A Russian nesting doll of insignificance.
This week, rather than focusing on Tonegawa and his team, the show instead pivots to a man named Otsuki, a foreman in Teiai’s underground debtor’s prison. Through gambling the prison’s specialized currency, Otsuki is able to purchase furloughs above ground for days off. This episode follows two such outings. On the first, Otsuki goes to a busy lunchtime spot for salarymen and uses his lack of appointments that day as a tool to lord over all of the workaday suits. On the second, however, Otsuki decides to visit his favorite lunch spot from college. Once there, he makes an unusual meal choice. He thinks he’s going to regret it, but instead, finds out it’s better than he could have imagined. He closes the episode reflecting on his life and those who were kind to him throughout it.
This is a difficult episode to review on its own. Not much happens, and we really don’t get to know all that much about Otsuki. We spend as much time on omelet fried rice as we do on anything else, but I can see that it’s in service of something. The next episode will continue to follow Otsuki as he runs into Tonegawa, and presumably the main plot. This episode also seems to be connected to the chicken cutlet episode from earlier in the season. So, while these things may end up paying off in the long run, I can’t say I was particularly entertained by this one as a self-contained story.
In the show’s traditional flashback form, we come to understand that Otsuki would eventually become Kaiji’s foreman when he is sentenced to time in the underground prison. This, like Tonegawa, brings him a connection to the older anime, but as of yet has had little bearing on Mr. Tonegawa itself. Otsuki seems to make his money by hustling the other members of the underground debtor’s prison, and we are to assume that he will best Otsuki for a day out just as he will eventually best Tonegawa.
The show’s handling of Otsuki, at least, is not plagued by the same things that made the first few episodes of Mr. Tonegawa drag. The episode immediately dives into Otsuki’s relationships with other people and makes clear that these are his feelings, not ones he’s taken on for the sake of his work. Another key difference is that characters talk about Otsuki. More than just finding an easy way to dump exposition, Mr. Tonegawa allows Otsuki to be revealed in more ways than just his own actions.
It’s too bad, then, none of these actions really add up to much. Otsuki is a very unpleasant man. He gets himself a subpar lunch just for the privilege of mocking the salarymen in the restaurant. He gambles with his subordinates and regularly takes them for a ride. He has a touching moment with the chef who made a tremendous positive impact on his young life and rates his restaurant’s ambiance negatively. While mining (no pun intended) of cruelty for comedy has been the show’s stock and trade, this week, I was not impressed. Not every villain has a redeemable backstory, and while that may be the very point Mr. Tonegawa is trying to make, casting Otsuki as the star of a standalone episode certainly weakens it, even if we are to tear him down next week.
Something that struck me this week was the relationship Mr. Tonegawa has to food. In nearly every context, people making food are portrayed as kindhearted and pure. Almost all of the food on Mr. Tonegawa is delicious, and it makes a profound difference in the lives of the characters who eat it. By the same token, the men of the finance world often take advantage of those in the food service industry, such as this week and the episode about President Hyōdō‘s body double.
Food, so far, in Mr. Tonegawa seems to act as a foil to the world of finance. While the former is a space of creation, and one that brings joy, the latter is a world of destruction and only brings misery to anyone it comes into contact with. Similarly, the world of finance is an entirely masculine space, with a very male dress code for most employees (black suits, of course), while restaurants are the one place women seem to exist in this universe. In the Western world, this would have very gendered connotations of the man at work and the woman in the kitchen, and I’m not convinced Mr. Tonegawa doesn’t, but the women are never cooking. That task is always reserved for men. It seems to be another path, one that actually has the honor and can fill one with pride. Perhaps even redemption after a humiliating defeat in the finance world. We’ll have to see about that.