Director: Tomoharu Katsumata
Screenplay: Chikako Kobayashi and Sukehiro Tomita
Based on a manga by Hiroshi Motomiya
Voice Cast: Taisei Miyamoto (as Yajima Kintaro); Atsuko Tanaka (as Suenaga Misuzu); Masako Katsuki (as Sakurai Kyoko); Ryoka Yuzuki (as Suenaga Mimi); Katsuhisa Houki (as Kaminaga Hiroshi); Kiyoshi Kawakubo (as Tomokazu Morinosuke)
Synopsis: The Yamato Construction Company business hires a new salary man named Yajima Kintaro. To the horror of the staff and upper management, the man known as Kintaro hired by the company's elderly owner is the former leader of a giant motorcycle gang who doesn't act like other salary man - he's liable t talk back at those who he feels are unhonourable even in senior positions and likely to get into fights if need be. Yet this behaviour also starts to become a well of inspiration from those around him, rebellion and the desire to become better employees taking place; even romantic longing from women is to found alongside the allies in fellow employees, seniors and even yakuza. The widowed father of a young son, Kintaro is noble, brave and gladly goes out of his way to help those in need, his reckless powder keg personality likely to scrape against corrupt management and those who do backstage dealings in the world of Japanese construction industry.
Salaryman Kintaro is amongst the oddest anime I've covered in terms of actually being able to see it. It's very normal even by the stereotypes of anime, a melodramatic drama set in contemporary Japan about the least expected salaryman possible wanting an ordinary working life. Having seen it it's the the kind of anime that rarely gets released in the United Kingdom and feels like what anime actually is for Japanese viewers who aren't obsessive otaku - mainstream programming like an anime soap opera, not likely to be viewed at two in the morning like shows that get popular amongst Western anime fans are. Inexplicable all twenty episodes were released in the UK by the late DVD company Arts Magic in the early days of DVD alongside obscurer Takashi Miike films, who would direct a live action film based on Salaryman Kintaro, allowing me to see the absurdly sincere, coincidence heavy tale of a Mary Sue figure set around the world of the Japanese construction industry.
Based on a manga that was also adapted into live action television later, Salaryman Kintaro is a pure masculine fantasy of what the perfect salary man should be rather than necessarily the reality of the Japanese workplace. This immediately brings out a charm in the show even if it feels like a retroactive throwback to older gender politics where men were men, Kintaro the opposite of someone who has to bow to others and is grinded down by his work, the nostalgic notion for other characters of when they were younger and more passionate before the work broke them common in the dialogue. A former punk who saves a company manager and asks to be hired as a thank you, Kintaro represents to an extreme the perfect male who will rescue toddlers from a burning nursery and stand out to corrupt upper management, so perfect in his humanity that his only flaws are his recklessness and habit of trying to fist fight people to defend goodness.
Soap opera is the operative word as the world of Salaryman Kintaro from the outside, if you cannot engage with its sincerely, can be ridiculous. Almost every person that encounters Kintaro eventually becomes his ally. Members of his former motorbike gang, from yakuza to a member who after a significant event decided he wanted to become a transgender woman, spot him out in the crowd and those who meet him either fall in love with him if they're women, such as a rich widowed heiress who becomes one of his main guides, or if they're male develop crushes like his fellow office workers do. Characters at points even bemoan how Kintaro is able to weave himself into people's lives with such complexity, letting the series have some sense of knowingness to its absurdities. The levels of how many lives Kintaro gets involved with get to the point of bizarre coincidences, such as a woman he helps when she is molested on a train turning out to be the fiancée of a yakuza working with a senior underworld chief who looks to Kintaro with admiration, or Kintaro saving the son of someone who is on the side of a corrupt company. How convoluted these descriptions sound is enough to show how elaborate the ties are between Kintaro, the magnet for everything else, and everyone around him to the point of the hyper fantastical.
The fact that it's all set around the Japanese construction industry does add an oddness to the show's tone; for every real concern such as striking workers at a underground tunnel project, or fantastical ones such as the amount of times Kintaro has to dodge moving vehicles including a train, it's all set around white collar business at its most mundane. Even when employees attempt to oust their corrupt boss by hacking into the finances, that early plot event is dealt with through whether people are sitting or standing up in a senior staff meeting with elaborate speeches to cover the fact. While the show heightens the world of the construction industry with fighting, yakuza being hired to take out Kintaro and others being threatened, the mundanity of the world is not that far away. Adding to this is that it's an ordinary looking show, probably the most rudimentary anime in visual look I've reviewed on the site, not bad technically like at least one I've covered so far but matter of fact where one should expect a lot of speed lines and coloured backgrounds to show a character being shocked for dramatic reasons. That it's clearly hand drawn is a nice aspect but with its simple, bright colours its neither an elaborate feast for the eyes, depicting the ordinary world and concerned that the visuals prop up the drama.
If there's any virtue to the series it's that it has a charisma because of its clichés. There's probably too many characters causing way too many plot threads to exist. The show also has an odd tonal attitude - for the most part it would be suitable for children to see baring the moments of actual female nudity and sexual references, scenes surprisingly upfront in lieu of the pleasant tone. Then, beyond the innuendo, there's moments that are exceptionally grim for a show like this to tackle like rape in a couple of episodes. It also gets surprisingly dark at points especially as it gets to the end which is as much why I've kept the old box set for so long. Some of the attempts are utterly absurd, such as when Kintaro helps the woman molested on the train find her perpetrator, with a prolonged bicycle pursuit and crying of manly tears in forgiveness, but others are more interesting. Despite Kintaro being the perfect, reckless hero eventually he can't just punch people out to win. This could come off as a conservative cop-out, as the ending may feel abrupt at only twenty episodes, but the idea that eventually Kintaro is revealed to be too reckless and needs to learn more subtle ways of becoming a better person does stand out with interest, suddenly such a mundane oddity developing some complexity. It could be seen as the reality, that such a salaryman could never exist even outside of Japan in business, too reckless and too good for a working man position, but on this viewing it proved to be interesting. There's also the fact that for all its absurdities I eventually caved in again and liked the show as I have before. Ultimately the reason the show retains anything of worth if that, altogether, there's a personality that I can't help but like in spite of its more chintzy aspects.