Can’t win for losing.
Teiai is opening a new restaurant, and the president has invited two of his top-level executives to sample the menu with him. The first is, of course, Mr. Tonegawa, but the president has also invited Tonegawa’s fierce rival, Kurosaki. While Tonegawa has risen to the rank of second in command mostly by putting up with the insane requests of the president, Kurosaki seems to be the one man in the Teiai group who can get away with disagreeing with Hyodo.
In the restaurant, Kurosaki consistently gives his honest opinion, caring little for what the president says or thinks, but he is never punished for it. He even goes as far as to mock the president’s irascibility. Tonegawa follows Kurosaki’s lead, but any time he tries to make a move of his own, he’s summarily rejected by the president. In fact, the meal ends with Tonegawa being caned in the head by a furious president.
Later, Tonegawa accompanies the president on a racehorse purchase. Hyodo loves a chestnut-colored thoroughbred with a shock of white hair and names it after himself. He also pressures Tonegawa into buying a gray, sad-looking horse and naming it after himself. We then flash forward, and Tonegawa’s horse is going on a newsworthy winning spree, even making a play for a massive Japanese horse race. The president, having noticed this, forces Tonegawa to switch horses with him. On the day of the race’s trials, the president’s new horse (aka Tonegawa’s old one) gets a horrible start, and the president’s old horse (Tonegawa’s new one) looks like he’s going to take home the gold. At the last second, Kurosaki’s horse beats both, and President Hyodo looks to name that horse after himself, much to Kurosaki’s protestation.
Now, this is what I’m talking about. I’ve made it clear in previous reviews that I think Mr. Tonegawa is a show that seems to have no clear sense of itself, and as a result, moves in a number of different directions, never really settling on one over the other. I’ve also made it clear that my favorite of these directions is when the show seeks to make Teiai the stage for an intergenerational conflict between the different levels of executives. This episode furthers this exploration by introducing Kurosaki as Tonegawa’s surrogate brother who can do no wrong in the eyes of their surrogate father, the president.
Kurosaki is everything that Tonegawa isn’t but wishes that he could be. While Tonegawa is deferential. Kurosaki is confident. Tonegawa mostly seeks to get out of meetings in a similar place to where he starts, but Kurosaki has a wit and a talent for outmaneuvering Tonegawa at every turn. In the restaurant, he is not only able to give his honest opinion of the swallow soup, but he also forces three portions on Tonegawa. I don’t think that Kurosaki seems antagonistic towards Tonegawa, but only because he doesn’t see him as a threat. Kurosaki is content to wait for Tonegawa to cause his own undoing.
This, then, has highlighted a new dichotomy in Tonegawa’s character. While he is effortlessly confident when either by himself or with his subordinates, with his equals or superiors, Tonegawa is neither clever or decisive. If he could only get out of his own way, he would be able to see that he does have good ideas, but his nervousness around the president will always ensure that he cracks under pressure.
In Japanese society, though, this might not always be a bad thing. Tonegawa’s infinite flexibility served him well when it came to having to swap horses with the president. Tonegawa seemed to care very little about horse racing and was seemingly content with switching horses with the president. This, too, is where Kurosaki had trouble. His maverick nature may prove to be incompatible with the full pressure of President Hyodo’s demands, and while it has often kept him from that pressure, that same lack of exposure may cause Kurosaki to break rather than bend to Hyodo’s whims.
This is another episode where the limited use of the announcer and the cutaway gags worked to the show’s advantage. The landmine analogy was well thought-out and implemented judiciously. Similarly, I can’t recall the announcer annoying me a single time. And even with the focus of the episode squarely on Tonegawa and Kurosaki’s rivalry, the episode didn’t seem to drag or be brought down by the filler that can plague Mr. Tonegawa at times. I even enjoyed the callback to the angle of the president’s eyebrows.
Looking at the last third of the series, I hope we see more of Kurosaki. He works as another foil to Tonegawa in a realm we hadn’t seen before. We haven’t seen too much of secondary characters interacting with each other, but I’m curious how Kurosaki would get along with Endo. I think they would have more in common with each other than they would with Mr. Tonegawa. I’m also interested to see Kurosaki’s team. Are they similarly incompetent, or would they make up the latter side of slobs vs. snobs rivalry with Team Tonegawa?
Mr. Tonegawa has proven to be a hit-or-miss show even at the best of times, but they do seem to be able to bring out an exciting new character whenever they want to. This late in the season, I’m not sure how useful a trick that is, but without a central arc that the show has any urgency in reaching the end of, I’ll probably be entertained by it at least one more time before we’re through.