First Look: Mr. TONEGAWA Middle Management Blues

Alternative title(s): Chuukan Kanriroku Tonegawa
Manga Adaptation by Madhouse
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

Before he met Kaiji, Tonegawa Yukio spent his days watching over operations at Teiai Corporation. However, the president of the company is bored and throws a spanner into his day-to-day, making him organise a ‘game of death’ . It’s up to Tonegawa, and the subordinates he manages, to keep the president happy.

Euri’s verdict: Que zawa, zawa

Seven years. It’s been seven years since the conclusion of Kaiji‘s second season, and outside of the live-action films and that one VR game, we haven’t heard a peep about it since. In fact, it’s been so long since the anime that you can’t help but wonder why they’d bring it back. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Kaiji, but if it’s not popular enough for a more immediate sequel, then is waiting seven years really helping?

This is, of course, ignoring that this isn’t a third season of Kaiji. It’s a prequel that focuses on Tonegawa, the second-in-command that Kaiji battles with in a game of E-Card at the end of season one, giving us a glimpse of what life was like before the Espoir set sail. On top of that, while the show retains the iconic art style and psychological nature, it appears to be a comedy over everything else. On paper, a comedy set in the Kaiji universe seems like it could be pretty good – there’s plenty of room here for a good black comedy – but the first episode doesn’t do much to inspire confidence in the series as a whole.

About half of the episode is dedicated to a quick recap of the events of the Kaiji S1, to give some context for who Tonegawa is for folks that don’t know or don’t remember, followed by an example of his day-to-day, managing debt collectors at Teiai. The recap is smart, although I feel like it should have focused a little less on Kaiji himself, who isn’t particularly important for this show, and more on the evil scheming that hooked Kaiji and so many others in the first place. We see Tonegawa’s punishment as it happens at the end of season one, but don’t really have the context for why the president would order it (he’s evil and sadistic) and why we, as viewers, might be in two minds about it (Tonegawa is also evil but the punishment is a lot).

The day-to-day is, surprisingly, pretty tame from what I would have expected from him. The debt collectors are more in your face than real ones are legally allowed to be, but we’re not seeing fist fights or punishments beyond taking back money with incredibly high interest. It doesn’t have to be, of course, but it’s not that interesting either. What we learn about Tonegawa here is that yes, he’s good at his job, but for someone who is later involved in death games that involve forcing debt-riddled people to walk across electrified beams that bridge two skyscrapers, there’s a surprising lack of bite. Perhaps this is just to show how things went off the deep end and led to games like the one Kaiji was involved in, but it doesn’t feel like this is what the show is going for. The emphasis was less on Tonegawa being forced into a horrible role and more that it was an inconvenience to him; he can no longer play golf because he has to deal with the president. If he’s not particularly bothered about the request other than the inconvenience of it, where is his bite?

The answer is that this show isn’t here to give Tonegawa a believable backstory; it’s a comedy. He’s inconvenienced because it’s the absurd reaction to such a request. And again, this is a fine approach for this show to take, but the jokes don’t land well either. The second half of the episode focuses on Tonegawa’s first meeting after being tasked with creating the death game, and goofs on how all of the subordinates look alike. It’s difficult to judge some of these jokes because they play off things like the similarity of their names, not just in how they are read but how they are written. I do approve of the goons all sharing bowling as hobby, but beyond that it was a rather flat scene in general.

To be completely honest, I’d have dropped the show already if it wasn’t related to Kaiji. The episode is hamstrung by some necessary setup but doesn’t do enough when it comes to the jokes it did manage to squeeze in. Slow and dull are not phrases I was expecting to use to describe this, but it’s currently fighting an uphill battle to stay on my watchlist.

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