Two tales, well told, but with no through line.
Overview (Spoilers Below)
Yamazaki drives Tonegawa to his high school reunion. Yamazaki thinks it’s nice that Tonegawa is going to visit with his old classmates, but Tonegawa says he’s going for one reason only: to confirm that his classmates are just as unsuccessful as Tonegawa thinks they will be. Upon his arrival, he turns out to be right on the money. All of Tonegawa’s classmates are either broke losers or else they have aged horribly or both. Tonegawa has seen all he needs to, and he prepares to leave when he’s suddenly approached by Maho—a childhood friend.
In a flashback, we discover that Maho declared her love for Tonegawa when they were in school together, but Tonegawa rejected her. Tonegawa is now surprised to find out that Maho is married. Maho tries to get Tonegawa to come back to the reunion, but he doesn’t see the use. He thinks he’s grown up, and that he has no desire to act like a child anymore. Maho pleads with him, though, and Tonegawa returns to the reunion and plays the piano while the class sings the school song. He even poses for a picture with the rest of his class.
In the B-Story, Otsuki and his right-hand man are ready to enjoy another one-day outing, but there’s a big problem. Otsuki is getting a cold. His henchman wants to enjoy a new board game café that has just opened up, but if Otsuki is too sick, he won’t be able to join him. Otsuki tells his man that he will meet him at the café, but he must attend to his cold first. Once alone, Otsuki stocks up on groceries at a local market. He then eschews his usual business hotel for an ultra-short-term rental apartment. He checks in and prepares himself a massive get-well hot pot in order to cure his sickness.
After his meal, Otsuki is visited by a black suit in plainclothes. It’s Otsuki’s usual watchdog. He had the day off when he learned that Otsuki was feeling sick and had checked into the apartment. The black suit has brought Otsuki some pickled plums in order to help him feel better. Otsuki and he feats on the fruits and then Otsuki prepares for bed. He makes himself a home-made humidifier and goes to bed. He awakens feeling mostly refreshed but refuses to chance it and takes another nap. Otsuki ends up meeting his friend for board games, but his black suit friend catches his cold.
Despite Mr. Tonegawa’s insistent lack to have nothing to do with what it purports to be about, it is still capable of satisfying. I definitely enjoyed both of this week’s tales. I think they were also very heavy on character development, something usually scant on this show. I’ve said before that Mr. Tonegawa can usually only do plot or character at once, and the latter is definitely my preference.
Yukio Tonegawa is still mostly a cipher at the end of the first season. We’ve learned that he rose to his position at Teiai group mainly by being able to bend to the president’s will better than any other employee. We also know he is a prideful man who sees himself as a standard-bearer for his generation, a distinction that comes with quite a bit of wisdom that he dispenses to his subordinates. What we don’t know a lot about, though, is Mr. Tonegawa’s personal life.
In this episode, it turns out that there might not be much to know. We watch Tonegawa go to his high school reunion, and the first thing we learn is that he’s going alone. There’s no Mrs. Tonegawa to bring along. This is something I had assumed up until this point mostly by her absence, but it becomes especially clear when Tonegawa does something like becoming obsessed with Twitter, and there’s no one to stop him. This week, we see what one might expect from the businessman we’ve seen for the past few months. He thinks personal lives are pretty pointless at best and contemptible at worst.
Mr. Tonegawa goes for a pretty complex emotion this time around regret. Tonegawa explicitly doesn’t love Maho, but he is upset that he will never have the chance. Tonegawa regularly flubs some pretty basic emotional beats, and even at its prior best (the midseason finale), it works by making us feel for a man who has brainwashed another into some kind of dog. This isn’t irony; this is a very sincere sadness, and I feel it. The rest of the episode acquits itself pretty well, but it didn’t have to, one note was more than enough to carry the eleven-minute adventure.
The Otsuki story does what it can, but it’s definitely the weaker of the two. Otsuki’s universe is pretty small, but this episode makes good use of him. We get his right-hand man and the black suit that he converted to the slacker lifestyle. We don’t get his group C rival, but that’s probably for the best. I’m not sure where else we would go with that, and it’s some of the weakest Otsuki stuff anyway. This episode was a pretty simple affair, but it does stick the landing of Otsuki triumphing over his cold through preparation and help from those he helped along the way, all with a funny little twist at the end.
This is the penultimate episode of the season, and Mr. Tonegawa has now had many more slice of life episodes than those to do with the Death Games. That’s fine, though the show does end up feeling like a bait-and-switch when taken as a whole season. Now, then, the show really comes down to what they decide to do each week to get a laugh or evoke a feeling. This week, they nailed it about as well as the back half of the show has so far, but with so many threads hanging from the first half of the season, I can’t help but be disappointed with what I know they can’t possibly pay off next week.