Review of Salaryman Kintaro: Part 4
Japanese anime is a veritable feast of story ideas, with the fantastic and exotic becoming commonplace in the world of animation. Browse in your local anime emporium and you`ll find sci-fi set in the distant future, stories about cyborgs, spaceships, post apocalyptic Earth. You`ll find madcap comedies where ineffectual nerdish teenage boys can attract legions of sexy females, or you can find intelligent stories that challenge the very perception of reality, as well as historical epics, horror, Westerns, even erotica. In other words, whatever the human mind can envisage can be brought to life in animation form. Salaryman Kintaro is the story of a white-collar worker in a construction company. Anime also apparently handles the mundane.
The white-collar worker drives modern economies, and in Japan more than most. It is a whole subsection of society that serves in offices the nation over. These modern day serfs are expected to swear loyalty to a company in return for a job for life (at least that was the idea before the last recession). The company always comes first, above and beyond lesser matters like personal well-being or family. Twelve-hour days are commonplace, and the work culture extends beyond work hours, as it is expected for work colleagues to socialise when the day is through to build team spirit. The Salaryman is the vital grist that the wheels and cogs of Japanese industry grind up and spit out.
Salaryman Kintaro is the reaction to this culture of overwork, first explored in the manga by Hiroshi Motomiya. This anime adaptation follows the career of Yajima Kintaro, who once led a bike gang of 10000 members and had built a reputation as a tough guy. Becoming a father changed all that, and now raising his son alone after the mother died in childbirth, he`s vowed to become respectable. He`s got a job at Yamato Construction, where his straightforward attitude, and tendency to speak with his fists has made him stand out where quiet mundanity is the required attitude. In this volume Kintaro returns from successfully completing the Tunnel project to find changes at the top of Yamato Construction. An ambitious former bureaucrat named Takatsukasa has been appointed to a high position in the company, and he`s looking to make changes. It looks like Kintaro is in the way. This disc from Artsmagic contains 4 episodes.
13. Kintaro Returns Home
Former ministry official Takatsukasa joins Yamato Construction on the same day that Kintaro returns from Mt. Kousei. Straight off the bat, Takatsukasa has a high level meeting with the directors where he announces his bold vision for the future of the company. Kintaro is taking the day off to spend some time with his son and visit the grave of his mother. Kintaro is surprised to see how much Ryuta has grown, but that`s nothing compared to what awaits him at his mothers grave.
14. Kintaro Connects People
They say it`s not what you know, but who you know. Kintaro finds that out when a confrontation with the yakuza at a Pachinko parlour leads to an unexpected series of meetings, which incidentally uncover Kintaro`s hidden past. Meanwhile Takatsukasa is feeling threatened by Kintaro.
15. Kintaro Is Transferred
A traffic `accident` doesn`t stop Kintaro for long, as he embarks on the next phase of his career. He`s being transferred to the North Eastern Branch in Kahoku City, but the reception that he received from his new boss Igo is not what he expected.
16. Kintaro Works In Sales
Kintaro starts working directly for Igo, and his training is unconventional to say the least. He gets thrown straight into the deep end of a government contract tender without the slightest clue of what is going on. Igo just wants to see if he`ll sink or swim, and if he can handle the innate corruption at City Hall.
Artsmagic present Salaryman Kintaro on a two-layer PAL disc. The picture is a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, which is a fairly problem free standards conversion from NTSC to PAL. There are no significant artefacts, and the only legacy of the conversion is a slight added softness to the image. There`s also no ghosting or jerky pans, and only an occasional hint of aliasing. The animation itself isn`t up to the standard of most modern anime, and indeed were it not for the anamorphic format, I`d take it for a much older programme. The main character designs are distinctive, but some of the supporting characters seem a little generic. The animation is simple and lacks dynamism. It`s reminiscent of older shows where time would be spent on animation only when the story demands it.
That said, the story isn`t adversely affected by this stylistic choice, and it soon fades from the awareness.
You get a choice of a DD 5.1 or DD 2.0 Japanese soundtracks, no English dub here I`m afraid. There is the odd moment where dialogue on the surround track is subdued by effects or music, but by and large the track does the show justice, without exhibiting significant flair. Salaryman Kintaro is another anime that has a toe tapping theme tune, although the end theme is a little too Chris De Burgh for my liking. As with all the Artsmagic DVDs that I have encountered, there are two subtitle tracks with the programme, differing only in the size of font. It`s a useful addition that takes into account difficulties of vision and differing screen sizes. The subtitles were legible throughout.
The discussions with the Director and Producer of the show continue on this disc. Director Tomoharu Katsumata gets a 7-minute interview where he talks about the story and the original creator, the TV drama, Kintaro`s character and the style of the animation. Also on this disc is a 5-minute interview with producer Toru Nakano and he talks about the difference between the US & Japanese animation, budgeting for an anime and developing Kintaro in particular.
If you`ve been following Salaryman Kintaro, then you will know what to expect from this disc. It`s more of the same really, with everyman Kintaro doing at work what none of us have the guts to. If you ever wanted to tell your supervisor where he could stick his team building exercise, wanted to punch someone when your pension fund evaporates, burst into tears of gratitude when your boss recognises your years of hard service, then this series is for you. It`s basically a soap opera set in the construction industry, albeit in anime form. I look back fondly on shows like Dallas and Dynasty, and this show fills that quotient of Machiavellian machinations, melodrama and mawkishness.
Volume 4 continues the story in the vein of the earlier discs, with the plot deepening at Yamato, while Kintaro continues to learn the business. We are way past the point where he could get by through sheer mule-headed stubbornness, and he`s committed to learning the construction industry now. It`s odd to see Yamato make the same mistake twice, as after getting rid of career bureaucrat Ohshima, they immediately go and hire another one in the form of Takatsukasa. But Takatsukasa is a freethinker, a go-getter, and seems ideal for taking Yamato forward. It`s just that his ambition is overwhelming. We explore further into Kintaro`s past, as we see what happened to his father in the first episode, and that`s resolved in the second, which redefines the term `coincidence`. In the latter half of this disc, we learn Kurokawa and Chairman Yamato`s plan for Kintaro, which sees him transferred into the tutelage of Section Chief Igo. Now he has to learn whether he can reconcile his straightforward manner with the sacrifice of ethics required to succeed in the industry. This disc sets up quite an interesting finale to the series.
This isn`t an anime that has been gifted with a major budget. The animation is cheap and cheerful, and positively archaic in style. But the main characters are distinctive enough, and the animation does enough in getting the story across. This is well worth a look if you want something different from your anime, and it provides an interesting window into another work culture.