Remaking the late ‘80s/early ‘90s adaptation of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s seinen manga by Fujiko Fujio A, The Laughing Salesman NEW (Warau Salesman NEW) follows a portly salesman, Moguro Fukuzo, whose business is serving mankind … with a smile. His business card says it all: Moguro will fill the hole in your empty heart. After all, be you man, woman, or child, everyone’s lonely, and Moguro’s here to grant your wishes out of the kindness of his own heart. A price tag of ¥0 doesn't mean that there's no price to be paid, however; humanity's greed readily begets its own comeuppance in due time, and that’s usually within fifteen minutes or so.
Each thirty-minute episode is divided into two separate tales focusing on one particular tormented soul, and the formula employed in each account should be a familiar one to fans of Faust, Hell Girl, or similar morality plays. But The Laughing Salesman NEW is definitely not a product of Goethe's pen, nor is the show as immersive as Hell Girl. Surprisingly enough, it’s the visual stylings and dark sense of humor that drive this show about humans falling prey to their own desires.
Drawing from the original characters designs from 50-some years ago, the cartoony faces of the protagonists in each episode evoke a comedic air. And while yuks are definitely on the menu, so are grade school-simplified depictions of sloth, avarice, and maliciousness. This contrast between visuals and subject matter – cartoony characters encountering such weighty (if simplistic) moral conflicts, is what impart a sense of unease upon expectancy, and things get really chaotic when you throw in the CG devil.
Ok, Moguro isn’t actually CG (except in the wonderful OP), but he is an outright oddity in the world of The Laughing Salesman NEW. His smooth, spherical design and penguin waddle exudes joviality, but the clown-like devil's grin, seemingly painted on his face, opens wide to expose teeth that appear razor sharp due to clean lines that contrast the rest of the more organic-looking characters and art. Add to this effect the fact that a psychedelic layer is applied to Moguro whenever he comes to confront – with trademark, comic book-style, onomatopoeic “BOOM” – any who've broken their promise to him, and his otherworldliness is assured.
The other otherworldliness is the refuge of the bar where Moguro occasionally takes his clients. It's almost like Eden Hall from Bartender and even has a wonderfully wonky, mute, mustachioed and bearded barkeep. The atmosphere inside the bar is dark, as in dimly lit, but also dark as in the devil's den; the painting of a man with goats head (I’m presuming Satan) raising torches aglow with fire amidst demons torturing souls is often showcased directly behind Moguro when he sits on his usual stool. Unlike most of the other scenery in the show, the bar is full of little details and textures – from bottles and countertops to the liquors and ice in glasses. A lot of love went into this set!
This is an adaptation of significantly older material, and it's a shame the world is not updated in kind. The blatant sexism that bubbles up – bishi female figures meant as a fishing line lure for a male or a representation of the leanings of the male protagonist's impure soul – is at least excusable as such, but too often female characters’ personalities are pigeonholed according to body type and station (if not by gender itself). While the effect may not be so cringe-worthy to a more insensitive audience, it's a mark against the show to be sure and might be more of an impediment to continued viewing for those who are more sensitive or those who simply have had enough of seeing women dragged through the mud for the purpose of defining men's sexual appetites. Sexist leanings aside, the fact that this anime features and revolves around people (even if most are little more than caricatures) no younger than post-college is noteworthy. This is seinen acting seinen after all. Even the titular salesman, devil that he is, wears a middle-aged business man's skin (and suit … most of the time), and it's ungodly refreshing … even if everyone in the series is a horrible person.
The other win for the series is definitely the hyper-stylized OP, which features the perfectly complementary "Don't" by Emi Nakamura. Modernist visuals and linework create a narrative flow through the linking of disparate images. Never does an episode go by without me watching the OP at least three times before letting myself indulge in the latest episode itself. The ED, which is visually beautiful in its own right, focuses on a city tour via what looks like a time lapse painting while "Don! Yararechatta Setsu" by Junji Takada colors the final minutes with charismatic croon and pomp.
It’s a shame that The Laughing Salesman NEW will never be a big hit here in the U.S.A. But to be honest, the show, as a comedy, is nowhere near a contender for Anime of the Year anyway. Also, the billing as black comedy or psychological thriller is totally off here (despite some wonderfully rendered visual experiences that nail “threatening”), and that will turn off audiences seeking such while waving away those looking for a novel comedy. Similarly, the execution and writing, as befitting a comedy, is simple and focused on good timing for effect rather than meditation on morality, and that fact that social faux pas from an un-updated past are prevalent throughout the series will be instant turn-offs to some viewers.
At most, The Laughing Salesman NEW looks like it might gain a cult following. Its fans are going to be those who appreciate comedies, visual flare, and the knock-out performance of Tessho Genda (who was the VA chosen to dub Batman/Bruce Wayne in the animated series over in Japan!!!) as Moguro. His laugh is simultaneously disturbing and endearing. So if you’re looking to laugh and be wowed visually, give this show a chance.
Ink is a contributing editor, columnist, and Oldtaku no Radio co-host for AniGamers.com; a reviewer and Ten Years Later columnist over at fandompost.com; and a regular contributor of reviews and features to Otaku USA magazine.