It ain't easy being a salaryman. In fact, apart from the plain suits and long days of desk-jockeying, it pretty much blows. Bosses are jerks, the office is full of back-biting sharks, and chicks just don't dig the suits quite the way you'd hope. That is, unless you're Salaryman Kintaro.
Adapted from the smash-hit manga comics by Motomiya Hiroshi, Salaryman Kintaro is a cartoon TV series about a former teen gang leader turned corporate pawn. But Yajima Kintaro is no ordinary pawn. His bad-ass biker ethos gives him the fearlessness other salarymen lack, making him a natural leader. He's tough, determined, and almost offensively masculine in a corporate world where most men are meek, pathetic suckers.
But Kintaro's life as a suit is anything but easy. At every turn he faces challenges, both from his corporate superiors who see him alternately as an undisciplined thug and a complex threat to their position in the business food chain. Meanwhile, his violent criminal past returns to haunt him constantly, usually in the form of visits from former gang rivals and yakuza bad boys.
This DVD contains season 1 of the animated series, which follows Kintaro from his turbulent first day through a series of fairly repetitive altercations with various and sundry underworld types who happen across his path. Most interesting, however, is an early episode that (somewhat incompletely) answers the ever looming question of how Kintaro ever happened to break into the salaryman gig in the first place.
But the animated series is just one of many dimensions in the Salaryman Kintaro universe. Aside from the manga, there have also been a couple of live-action films, which have not yet made their way into English-language distribution.
Frankly, we're curious to see what live action could bring to the Kintaro storyline, because the disposable, almost Speed Racer-esque anime quality of this series makes it somewhat difficult to take seriously. And that's a shame, because -- though Kintaro is a uniquely Japanese character -- the story works with themes of individual freedom and responsibility that appear as applicable to the American workplace as anywhere. Kintaro is an antihero for the untold millions who've sacrificed their identities, and in many cases their honor, to preserve their meaningless and precarious positions in the corporate superstructure that dominates their lives. Yet, unless you're willing to slog through the adolescent delivery of this cheap Saturday-morning cartoon series, it's a little difficult to extract all that.
Ultimately, manga fans will probably love Salaryman Kintaro Volume 1 just for being what it is. But those interested in the ever-burgeoning world of sophisticated, compelling Japanese animation would do well to look elsewhere. This series is strictly kids' stuff -- which is odd, really, since few kids would really understand it.
Aka Sarariiman Kintarô.