Sometimes, filler is just what you need.
The Teiai group is conducting its annual interviews. Tonegawa loves this time of year, as it allows him to judge people for seemingly arbitrary reasons and affords them no recourse. This time around, however, Yamazaki is along for the ride. Yamazaki does everything he can to figure out who Tonegawa does and does not think would be a good candidate for a black suit position within the Teiai group. He rightly guesses that Tonegawa wouldn’t want the brother of another black suit named Hagio, as it would create more confusion, but doesn’t understand that the virtue of the black suits is their homogeneity and their anonymity. Then, on his lunch break, Tonegawa bites off a little more than he can chew by accidentally entering a chicken cutlet eating challenge that he accepts because his pride won’t allow him to quit. He successfully completes the challenge, only to find out that Teiai has just broken into the chicken cutlet market, and President Hyōdō wants him to sample the new wares.
Mr. Tonegawa has really found its stride. They continue to break away from their established formula, and every step away from it has been sure-footed and creative. This episode continues to take from a more American cartoon structure by having two adventures within the same episode, only loosely connected temporally. It really worked for me. Both took advantage of simple character motivations and mined them for some genuinely funny obstacles. Of the two, I surprisingly preferred the Tonegawa adventure to the interview, but both were finally able to figure out the stakes of this strange anime.
In the first half of the episode, Yamazaki is given control of the interview process. Tonegawa is once again doing some of the delegating that he’s become more comfortable with over the course of the series, and Yamazaki wants to impress him. This is maybe the first time that the black suit’s fear of Tonegawa has been effectively utilized. The stakes are high, and more importantly clear, for Yamazaki, and we get to see him both succeed and fail. In the end, however, we see that this was a teaching moment for both men, and I was affected by that. Tonegawa is a cruel, prideful man, but he does seem to care for his subordinates. It’s always cathartic to see him act this way, especially to Yamazaki or Simon.
The second adventure is the furthest we’ve been from plot relevance in the entire series, but that’s exactly what I loved about it. This is a very simple cartoon premise—our main character’s flaw (in this case pride) gets them into trouble, and they have to dig their way out of the hole they made for themselves. Tonegawa comes into the restaurant without looking at the menu, he’s rude to the waitress and thinks the staff is incompetent. We’re ready for the other shoe to drop, and when it did, I laughed out loud. The challenge itself is pretty fun—we finally get a good use for the fantastical digressions—and the twist of the different layers of chicken is used the exact right number of times. The final joke of the episode is pretty predictable, but it doesn’t make it any less laugh-worthy.
This episode definitively proves a point that might destroy Mr. Tonegawa for me. This might be my favorite episode, and it had nothing to do with the larger plot. I think that if this episode had been earlier in the season, I’d have a much different outlook on the series as a whole. The making of the death games has consistently been the albatross around this series’ neck. The writers are too prone to getting bogged down in the minutia of it and not being able to turn that specificity into decent comedy. I know now that they can do a good job, but only when they essentially get to do the business equivalent of a Loony Tunes or SpongeBob episode. I used to think that not knowing any of the characters was what was holding this show back, but it turns out I didn’t need to know much. Yamazaki wants to impress Tonegawa. Tonegawa won’t back down. It’s all so simple, but it’s effective.
I now that next week we’re going back to the old formula, and I’m honestly not enthused. The episode guide even says that they’re bringing in still more new characters. I haven’t even gotten to know half of the ones the show already has in reserve! But, I can’t punish this episode for what happens in the future. “Fried Cutlets” is not only a fine episode but one I’d recommend to someone who hasn’t seen the show yet. This episode succeeds where the pilot fails. It makes me care about a small cast of characters and wonder about the larger world of Mr. Tonegawa.