Coming out four weeks from now in Japanese theaters is Matsuda Shota’s latest manga to live-action adaptation, Afro Tanaka.
Afro Tanaka is a popular coming-of-age, comedy manga currently running in Big Comic Spirits. It’s made an impressive 3.6 million book sales and counting.
The series follows the lives of ordinary teenagers, Tanaka Hiroshi and his gang of friends, as they grow up in the suburbs of Saitama, eventually graduate or drop out from high school, and move onto college and careers.
Tanaka is distinguished by his giant poofy afro but is otherwise typical. He’s not particularly bright, but he’s not ridiculously stupid. He and his friends aren’t popular, but they have each other as a niche to avoid becoming complete losers.
So far, in its 35 books, Tanaka has dropped out of high school, got kicked out of his house by his mother, and moved to Tokyo to work as a construction worker. Currently, the manga follows Tanaka’s life in Tokyo and a few love interests that have developed. The themes of the series have been Tanaka’s inability to grow up, to be responsible, or to land a serious relationship with a girl.
While the plot and themes sound depressing, Tanaka is optimistic and never dwells on his life. The tone is happy and Tanaka’s episodes are funny in a subdued, “guy humor” way and embarrassingly relate-able.
This film takes place after Tanaka has left Saitama. The focus is on Tanaka’s attempts to make his first girlfriend in his 24 year life. He is motivated by an invitation to his high school friend’s wedding for which he has promised to bring a date. At just the right timing, a cute new neighbor named Kato Aya moves in.
Matsuda Shota has been casted to take on Tanaka. If you’re a jdrama fan, you’ve seen him as Nishikado Sojiro of the F4 in Hana Yori Dango or as Akiyama in Liar Game. Matsuda does a good job replicating Tanaka’s look and the break from his usual cool roles adds to the humor.
Sasaki Nozomi will play Kato Aya. Sasaki is still a fresh face. Her work has primarily been in modeling. Most recently, you may have seen her in the jdramas: Kaito Royale and Propose Kyodai. As her character is original to the film, she has less of a hurdle to overcome.
As a big fan of the original manga, I can’t hide my fear and anticipation. Given the production value I can glean from the trailer and Matsuda Shota’s casting, I doubt it’ll be a complete bust. But can the film replicate the slow, lazy atmosphere of the source material? Will the film take away the late-night chuckles of the original and replace them with mainstream guffaws?
Afro Tanaka comes in theaters in Japan on February 18th. Let us know what you think of the film and the trailer below.