Image source: 「笑ゥせぇるすまんNEW」公式 on Twitter

Based on the original manga by Fujiko Fujio Ⓐ, The Laughing Salesman is a series of stand-alone episodes about various people who encounter Moguro Fukuzo, a creepy-looking, rotund man in black who is for some reason always grinning.

Though the series always begins with his narration, the show is not actually about him. “The world is full of people who are lonely—be they young or old, male or female. My job is to fill the gap in their hearts,” he explains in each opening monologue. “And I do not ask for money in exchange—seeing a satisfied customer is reward enough.” We are assured that Moguro is not just a salesman… He deals with people’s hearts and minds.

Image source: 「笑ゥせぇるすまんNEW」公式 on Twitter

Looking back now, I was wondering how much a product of its time the original was. The manga series ran back in the late 1960s and early 70s, just as the period of high growth was kicking in, while the first anime adaptation aired from the end of the 80s to the early 1990s, right when the bubble burst and Japan entered a recession.

Japan at this time developed much of the modern diligent work culture, deference to authority and strict hierarchies we see the remnants of in today’s society. Of course, that is not to say that these were not in place in some way or another earlier in Japanese culture, but certainly the idea of the “salaryman” worker as a cog in the machine, together with the concept of “Japan, Inc.” and the corporate environment was certainly something that was a defining factor of the Japanese lifestyle during those boom years.

With that as its background, The Laughing Salesman series then can be read as a satirical, critical look at the de-humanization of Japan’s work environment. This remake might therefore be an update designed to warn younger generations of the perils and pitfalls of modern society.

Most of the “clients” that Moguro “helps” tend to be lonely, disillusioned workers in large corporations with few friends, lacking communication skills. Without going into too much spoiler territory, the first episode of the new series features two stories–both about typical, run-of-the-mill company workers. One is a “salaryman” in his late 20s, the other an “office lady” in her early 30s. Neither seems particularly close to anyone else in the workplace, though they do interact with superiors and colleagues.

Image source: 「笑ゥせぇるすまんNEW」公式 on Twitter

Moguro, in his own way, attempts to alleviate their depression by offering his services: In the case of the salaryman, he introduces a cabaret club open during lunch hour—therefore giving him something exciting to look forward to every day. In the case of the office lady, he grants her a special credit card which allows her to buy things that get repossessed a little later, thus scratching her shopaholic itches while not using up any money.

Of course, things go invariably wrong for the “clients,” as they bite off too much more than they can chew. The show is thus smart for warning us about engaging too much in our own indulgences as an attempt to escape from the drudgery and stress of everyday city life.

However, at the same time, it does not hold our hand and tell us straight up what to do, so it leaves a lot of room for choice and for interpretation there. It forces us to question what we are living and/or struggling for and if it is worth it or not; and if not, then to do something about it and fix the situation, without actually telling us how. Instead, it warns us not to take the easy way out because then, in the end, we’ll be far worse off. So it leaves us to look for the answers to our problems on our own.

In a way, it’s similar to how morality is presented in A Christmas Carol, a story we all know. None of the spirits told Scrooge to be kind, they instead just showed him the results of his unkindness, and left him to connect the dots. He thus got the motivation to be a better person as a result of his own realizations.

Penguins Make Great Politicians

Yes, there have been comical anime with a rather critical take on modern work culture and society, especially recently with flash-animation shorts such as Pepepepengiin and World Fool News, but The Laughing Salesman is in a league of its own—to the extent that some might call it a disturbing wake-up call. While Pepepepengiin showed a lighthearted, yet still satirical view on Japanese office etiquette and customs, The Laughing Salesman simply oozes black humor and does not even attempt to offer a solution to the problems presented.

In the end, maybe the salesman is the only one laughing.

The Laughing Salesman is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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