor is definitely pretty funny, and you have to watch carefully to get some of the best jokes; for instance, one epilogue scene spoofs the classic “running with toast in mouth” scene by having the lion girl do it with a zebra haunch in her mouth instead. More questionable is the series' use of pigs and gorilla as stand-ins for ugly girls and a whole sequence involving obviously-fabricated accusations of sexual harassment on a commuter train. (The “predatory high school girl” – a lion girl – is literally a predator, you see.) Those scenes salvage themselves a bit with a savage joke about how Lizard tries to prove that Toucan wouldn't have done it because his preferences lie in a direction well away from schoolgirls.
The technical side presents a very distinct artistic style that I'm guessing was done primarily with CG. That may be because the studio behind it is HOTZIPANG, an artistic “collective” which seems to have mostly done commercials and music videos before this, and most of the major staff positions are credited to one guy. I can't see this visual style catching on, but it serves the humor well enough.
All-in-all, I expect that this series will be remembered only as the weaker cousin of the much-more-anticipated BEASTARS.
Africa Salaryman's premiere is the kind you get every season, which presents the goofiest material in the dumbest possible manner, albeit with enough effort and shameless abandon that you can't help but respect it. Though the series' workplace comedy vibes and anthropomorphic cast bring Aggretsuko to mind, I'd argue that Africa Salaryman has a bit more in common with the likes of Pop Team Epic, which was also a preposterous load of nonsense that was way more polished than it had any right to be.
The difference with Africa Salaryman is it's use of CG animation for it's characters isn't quite as snappy as PTE's; the lion, toucan, and lizard that form our main trio of hapless losers all have the loose-limbed motion-captured feel that I associate with virtual youtubers more than anything else, and it means a lot of the comedy at work here is a bit more banal than I might have liked. Lion is a big softie who struggles with how intimidating he seems, Lizard is the perpetually bemused straight man of the group, and Toucan is just…well, he's just the worst. I suppose I can't fault Hiro Shimono for giving Toucan the exact same screechy energy as Zenitsu from Demon Slayer, it's just that it's easier to root for a well-meaning but stupid coward than a feckless middle-aged twerp. Either way, the sitcom-y bits this trio get up to are inconsistent but mostly entertaining; I didn't much enjoy Toucan's douchey insistence on embracing his road-rage instincts, or his off-putting interaction with the highschool girls on the train, but the running gag of him repeatedly ripping Lizard's tail off as a distraction technique was pretty funny.
It's the brief flashes of manic brilliance that stick with me the most, really, especially when Africa Salaryman decides to get really wild with its animation techniques. The opening Lion King Parody was a clever way to start things off, and the trippy sequences that accompany Lion's catnip trip or Toucan and Lizards office shenanigans do a lot to breathe unique energy into an otherwise predictably madcap sitcom. While I think the series as a whole would do a lot better as a short-form comedy (I feel like I'm saying that a lot these days), I have to admit that Africa Salaryman amused me more than I ever expected it to. I don't know if this is going to be my go-to comedy of the fall season, but I can see myself checking in with it every now an again, if only to see what creative kinds of madness the animators are getting up to.
Africa Salaryman is one of those shows that I can see being funny, but don't find especially humorous. Largely this is due to the dual issues of not being a fan of office-based comedy and really finding Toucan incredibly obnoxious. The final segment before the Africa JK shorts post-credits is what truly turned me off of both the episode and Toucan as a character– Toucan's statement that every group of attractive women comes with one ugly friend is a gag that has long since worn out its welcome, but the decision to then represent that friend as a pig carries a lot of symbolic baggage that is at least irritating, if not outright offensive. The punchline, that Toucan has been romancing the actual woman's pet pig, doesn't do enough to remove the problems that preceded it, nor does it erase the fact that Toucan is willing to put up with someone he finds disgusting in order to live off of her money. Granted, that's a large part of Toucan as a character: he's rude, immature, and obnoxious. But if you don't find those traits funny in the first place, this just really can rub the wrong way.
Despite this, the recurring gag with Lizard's tail is pretty funny, even if it's Toucan who keeps ripping it off in order to get out of bad situations. Lizard was definitely my favorite character as the more-or-less straight man to Toucan and Big Cat's more absurd roles, and the scene with him in the doughnut shop where he's trying not to eat the fly on the doughnut makes for a fun disconnect between his two sides while basically pointing out that he is a giant lizard in a business suit. Big Cat, despite getting the opening segment, feels much more under-utilized, most existing to get a lion in there.
While it is amusing to see wild animals walk around in suits and do people stuff, it still feels like a bit of a thin premise, especially for a full-length episode. I found my attention wandering partway through, whereas if it had been a five-minute short, I don't think that would have been the case. That the animation was a little clunky certainly didn't help; the characters looked more like they were being manipulated in front of a backdrop than existing in the story's world, and that's a bit distracting. It's easy to see how this is trying its best, but for me, that just wasn't enough to make me want to see more.
Africa Salaryman is certainly an unusual one. Normally, you'd expect a concept like “a lion, lizard, and toucan share humorous experiences in the workplace” to be the kind of story that's adapted into an anime short of some kind, but this premiere was a full twenty minutes, and so here we are. And as it turns out, this concept may actually have the stamina necessary to survive as a full-length show - though of course, as is always the case with comedy, your experience may vary.
My own experience certainly varied throughout this episode, which ran through a rambling series of gag setups starring the chill middle manager Lion, and his two subordinates, the uptight Lizard and obnoxious, self-absorbed Toucan. Toucan is a genuinely awful person, and his shenanigans generally serve as the impetus for scenarios that range from the classic “is the boss mad at me” to the equally familiar after-work mixer. Though I felt many of the larger gag conceits felt either tired or off-puttingly mean-spirited, I often enjoyed many of the smaller comic beats. Little details like an announcer declaring “Next stop, Savannah” on the train smartly emphasized the absurdity of this setup, and this episode is full of strong dialogue punchlines like “I'll be sending you the bill for this psychological trauma,” or the profoundly earned “at almost no point in that story did I feel any sympathy for you.”
Africa Salaryman's visual execution is equally lopsided. The CG models that are used for most of the episode's action simply aren't very good, and look consistently clumsy in motion. That said, this episode was also full of great little visual embellishments that embraced a variety of animation styles, from the trippy surrealism of Lion experiencing catnip, to the hyper-exaggerated linework and closeups of Toucan's angry fits. On the whole, too many of Africa Salaryman's jokes fell flat for me personally to recommend it, but it's certainly an interesting work, possessing both a solid understanding of comic structure, and a welcome eye for visual experimentation.
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