Could this show be… good?
After the disastrous meeting earlier in the week, Tonegawa takes his subordinates on a country retreat to try to get on better footing with them. While things are off to a good start, one black suit, Yamazaki, isn’t ready to forgive Tonegawa for selling them out just yet. Tonegawa throws a lavish barbecue to win back his employees’ trust, but they can’t find a grilling surface for their high-quality meat. After some searching, Tonegawa comes back with a massive grill—the very one that will be the instrument of his torture after his loss to Kaiji. For now, though, Tonegawa and his employees rejoice at their find and become a unified team once again.
I may have misjudged this series. While I still stand by my appraisal of the truly abysmal pilot, Mr. Tonegawa: Middle Management Blues has really taken a turn for the better. While I still do have some of the same complaints about the series’ unique take on characterization, many of my grumbles from previous episodes have been alleviated, and I am finally able to see the show for what it is: a bathetic farce about a man destined for the gallows.
First and foremost, we have at least begun to work on my massive issue of the show only having two characters. Besides Tonegawa and Kazutaka Hyōdō, all of the Teiai group employees had blended together into a homogenous mass of Japanese men in their thirties, wearing black suits and sunglasses. Right away, the choice to dress them in casual wear differentiates the subordinates and gives me at least the chance to tell them apart. I was correct last week, as well, we are finally given a chance to get to know a few of these characters aside from their work.
Yamazaki’s turn as the last to forgive Tonegawa made a definite impression on me, and I won’t forget him for the rest of the series. Another of the subordinates displayed some personality as well, always putting his foot in his mouth in front of the boss, but we were curiously not reminded of his name. A pity, because there was space to be able to identify both as distinct characters before they return to their work uniforms. Additionally, the bowling callback was genuinely funny.
This spells out a larger difference between the previous two episodes and “Griddle”; I was having fun. While attempts at humor in the other two episodes seemed awkward and forced, this time around, I actually laughed a couple of times. Even the omnipresent voice-over was getting in on the action, affecting a Scottish and French accent.
There was also a focus that was not apparent in previous episodes. This one sticks to a single high-concept digression and evolves it, rather than doing a series of unrelated action pops, and I appreciated that. Similarly, I loved the use of the groveling griddle for such an innocent purpose this early in the series. This is the kind of thing a good prequel does. I was impressed.
It’s not suddenly a different show, though. Tonegawa’s personality and arc have become clearer; he’s going to become a man who cares about his subordinates. I predict he’ll kneel on the grill to take the blame in the stead of his employees. What that means for him now though, is that he still doesn’t care for them much. Taking the focus off of him for an episode was a good call, but he’s still not a very round or likable character yet. I’m also starting to get a feel for the structure of these episodes. The curveball at the half is telegraphed a little too clearly for my liking, and I already feel like I have a clear rhythm for a Tonegawa episode. That’s not necessarily a good thing with an episode order this long.
These, at least this week, are really nitpicks, though. Mr. Tonegawa has only made marked improvements from its false start, and I’m starting to find reasons to care about the show. I hope they continue this character work they’ve begun in this episode, and I hope it extends to Tonegawa himself. What does he do outside of work? If nothing, I’d like to know how that affects him. He seemingly does die at the end of this series, so does anyone miss him? The next episode is called “Adult”, so maybe we’ll see if Tonegawa has a kid of his own or if he can’t stand them for some reason. Either way, this show is making me ask the good kind of questions now, which isn’t something I could always say for it.