Chuukan Kanriroku Tonegawa is a parody done right. It succeeds where many don’t, keeps us continuously engaged with fresh humour and day-to-day lives of TEAI member lives and most importantly Tonegawa. This review will contain minor spoilers. You have been warned.
Story – 8
The story is very simple and works as a prequel to Kaiji (even though it isn’t canon, but this reviewer sees it as canon). It’s set several months before the battle on the ship of hope, Espoir. Tonegawa is tasked with assembling a diabolical game and he endeavors to do that with his team.
The shenanigans that result from that point on are incredible. From Tonegawa trying to discern who is who in his team, to some genuine life lessons (what is flash mob, what is a pyramid scheme, how to manage a team and so) Chuukan Kanriroku Tonegawa manages it all.
At some times it switches to the life of Foreman Ootsuki and further world builds the underground of the Kaiji universe, but the episodes feel weaker than Tonegawa’s.
Nonetheless it is very enjoyable.
Art – 7
Kaiji’s art was never the thing I fawned much about. It was neither great nor horrible to me, just enjoyable. It adds uniqueness to the world and it faithfully stays true to the artstyle. The physical metaphors are as always, amazing.
Sound – 8
The opening song is just plain amazing. It is so simple and catching and makes this reviewer dance along. It mashes really well with the general tone of the story and the particular circumstance in which music is used.
Character – 9
To me these were the absolute stars of the show. Tonegaw, Ootsuki, the men in black, even Hyoudo and some other side characters are really nicely developed. They stay in character (I see you men in black with your glasses), their personalities are all pleasant and realistic, but the star of the stars is, and always will be, Tonegawa. He is simply amazing. I came from Kaiji hating his guts and this show made me LOVE the character. The only mishap to me was Seijo (the casino owner) who got on my nerves too much and the woman in black. Her plotline with one of the men on the team and lack of screentime made her feel undeveloped and took away some of my enjoyment.
Enjoyment – 8
Chuukan Kanriroku Tonegawa is simply put amazing, I love it, I’d watch it any time, the narrator really made me laugh, and the english was also amazing. Would recommend to a friend.
For overall rating Chuukan Kanriroku Tonegawa gets a well-deserved 8!
Donning his drab trench coat with a pack of cigarettes in tow is a man constantly at odds. He hunts those who dare test his patience, often poor strays lying about already bleeding for cash. In his eyes the pleas of worthless trash that caused their own misery, a contrast to the hardworking man standing in front of them. All they could give weighing less than a single bill of currency. He writes in his notebook: “Money matters are life and death matters. Society isn’t your mother.” Words he holds true to heart, using them to push himself further. As in the shadow of glory and legends lies one Yukio Tonegawa, a mere middle manager, suffering and fighting in ways that no one really knows.
Mr. Tonegawa – Middle Management Blues is a peculiar spin-off to the underground classic gambling thriller Kaiji: The Ultimate Survivor in that it is set initially prior to the parent story and follows one of the minor antagonists to the main series. Tonegawa serves as the financial consulting firm Teiai Group’s second in charge and the right-hand man to president Hyoudou Kazutaka, who has a disconcerting fondness for extreme forms of entertainment. The series largely focuses to Tonegawa to meet and satisfy whatever Hyoudou wishes at practically any given time and has been assigned a project team to assist him, pitting Tonegawa in a predicament where he needs to appeal to both parties in order to succeed in his role. Through this premise, Tonegawa is able to bring out laughter from even the darkest of places.
The most important thing to understand about this series is that this is not the suspenseful thrill ride that Kaiji was, instead it seeks to act as a comedy and parody to the Kaiji series. In theory this places the show as a near complete polar opposite to its predecessor and what its intentions were, however this spin-off comes across more as a worthy companion piece to the series as a whole. While villains such as Tonegawa and Hyoudou still remain morally bad and even sinister at times, this new perspective expands upon their ideals and motives, even showing weaknesses in their struggles with life, particularly on Tonegawa’s inability to connect with each of his subordinates. Speaking of, characters that were no more than faceless thugs before are given a breath of fresh air with a more humanistic characterization to each of the men in black working under Tonegawa’s lead. A greater understanding of these characters coupled with a more grounded tone provides viewers with numerous moments tacked on throughout the show’s runtime that can easily be thought of as relatable and oddly endearing. It easily captures authentic parts of life at work and portrays it in a comedic way that might even be more effective for those of us who have already experienced moments like these ourselves. This expansion of the story may not have been needed, but it is surely welcomed for a fan like myself considering what it brings to the table.
Often when criticisms about the show’s use of humour are brought up, while I can respect the differing points of view I feel they ultimately miss the mark for how and why comedy works for Tonegawa. There are several different styles of comedy and even at the time when comedy anime has experienced a kind of resurgence, observational and surreal humour is still rare to find. And this is what I believe really helps make Tonegawa stand apart from its contemporaries; it’s a comedy series that thrives on these comedic styles through exaggerating the importance of seemingly mundane and trivial aspects, partnered with a keen eye for detail leading to preposterous leaps of logic. The character Tonegawa is a perfect match for this type of humour, having been a key antagonist in the original series heavily reliant on observation already. The first meeting with the men in black provides a clear example of this: they all look the same and he says upfront that he cannot tell them apart from one another, and when he tries learning their names he picks up on whatever slight similarities exist between them, making it even more difficult for a character like Tonegawa to differentiate between his henchmen. It's an absurd line of logic that is actually executed quite well. Psychological, yet surprisingly relatable events like this are what give the series its own distinct charm. The show also has its fair share of subtle humour placed throughout each episode that help make episodes more memorable in their own way.
Trying to picture how this style of comedy could possibly work so effectively may prove difficult to those of you who have yet to watch anything from the franchise, and this leads into another core element of the show: the presentation. The entire franchise does utilize a very atypical art style that can easily act as a deterrent to potential fans, but further helps set the series as a whole apart from every other anime today. What’s more important however are the visual metaphors utilized, borrowing the techniques from the main source material originally used to make scenes more enthralling and using them in parody-style fashion, now creating low-brow jokes to act as literal metaphors and visual representations of such. Some of the more memorable examples include Tonegawa calling all his subordinates gutter balls after finding they are all interested in bowling coupled with every man in black rolling a gutter ball and Tonegawa hanging on to what appears to be a spider’s thread until soon after is revealed to be drool from the president after he failed Hyoudou. There’s also numerous references made to past works by the original creator of Kaiji that are sure to catch the eyes of seasoned fans for those series’. Major props to Jay Kabira who voiced the narrator of Tonegawa and might have been the best part of the series; his ability to garner genuine hype to even the most monotonous of things is second to none and was splendid to witness. Even the beloved “ZAWA” symbols from Kaiji are able to produce an oddly surreal atmosphere that I’ve never seen before in anime.
Sadly, it cannot all be high praise as Tonegawa does run into some issues along the way. The show teases progression a lot in regard to the relationship between Tonegawa and his employees. The show is certainly episodic but never tries to capitalize with all the sincere moments it creates like it potentially could have. Apart from being partially directionless, the story introduces short stories from the perspective of another antagonist from the original series, Tarou Ootsuki that in my opinion worked as a nice change of pace for a while, until half of every episode was dedicated to him. Tonegawa’s struggles brought forth what I felt was a much greater sense of absurdism and creativity that could carry the show compared to Ootsuki. It’s also perplexin why they would continue with content for Ootsuki considering an anime specifically focused on this character was announced halfway through this series… I don’t really know what to say to that, but honestly it just feels like they wasted TV time that could’ve been spent better.
The production, while emulating a similar style to that of Kaiji also unfortunately lacks the attention to detail in character designs and much of any fluid animation. Not a big issue for a comedy series in my opinion but these features were certainly noticeable. The colour palette used was much more faded and less vibrant in contrast and while I would not call it poor quality, feels a lot cheaper by comparison. Studio Madhouse were behind this series with a different staff, yet still manages to provide us with a successful homage to its parent anime visually. The music is also fairly unmemorable which is a shame as it remains one of the best features from both seasons of Kaiji. But the voice acting was solid from the main cast and the opening, “Sassou to Hashiru Tonegawa-kun” by Gesu no Kiwami Otome, became one of the most enjoyable and upbeat themes to hear an anime begin with. Hell, here’s the URL, you can thank me later: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkbyJ3unvWQ
Mr. Tonegawa – Middle Management Blues is a series that at first glance may appear to not know what audience to appeal to; the new or old. But I implore you, especially if you have seen Kaiji to try this spin-off. It is not Kaiji, nor was it seriously trying to be, but what you will find is hopefully one of the most entertaining and downright distinct comedies in a year almost saturated with them, and from my viewpoint the most underrated anime of the year. Zawa Zawa.