English Dub Review: Mr. Tonegawa: Middle Management Blues “Business Trip”

A triptych of thwarted frivolity.

Overview

Tonegawa and Yamazaki are headed to a regional Teiai office for a meeting. Tonegawa is looking forward to the off-time that the trip will provide. Yamazaki is much more cautious, but after learning how hard his boss has been working, he wants to be there for him. President Hyōdō calls, and Tonegawa manages to put his foot in his mouth, necessitating a return trip to Tokyo to smooth things over. Tonegawa is then assigned an emergency audit in Osaka and leaves Yamazaki in Tokyo. He hopes to get a taste of the nightlife in town, but the underperforming office’s boss scares the local black suits out of showing Tonegawa the good time he seeks. Finally, while Tonegawa is away, Simon and the other black suits have decided to experiment with their work attire. Only Yamazaki remains conservatively dressed. Tonegawa arrives unexpectedly to school the younger generation on class and style, and the whole team goes out to buy some new threads.

Our Take

Once again Mr. Tonegawa says much more about their characters with filler than when it seems to be able to it has to contend with things like plot. I’m starting to sense that this is no coincidence, so the reasons for the longer episode order are beginning to become clear to me. But, while this dichotomy seems to be a feature and not a bug, it’s certainly a strike against Mr. Tonegawa that it’s unable to do both character and plot work simultaneously.

That said, I can only critique a show for what it is, not what it isn’t, and this week Mr. Tonegawa is a lot of fun. Once again, Mr. Tonegawa is using smaller, low-stakes, adventures to tell more character-driven stories. It’s a change of pace that I’ve historically welcomed within this series, and this week is no exception. I found myself most interested in the first and third vignettes, and while the second dragged, it was sandwiched between the two superior stories, so at least the show knows when it’s got a good thing going.

The opening adventure is more of something that I’ve written about liking before: Tonegawa and Yamazaki as a duo. Through Yamazaki’s eyes, we get a better understanding of Tonegawa as a man, and the presence of Yamazaki seems to make Tonegawa actually act like a human being most of the time. I have to say that I liked their last outing more; the interviewing process is much more inherently interesting than a simple train ride, but I think the show did fairly well with what it had. A gag with Tonegawa’s cell phone reception in the mountains was pretty funny, as was President Hyōdō’s new hobby.

After the first act, Tonegawa and Yamazaki diverge. Tonegawa heads to Osaka to conduct his review, and the problem here is a familiar refrain: no interesting characters. While we’ve gotten to know a few of the Tokyo black suits, the Osaka characters blend into the same unidentifiable mass as all Teiai subordinates when they are first introduced. The Osaka office manager, Kinezaki, isn’t particularly appealing either. He mistreats his employees… that’s about it. Endo he isn’t. All this story made me do was question what was going on with Endo and the new black suits back in Tokyo.

Yamazaki, meanwhile, is facing the opposite problem. The black suits have decided they want to be recognizable, and, as such, have brought Harajuku fashion to Teiai. Besides Simon’s tan looking terrible, and a little like blackface, this third story might be the best of the bunch. It relies on our knowledge of Yamazaki and Simon’s different approaches to work: staunch orthodoxy vs. overambitious innovation. Even Gonda gets a nice callback. Tonegawa’s return, and subsequent dressing down (pun intended), of Simon and the rest of the team, felt in character, but surprisingly, so did his desire to take them out shopping afterward. Whenever I hear Tonegawa’s inner monologue, I find myself wanting less and less of him, but his actions toward his subordinates are often what pulls me back into caring about this middle manager.

While I’ve always sensed a fatherly instinct within Tonegawa, this is the first episode that made the series click for me. Tonegawa’s work struggles are reflective of a Japanese man of a certain age. He must pass on his knowledge to the next generation while caring for the aging members of the previous one. While this doesn’t excuse the death games-related slowness, it has made me reconsider some of my harshness towards the show’s first few episodes. This week’s tour through Japan also helped me realize that there are likely a few culturally-specific things that I haven’t been realizing to the level that would be effective. While some of that is me, some of it is also the inane voice-over whose pop culture references are, I’m even surer now, replacements for culturally specific dialog I’m not privy to.

Either way, this is another week where Mr. Tonegawa is able to deliver on its premise. While I have yet to see it transcend it, this is far from the worst I’ve seen from this anime, and based on next week’s episode revolving around finding Hyōdō a body double, I’m still along for the ride.

Score
7/10

Zach

Cartoon Philosopher

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