Three steps forward, two steps back.
Tonegawa and his team of black suits have finally finished their Death Game proposal for Restricted Rock, Paper, Scissors. All that’s left to do now is present it to President Hyōdō. Unfortunately, the old man is as mercurial as he is cruel. After his first abortive attempt, Tonegawa seeks the counsel of Simon and Yamazaki to find a time when the president would be in a favorable mood to give the proposal a better chance of success. After their intel fails to provide Tonegawa with an opportunity, he creates his own; Tonegawa follows Hyōdō on his Hawaiian vacation to get the proposal approved there. Upon his return, Tonegawa and the black suits celebrate, but the team stays out too late partying and don’t show up to work on time. To try to make up for this faux pas, the black suits all shave their heads, but this was the only way Tonegawa could tell them apart. It looks like we’re back to square one again.
This is a hard episode to review because the first half is far and away the best Mr. Tonegawa has ever been. There’s a great clear goal, there are multiple characters talking to each other to solve the problem, and there is my favorite joke of the entire series: a well-built punch line about Hyōdō’s eyebrows that I wouldn’t dare spoil here. I felt like we were finally building towards something. Tonegawa remembering not only Simon and Yamazaki’s names but also details about them that were useful to their mission felt great. The show, which up until this point had occasionally impressed me with its off-kilter charm, was finally putting it to good use. It’s such a pity then that the second half goes completely off the rails.
I knew we were in trouble when Tonegawa announced his success to the room rather than us seeing it first. On the one hand, this was a goal that was always much funnier in its failure than in its success. This is true for nearly all comedy, but Hyōdō reading a long sheet of papers and saying yes could have been especially dull. On the other hand, show doesn’t tell is a common writing heuristic for a reason. All of the tension that was so successfully built in the first half of the episode was let out like the air in a balloon. Mr. Tonegawa should have found a way to make the approval interesting.
From there, the episode goes in some weird directions. The feast was fine, even if—by virtue of its placement in the runtime—it was destined to be the calm before a new storm. Speaking of, another thing this episode had going for it was the tight sitcom style plotting in the first half. This too is thrown out in favor of a less traditional, and less effective, story structure. Honestly, I would have much preferred an episode that was just about the proposal. Tom and Jerry style antics, recast in a boardroom setting is probably the best idea this show has ever had, and it was a shame to see it come and go in only eleven minutes.
Some things are here to stay, it seems. The age difference between the black suits and Tonegawa was made very clear in last week’s episode, but this week, they drove home the disparity between Tonegawa and Hyōdō. A clever way to represent this was with through film. Hyōdō claims to love Hitchcock and Kurosawa (which he mispronounces in the episode), but watches (and loves) Armageddon. Tonegawa, for his part, makes reference to The Matrix, but the black suits have never seen it. This sense of what movies people of certain ages watch and the films they feel they should watch serves as an effective communication of both age and social status.
The truly unfortunate thing about Tonegawa though, is that we seem poised for another reset. It’s not that the Sisyphean nature of the show is always unearned. This time, it actually incorporated things we learned about Tonegawa earlier in the series and introduced us to another black suit, the overly-honorable Kikugi. My issue is that it feels like something the show leans on too heavily, having done it nearly every other episode. The project may go forward, but we have yet to see any Death Games, and maybe we never will, so this limbo of meeting rooms and identical suits needs something to break up the monotony. This was a good effort, and the show is getting better on the whole, but I always find myself wanting to like the show more than I ever do.