What’s it about? Shiratori Mikoto has thrown his life into playing badminton as part of the corporate sports system. His life hits rock bottom when he’s fired from the prestigious Mitsuhoshi Bank team, but he’s given a second chance playing doubles with the underdog team at Sunlight Beverages.
Salaryman’s Club was always going to be the winter latecomer, and its debut was pushed back a week further than planned when its debut slot was given over to the already-delayed World Trigger season finale (itself pushed back due to the Mt. Tonga eruption). Combined with Liden Films’ extremely overburdened and thus somewhat uneven production output over the last few seasons, I worry that it’s going to end up slightly overlooked. Which is a shame, because while Salaryman’s premise is pretty by the books, it absolutely shines in execution.
If you’ve watched a sports anime before, there’s very little in this premiere that will surprise you. Mikoto is the jaded big-city player who couldn’t hack it and has to transfer to a smaller league, where he’s initially a jerk but won over by his scrappy new teammates. He’s carrying around trauma about a previously injured teammate that causes him to freeze up on the court and that he will doubtlessly have to work through it by building trust and camaraderie with his new partner—who, incidentally, seems laidback and frivolous but gets serious on the court. Together, they are going to climb the rankings and face off against Mikoto’s previous cutthroat team.
The biggest gimmick for non-Japanese viewers might honestly be the corporate sports setting, which I hadn’t encountered before doing some preliminary googling for this review. It’s an interesting choice of setting, given that the culture of corporate sports apparently began to sharply recede during the economic recession of the 1990s and was clinging on as a shadow of its former self over a decade ago. And yet, this is not a period piece, as Mikoto spends a lengthy amount of time chatting on his smartphone in the first minute of the episodes.
Production committee choices to promote this or that concept (whether it’s the boom in anime tourism or brand-sponsored works like Super Cub) might be something that’s only interesting to me, but I bring it up because this premiere is full of interesting little flourishes like that. There’s a sense of restrained weirdness that sticks out but doesn’t feel overbearing or twee: Mikoto likes drinking Natto Cola and the badminton coach has a pompadour and a paper fan, but the character designs and animation style are all fairly grounded, the gags lowkey. It made for a warm and appealing atmosphere that also didn’t fall into being too self-serious or dull. Even the archetypes, easy to spot though they are, manage to be engaging but not cynical. I have an idea who these people are at a glance, but I also feel like they might have additional character traits if I scratched the surface in future episodes.
The actual badminton match that takes up most of the second half also looks quite good. While we might lose some of the flashy animation after the premiere (though if I were a betting sort, I’d wager on Tribe Nine being the show to get short shrift on Liden’s seasonal load before this), but it has the more essential fundamentals in place: I can follow the movement of the game, it isn’t entirely relying on the standard side character color commentary, and the blocking is dynamic enough that my eyes don’t start glazing over halfway through.
There’s something to be said for a show that knows what it wants to be and executes its genre of choice very well; if a good sports story starring handsome men (who, bonus, are all adults for a change!) with a side of non-committal shipping material is something you’re craving, this is definitely one to check out.