The ballad of Gonda
After Ebitani’s unceremonious firing last week, Tonegawa has renewed vigor in completing his first death game without mistakes. While Restricted Rock, Paper, Scissors seems to be going well at first, Tonegawa soon realizes that his team is afraid to make a move without him. This fear comes to life when an outbreak of the flu threatens Tonegawa’s ability to lead. While only one of his black suits is affected at first, Tonegawa eventually succumbs to the virus, despite his rigorous sanitation regime. He leaves Gonda, his oldest employee, in charge, but the man can’t even make a simple decision. His teammates, led by Simon, band together around him, making sure that they do Mr. Tonegawa proud. When the boss returns, however, the entire team has fallen ill.
This is, bar none, my favorite episode of Mr. Tonegawa: Middle Management Blues. It has everything I loved about episode five and dials it up even further. I can’t believe that I actually cared about Gonda. I had just met him, as a character, only moments prior, but the show finally managed to deliver me compelling pathos in a compressed timeframe. Not bad, Tonegawa, not bad at all. The real reason I cared about this episode, though, was the character dynamics built up by the show over the course of the last six episodes. The real star of this episode (and possibly the entire show) is Simon. He is the one who begins to doubt Gonda and has to make up for his mistake after Gonda melts down by being the first one to affirm his belief in him. He even calls him “Mr. Gonda” before the rest of the team. Simon is a really interesting character. He not only deserves a higher position in the Teiai Group, but it seems like he knows it. I predict a few grasps at upward mobility in his future.
Ebitani is barely mentioned in this episode, and that worked both for and against the show. Because I had nothing invested in him, it was relatively easy to forget him this time around. This did allow the show to focus more on this week’s episode, though, and I will praise it for that. “Transmission” is maybe the first time I’ve felt Tonegawa take advantage of its full runtime. While the episode’s scenes seem to be wasting time in random plot cul-de-sacs, they all come back in a pretty satisfying way. In screenwriting, there is a term called “fun and games”. Fun and games are the part of a story when we get to see whatever we were promised in the advertising. This episode was as fun and games as it gets. The montage of the minutia of the death games was great to watch, and I finally felt that the right balance was struck between the dark nature of the game and the banalities of office life. I feel like the show is finally living up to its potential.
Gonda was a really fun character, and it looks like he’ll be sticking around. This older man still at the junior executive level is a great counterbalance to Simon’s rising star, and his running from responsibility angle was good for another humorous montage. There’s plenty to do with him going forward, and I hope they continue to use him in interesting ways. I don’t know if this show is at all interested in developing any of these characters though. It feels a little bit like they all have a personality trait and they are going to live or die because of it. Ebitani really furthered my thinking on that. Even Tonegawa himself never really grows; it all seems pretty incidental. He learns not to care about his men qua men, but as the means to his end of pleasing president Hyōdō.
I still find Mr. Tonegawa pretty slow, but it feels like it’s finally starting to hit its stride. If the show continues in this direction, a weak start is nothing to be ashamed of. As we’ve been introduced to more of the individual black suits, I find my enthusiasm for the show growing, but no matter how well it does, the blunder of not properly introducing characters (at least some of them) until this late in the game just compounds. Any of these single-episode character sketches would be infinitely deeper with even a shred of personality revealed in earlier episodes.
As we make our way through this very long episode order, I wonder how far we’re going to get. Will, we see the death games themselves or are we forever resigned to meeting room three? I think that even with this increased character work, that location can only sustain the plot for so long, and they can’t go on a business trip every third week without straining credulity. Even the Teiai Group probably has someone monitoring expense reports.