A plot emerges.
This episode picks up the day after the pilot. Mr. Tonegawa took the night to prepare himself for the work of running the death games task force in earnest. He jumps into the day-two meetings with renewed energy. Having learned the names of his subordinates, he now tries to motivate them to contribute to a death games brainstorming session. After a slow start, he finally gets a rhythm going with the black suits, even cracking a joke. Just as things begin to look up, Teiai president Kazutaka Hyōdō drops in on the meeting, unexpectedly, and derails all of Tonegawa’s momentum. In order to please the president, he throws his subordinates under the bus for ideas the room came up with together. This betrayal fails to pay off, however, as Hyōdō falls asleep before offering any commentary or opinions.
I said last week that the idea of two dozen episodes of Mr. Tonegawa seemed ludicrous. I can’t say that I don’t still hold that belief, but I’m starting to get it. This episode at least lays bare what the dynamics of the show will be. Now that Tonegawa and Kazutaka Hyōdō have been introduced, and we understand how the black-suited subordinates are going to work, the show begins to make some sense. The often competing goals of middle management will be mined for laughs and drama, and the idea of remaining loyal to your employees when the boss demands otherwise is an interesting enough conflict. I just don’t know how it’s going to sustain itself for twenty-two more episodes.
The biggest problem is still the black suits themselves. They are keeping their names from the last episode, but their purposeful lack of distinct characteristics and their simultaneous introduction basically guarantees that the audience won’t be able to keep them straight. I concede that we might stick with the same nine black suits over the course of the entire season and slowly get to know them, but that seems like a needlessly onerous way to make viewers care about a character or group of them. This is made doubly confounding by the fact that we can’t even look to Tonegawa to remind us who is who through his behavior towards them because, at the climax of the episode, he forgets as well. When it starts to matter in later episodes, I feel like I’m going to have to make a chart to keep them straight.
Tonegawa himself is still a bit of a cipher, but he’s starting to reveal a few characteristics. He comes across as much older than his flunkies, and somewhat disconnected from them as a result. It was interesting to have him finally encounter a problem that can reveal character in the back half of this episode. He so willingly throws his employees to the dogs that it could end up being the source of his character growth throughout the season. He’s clearly given the genuine if incompetent, enthusiasm of the black suits as a contrast to the unpleasable, tyrannical Hyōdō. I am intrigued to see if he will begin to covertly defy Hyōdō as the show continues.
Unfortunately, I still have some pretty serious problems with the pacing of this show. While the pilot seemed to have next to no discernable structure, this episode feels more like what we’ll be seeing week-to-week. In that regard, “Conjecture” would have been a much more compelling pilot, as the recap at the beginning of this episode told us everything we needed to know about the show so far and its connection to Kaiji.
The episode focuses very deeply on the micro-interactions and internal reactions of the business world. That’s definitely something I haven’t seen before, outside of the business card scene in American Psycho, but it gets old pretty quickly. The comparison of each decision to a bomb or an attacking dog are captivating for a moment, but they ultimately only serve to remind me that I’d probably rather be watching an anime actually about one of those things.
I can say this for the second episode of Mr. Tonegawa: I’m much more invested than I was last week. But this show still has some serious character work to do before I can claim to enjoy as anything more than an exercise in strange randomness.