The Laughing Salesman and How Little Has Changed From 1989

The Laughing Salesman and How Little Has Changed From 1989

A salaryman named Moguro Fukuzou appears before people when they’re at their lowest point. He offers a free solution to their troubles that most often than not can be described as too good to be true. 

Although he promises to “fill your empty soul”, it rarely ends as nicely as it sounds. Through his clients’ actions or for his own reasoning, he typically ends up ruining the life of the person he made a deal with. This is the general format for all of the collected tales of The Laughing Salesman.

The series was created by Fujiko A. Fujio, the pen name of Motoo Abiko and one half of the Fujiko Fujio manga duo who are the most well known for creating the famous series and eponymous character Doraemon

The Laughing Salesman is undeniably darker than anything else the duo made, all the while keeping their popular art style. While the manga would run for a few years starting in 1968, it wouldn’t be until 1989 that an anime adaptation would be made.

It would be the anime series that truly propelled the popularity of the ever-grinning salesman. Even after the anime ended it would continue with three special episodes, two video games, and a short-lived live-action series. 

While it would not make as big of a cultural impact as Doraemon, it would be a unique staple of anime from an older time.

At the end of 2016, almost 25 years after the previous tv series, it was announced that a new anime series had been greenlit. This series was titled The Laughing Salesman NEW and was set to be released in 2017. 

Since it has short stories like the series long before it, each episode consists of two separate tales of people who come into contact with Moguro.

Anime adaptation of older source material almost always has a handicap. Unless the series has stayed relevant over time, it’s going to be hard to market it. While the previous anime series bolstered an impressive 100+ self-contained episodes, 25 years is a long time in-between anime series. 

Adding on to that, the source material was 49 years old at that point as well. The success of this new anime depended on people’s nostalgia, and how the series might possibly adapt to modern times.

The Laughing Salesman NEW consisted of 12 episodes and left its audience split. Reading up reviews on it will show a few different opinions on it, which I think is important when trying to determine what the successes and failures are. With this article I’d like to discuss the different views and attempt to figure out an important question.

“The Laughing Salesman NEW: Who Is It For?”

It’s easier to start off by talking about what the strong points are of the anime, the first of which is the art. Everything is always up to opinion of course, but I’m talking about this because I think that it’s an aspect that most people would agree on. 

The art perfectly captures the style that it was originally known for and truly looks like a work from the ’60s brought into modern times. This more vintage look absolutely helps define the series.

Now, a lot of people who are just used to seeing this specific style in Doraemon might suspect that character designs will look too cute or innocent, but that is not the case. Moguro in fact looks disturbing from the get-go with his obscenely large smile and his supernatural-esque presence. 

Whether this presence is seemingly larger than life as he looms over characters or if it’s only his smile and eyes that you can make out from the shadows, it’s expressed throughout. Add in the occasional color shift and the always different computer animation effects when he decides to ruin your life with a resounding “BOOM!” and you have a series that can leave you feeling a little uneasy.

All of this culminates along with a wonderful nostalgia for previous fans of the series. The art is just a fresh coat of the same paint that was there before because it’s fundamentally the exact same as the previous anime series. 

For older fans that wanted more of the same, this is exactly what they want. Meanwhile, newer fans can watch something that’s very unique in comparison to the current world of anime.

And I can’t talk about this without mentioning the opening theme. It’s wonderfully colorful, bizarre, and upbeat, but it strangely compliments the series so well and prepares you for the dark humor that’s to follow. You can give it a listen here.

With all of that out of the way, that does bring us to the criticisms of the series. One of its strengths is conversely one of its weaknesses. A lot of people came into the series expecting more from it. I was undoubtedly one of those people.

I knew a little bit about the series before I watched The Laughing Salesman NEW. My friends from high school mentioned it to me in passing, but as it wasn’t easy to see it in the United States I never had the chance to experience the series.

Which is why I was pretty excited when I heard that a new series was coming out. I had no idea if they were going to change any part of its core themes or formula, but I was just happy that I’d finally get a chance to watch this famous series!

Most of all, I was excited and expecting a show where people make hilariously bad decisions and then get ironically punished for it.

…I kind of got that. Not all of the punishments fit the bill well enough to be an ironic twist, but I did get to see people fail to heed ominous instructions and get their just desserts in a way. But I also got people that are made a seemingly normal offer, and get screwed over by it anyway. Sometimes Moguro doesn’t even tell them the negative repercussions of his “solutions.”

To be absolutely fair, this is exactly how the original series is. It’s incredibly bleak and this dark humor doesn’t have many moments of people “getting what they deserve” as you may expect from some dark humor series. Sometimes the person is just down enough on their luck to accept the offer (Moguro can be persistent) and even without breaking any pre-set rules, they’re led to the same fate as others.

It really all boils down to what people are expecting. Some may go into this expecting it to resemble a monkey’s paw situation: the person makes a wish(es) that comes with terrible consequences. 

I don’t find that particularly comparable though, as a monkey’s paw kind of story usually includes a more ominous warning beforehand and typically gets worse with each wish. Most of it includes a message; typically being that you shouldn’t mess with fate.

I’d liken it more towards a “Deal with the Devil” kind of story. Someone gets an incredible offer and even if both the offer and the person are pure in their intentions, the devil always wins in the end. There’s no happy ending with the devil involved and bar a few instances, this is the same with Moguro.

This also leads to another big point of contention for people: there’s no deeper message involved. The person who made the deal will likely regret it, but there’s no personalized theme. It’s just different episodes of bleak fates. It’s a wonderfully unique premise, but very tiring after a couple of episodes.

It reminds me of anthology series such as The Twilight Zone. But the repetitiveness of the show defers it from reaching the heights of most anthology series in general. Instead, I almost want to compare it to a mystery of the week show, perhaps one simple like Scooby-Doo where you know it’s going to end a certain way (in this case horribly) but you want to watch anyway.

Except that doesn’t quite work either because there’s more satisfaction involved between the mystery-solving and the villain getting their comeuppance.

It just feels too similar at times. There are too many cases of it ending with “and now you have to do this forever!” or “you thought you’d end up with an attractive woman but surprise she’s actually very unattractive in your eyes!” 

There are certainly some unique fates in certain episodes, but it still manages to feel very run-of-the-mill with a lot of its episodes.

Many people argue that it’s meant to be watched sporadically, i.e. an episode each week as it was released so you don’t get burned out from the bleakness. I suppose if shows can be more enjoyed through binge-watching, perhaps one is better watching in-between breaks. 

At the same time that feels like a weak defense of the show and I know it didn’t help me enjoy it when I watched it.

There isn’t much you can compare the show to. And for that reasoning, I do think people should give a couple episodes a watch to see if they enjoy it. Its unique format lends itself to be available for anybody to watch it, but many people will be turned off by its repetitiveness. For others, they’ll enjoy a definite breath of fresh air.

How To Watch

If you want to give The Laughing Salesman NEW a watch to see if it’s your thing, it’s freely available on Crunchyroll with a Japanese dub. Currently, there are no options to stream the original 1989 series, nor is there a way to read the manga aside from importing.

The Laughing Salesman, The Laughing Salesman
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