Each episode follows Fukuzou Moguro, a traveling salesman, and his current customer. Moguro deals in things that give his customers their heart's desire, and once his deals are made and their unhealthy desires are satisfied, Moguro's customers are often left with terrible repercussions, especially if they break the rules of his deals...
For most of the three years I have dedicated to reviewing anime on this site, this was the self-proclaimed nickname I publicly embraced. It’s a title I feel is fitting. During these three years, I have been criticized on many occasions for praising critically acclaimed works and lesser-known projects over the more conventional shows of the mainstream. Although the mainstream can create quality efforts from time to time (like Gurren Lagann and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood), I feel that it’s generally a haven for generic, cutesy, half-baked garbage to exist, thrive, and multiply. As Todd in the Shadows once stated, “You can’t
spell ‘manure’ without ‘newer’”.
My distaste for contemporary anime naturally caused me to gravitate towards the obscure. As a run-of-the-mill reviewer of this medium, I have established something of a name for myself by analyzing the undervalued (Black Cat, Afro Samurai), the overlooked (Requiem from the Darkness, Coyote Ragtime Show), and the unheard-of (Licensed by Royalty, Joe vs Joe), if not outright praising them than at least appreciating them.
That said, The Laughing Salesman serves as a complete affront to my identity.
Not only does it intentionally venture outside the norm, but it’s a show that’s practically impossible to praise, appreciate, or recommend under any circumstance or context.
By all means, The Laughing Salesman is exactly the type of anime I’d normally applaud. It’s a psychological drama, “unique” and “intelligent”, with a flourishing cult classic status. And yet I find myself unattracted. This show adheres to the calling cards of its genre, lacking the desire or experience to expand its horizons. Sure, it’s “serious” and “competent” but only on a basic level. The Laughing Salesman is the result of a mangaka (Motoo Abiko) and a production company (Shin-Ei Animation) that derived prestige from easygoing titles (Doraemon, among others) yet sought an edgier approach in order to abide by the trends. Both entities desired popularity and, with this 2017 re-make of The Laughing Salesman, they certainly achieved it. Give your project some dark backgrounds, a jazzy OP, distinct character designs, a memorable catchphrase (“The merchandise I deal with is hearts. Yes, human hearts”), and then allow your handful of fans to spread the good news for you. It’s sort of depressing when you think about it.
Early in its run, The Laughing Salesman managed to generate a decent amount of hype, crafting a name for itself in the overwhelming Spring `17 lineup. As an initially intrigued spectator, I feel as though The Laughing Salesman might’ve claimed long-running popularity had its Achilles Heel not been exposed from episode one. Simply put, this show proved early on that it possesses the worldview and philosophical mindset of three children in a trenchcoat. As the titular salesman interacts with various customers, you can clearly see how juvenile, simplistic, and close-minded its logic is. This is an anime that demands you live your life in exactly the fashion that it desires, and anything that contradicts this ideal existence is an irredeemable sin. This is an anime that preens when it should be understanding, patronizes when it should be enlightening, and ridicules when it should be insightful. There is nothing that grants The Laughing Salesman more satisfaction than torturing its various characters physically, psychologically, and professionally, simply because humans are flawed in nature. The Laughing Salesman is maliciously and intentionally spiteful, a show whose immaturity is only rivaled by its condescension. However, it’s the titular salesman himself that truly surpasses this anime as a disgusting piece of work.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” – John 10:10
Moguro Fukuzou is the actual name of the titular salesman and, once you catch a glimpse of him, good luck trying to forget him. His soulless, droopy eyes; his stocky, grotesque frame; his jarring lipstick-stained mouth; his permanent Cheshire Cat grin, and that unsettling chortle of his are all features that have been branded into the folds on my brain; they are nightmares I cannot rid myself of. Slithering in the darkness, materializing over the shoulders of his prey, Moguro is a repulsive snake of a human being, masquerading as the Good Samaritan. Any inquiries of his suspicious behavior and shady dealings are obviated by his Miracle Pills; he never offers any substantial advice for his customers, never leading them to reasonable alternatives for their problems. Moguro allots his customers with a convenient yet temporary solution and then castigates them for being too dependent on said solution. The customers rely on Moguro’s Miracle Pills because he has presented no other option. He’s more of a sneering, self-righteous drug dealer than a knight in shining armor, if you ask me.
Watching The Laughing Salesman is the anime equivalent of Chinese Water Torture. At the beginning, it’s nothing extreme; it’s not as if you’re writhing in pain from episode one. However, as you progress, your patience, your intellect, your sense of joy, and (especially if you’re the unfortunate soul that stumbled across the 1989 version) your sanity will deteriorate. By the end, if you’re not donning a straightjacket, incarcerated in a padded cell, then you will at least contemplate abandoning anime altogether. Yes, The Laughing Salesman is not without merit (the music is pretty decent, the occasional stylistic touches aren’t too shabby, and if we’re being entirely honest, I’ve actually enjoyed the OP) but it still remains fastened to its position as among the worst of the Spring `17 lineup. On pure entertainment value, The Laughing Salesman is as yawn-inducing as it gets, with its monotonous structure and predictable storytelling sure to motivate a few napping sessions. On a psychological front, The Laughing Salesman is a thoroughly frustrating experience, premature, pessimistic, and petulant in every instance. In the end, this show is confined to a prison of its own design, too malevolent for a slice-of-life, too predictable for a suspense tale, and much too superficial for the engaging human drama it was marketed as. Granted, there’s a certain demographic that The Laughing Salesman appeals to but I don’t belong to it. Who or what that demographic consists of, I’m not entirely sure.
I would like to start out by saying that this show is not as bad as people make it out to be. Each episode there are two people visited by the Laughing Salesman and they end up receiving some sort of punishment for their greediness.
The episodes are not meant to be watched back to back. If you binge-watch the show, it will get real repetitive real quick. On a weekly basis, this anime works. I looked forward to each episode. While all the cases provided may not be relatable, they do show the greedy side of humans. (I especially loved episode 11).
Warau Salesman New is a relatively underrated anime that only gets marked down because of its episodic nature. Some continuity would have been nice but it is still good the way it is. I recommend watching the Warau Salesman New despite its current rating of 6.29. It's a really enjoyable watch.
I would like to say first and foremost - fuck this show. Don't watch it. Its mean spirited, morally empty and without a message.
You know anthology shows like The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents usually give a scenario where you are waiting for a character to "get theirs" or to see where a single mistake can lead you. The setups and endings are different - you could be following a character you want to see succeed or one you want to see fail, and the supernatural aspects they sometimes encounter vary wildly and the shows make good use of plot twists to throw you
off the trail.
The issue with The Laughing Salesman is that it does none of that. Let me explain to you every single episode - every single story, of which there are two in each episode - of The Laughing Salesman.
All people in this world - young and old, male and female - are lonely at heart. My name is Moguro, they call me the Laughing Salesman but I'm no ordinary salesman I deal in peoples hearts, oh no I don't need a single yen the best thing is to see the face of a satisfied customer
Introducing our Japanese worker bee who will be ruined for no reason, ****-san
Something goes wrong
Moguro appears and does his shtick then gives them a device that solves the issue, warning them that if they misuse it or use it to much there will be consequences. Or sometimes he causes the issue himself?
Heres where you might see some variation! The customer either misuses it or is led into scenarios where they have to use it.
PUNISHMENT TIME DOOOOOOOOM
Uneven punishments that usually don't fit the scale of the crime or have an ironic Sisyphean nature to them
And thats it. The issue is that the show never bothers to stray from these tight confines. It is usually not a fulfilling show to watch either, as good people - some who Moguro purposefully creates a situation for them to be trapped into so he can punish them for misusing something he gave them to solve the problem he made - get punished through no fault of their own and for no moral reason. There are stories where the person is pretty shitty and gets whats coming, but I can't think of a single one where they would have ended up at that point without Moguro.
So is the issue that its far too depressing, bleak, pessimistic and fatalistic? Yeah a little bit. But I think the issue is more along the lines of the show just being not very good. Aside from the strong visual direction (aside from flashing to pictures of Hell all the time. Stop doing that its the opposite of clever.) I wouldn't classify this as a good show. It has plenty of things about it that seem interesting and I spent the majority of the season trying to decide if it had some deep commentary on Japanese society, fate or Bystander Syndrome locked in there but I really don't think so - its just a mean spirited show with no human soul. This is in no small part due to the series mascot - the ever smiling, fat and mysterious Laughing Salesman, Moguro. Moguro isn't a human, angel, demon or god. He's not anything. He's just a force, I guess. No story in this happens without his direct intervention, and he seems to have reality bending powers that require the viewer to just roll with it. Want a natural story about a fall from grace? Well fuck off because Moguro's only method of tricking people is to design most of the failure from the ground up. These people aren't bad, even the ones with bad tendencies or those who abuse the power because Moguro is always the one behind it all. Nothing happens without Moguro. Since he is essentially the narrator, I would say he is similar to the Cryptkeeper but with more direct impact on the story. But since none of these stories would happen without Moguro its like...whats the point here? Trying to make a statement about fatalism? Why have the direct hand of Moguro unnaturally steer people in the wrong direction then? Free will? None of these outcomes would have come together without Moguro setting them into a situation which causes the things to happen, and one of these people choose this. Moguro just leads them there, by force or foul play if necessary. If someone denies his requests he will just steal their purse or some shit and runaway until they listen and are connived into a scenario of shit. Its just...ugh. Have a message. The message is never "misuse of power is wrong" or "this is the morally wrong thing to do" its "Haha here is Salaryman Takamoto-san, drink this water that makes you feel better about your shitty life. But don't drink too much or else you'll be punished, probably in a way that doesn't reflect the theme of the episode at all BECAUSE WE HAVE NO THEME."
You know whats scarier then the Devil? The fact that there is no Devil, and humans don't need the help of any evil creature to be evil themselves.
TL;DR – An oddity even among the growing number of anime reboots, The Laughing Salesman offers a darkly comic, pessimistic &, unfortunately, a little bit dated journey through the underside of Japanese society & human nature.
The last few years have seen a growing trend for older series getting new adaptations. From action classics like JoJo's Bizarre Adventures to children's shorts like Bono Bono, an ever growing number of titles are being given new prequels, sequels, remakes, reboots or simply getting an adaptation years after the source material finished publication. This goes double for The Laughing Salesman, adapting a manga by Fujiko Fuko A that
ran from 1969-1971 & was previously adapted into anime from 1989-1992, another period when adapting older titles was in vogue.
At its simplest, The Laughing Salesman can be summed up as a series of morality tales that follow an almost identical structure. We're introduced to a character who, perhaps despite outward appearances, is missing something in their life & is open to ways of finding it. This leads them to encounter Fukuzou Moguro, a sinister looking figure who offers them a solution on condition that they promise not to ignore his instructions. Of course they inevitably do, so each story ends with an ironic punishment.
This structure has led to criticism that The Laughing Salesman is mean spirited. No matter how good or deserving the client seems, or understandable their reasons for breaking their end of the bargain; all of them do it & all are punished for doing so. This criticism I think is based at least partly on the false assumption that you're supposed to agree with what happens to them. The Laughing Salesman is no saint. Indeed, he's not unlike the Devil in Western folklore, seeking out those who might be susceptible to his charms & offering them a deal that seems fair but is designed to encourage his client to break it.
A simple reading would be that the moral of each story is be careful of what your wish for or be weary of offers that seem too good to be true, but it goes beyond that. Many characters start out sympathetic & clearly wronged, but reveal themselves to be hypocrites, liars or just as bad as those who wrong them. As Moguro says to one client toiling at a black company, “who knew you were rather black yourself?” Arguably not all characters really deserve their fate, but then you have to ask where the story is really laying the blame. For example, who's at fault: The old man who breaks his promise not to try to find the fake, online grandson Moguro provides him; or the society that allows the elderly to become so isolated that they would need such a service to begin with?
Ultimately, The Laughing Salesman simply presents his clients with a deal & punishes them for breaking it. The right & wrong of the situation is for the viewer to decide. Having said that, there is undoubtedly meant to be humour in the irony of how things turn out. So while it's debatable what the stance the series takes on events, it is a series that expects the audience to see the funny side in what happens, if perhaps in a "if you can't laugh, what can you do?" way.
That's not to say the execution is flawless. For one thing, there is an annoying reliance on fat &/or old hags being either the punishment or cause of a character taking Moguro's deal. While often used in the context of showing the shallowness of a client's professed love of something or someone, it does get tiresome seeing yet another man be tempted by a beautiful woman & punished with an ugly one. The stories with female clients are also arguably the weakest, with the final one ending with the the very unpleasant implication that her punishment is to be raped by a foreigner.
The Laughing Salesman also has a similar issue that a somewhat similar series (at least at first), Hell Girl, had. Because it follows the same formula for each episode, the result is that very different situations are treated with the same gravity despite clearly not being on the same level. It feels incongruent to see someone punished for wanting to cheat on their wife, only for the next story to be about a guy who just really wants to ride on a favourite train a second time.
The age & occupation of many characters also stands out. Most of Moguro's clients are middle aged salarymen or office workers, with the youngest being a 22 year old university student. While there has been an effort to modernise the setting, a number of characters feel the product of past decades, as well as raising the same questions about how, for instance, nobody would have heard of this very unique looking Salesman that dogged Parasyte's modernisation. There are some, such as the aforementioned old man & a chat room nerd, who feel like appropriately modern takes on the shows formula. But many of the stories use quite familiar stock characters & settings, which can leave The Laughing Salesman feeling its age.
But it doesn't look old. While retaining the artstyle of manga & anime from the 1960s-1970s, this production by Shin-Ei Animation (who also did the previous adaptation) still feels quite modern. While fairly limited overall, the animation for Moguro's “Boom!” sequences, the point where he punishes the client, are all well done & there is good use of switching from the simple art style to more detailed & full of action line stills to emphasise a character's reaction. It all contributes to maintaining a suitably ominous & darkly comic tone, with one notable exception being when a possessed girl is dancing in front of oncoming traffic - the sequence being funny for the wrong reasons.
Most notable is of course the Salesman himself, appearing like a besuited Laughing Buddha with a Cheshire Cat smile that often emerges menacingly from the shadows. His design alone gives him a commanding presence, though commendation goes to the director for often picking just the right angle to amplify the sense of menace he exudes. Credit also to the performance by Tessyo Genda (Violence Jack!) who gives Moguro an unnerving laugh & a voice that can make your skin crawl. But with all that said, it seems likely that some will be put off just by the apparent juxtaposition of an art style now mostly associated with old kids shows with the darker tone of the stories.
Beyond the content of the show itself, though, there is one nagging question: why was this made? What about 2017 made the producers think now is the time to bring The Laughing Salesman back? As mentioned before, the series feels old, not really fitting in even among all the reboots etc being released. It made sense for the manga to be written when it was, when gekiga comics were booming & artists were keen to expose the rotten teeth behind the smile of Japanese society. The previous anime adaptation fits in with the transition in anime from space opera optimism to cyberpunk & post apocalyptic pessimism that occurred during the very peak of the bubble economy & the crash that in some ways Japan still hasn't fully recovered from.
But there is no economic crash in 2017. No Japanese New Wave driving artists to challenge the post-war consensus on what is an appropriate subject for media. There is certainly a growing unease about inequality & the failing social contract in Japan, & as mentioned some of the characters do seem to address that. But too many feel like stock characters that could have existed at any time in post or even pre-WW2 media. Office women having to put up with their co-workers talking behind their backs & salarymen cheating on their wives, while still no doubt a feature of Japanese society, just don't feel particularly modern.
There really needed to be more done to make this adaptation stand out as more than just a well done rehash of old ideas; though when viewed purely in the context of today's anime, it still manages to seem different. Even so, fans of series like Paranoia Agent that explore the darker side of people's characters which they'd rather keep hidden should enjoy The Laughing Salesman. Those who expect good things to happen to good people, however, should stay away.