At 5am in the pouring rain I left my hotel room to find some seaweed. Specifically, I wanted a strip of seaweed wrapped around rice – packaged to look like an afro hairstyle. In the dark downpour, without an umbrella, I trekked from conbini to conbini. Perhaps inevitably, I did not find my seaweed treasure. And I now have a cold.
Why did I do it? Well, I should explain that the seaweed afro belongs to Afro Tanaka, the hero of a long running manga series I enjoy. I had discovered on the internet that Afro’s distinct hairstyle was advertising norimaki (a rice and seaweed version of a sandwich). I had to try to get one before they sold out. Understand now?
The Afro Tanaka series began in 2002. Still running in weekly episodes, the manga now covers 9 years of Afro’s life. When it began, Afro was a lazy high school student. He has since dropped out of school, moved to Tokyo to work as a labourer and dyed his afro blond in the hope of attracting girls. Currently he is a drifter, Sasurai Afro.
The gag comic is well-known amongst Japanese men of a certain age and sense of humour, although some of the men seem ashamed of their interest. I have been told that Afro is kudaranai (frivolous), even more kudaranai than the apparently stupendously silly Ina Junior High Table Tennis Club manga. (If that comic title means anything to you, you are beyond help)
I think you need to be a little disturbed to properly appreciate Afro. He is shy, neurotic and easily confused by everyday occurrences. Just a friendly greeting from his neighbour can unbalance him for days. But his awkwardness is part of the charm. And for readers
like myself also easily confused by everyday events, the comic is very reassuring.
I should warn though Afro Tanaka is not for everybody. He is no inspiring role model. The low-paid jobs, listless lifestyle and huge hair are not something you would want to copy. And be aware that Afro sometimes rents ero videos so avoid showing the manga to kids or, as I recently discovered, members of your tour group.