Rei gets back to analyzing Kyouko, likening her to a glass with cracks that can never be fully filled. Rei blames himself and Kyouko’s and his dad for creating those cracks. Dad might’ve been the instigator, but Rei puts just as much weight in his role as object of favoritism, whether it was justified or not.
The new wrinkle here is that Kyouko didn’t want Rei to go away, leaving her even more lonely. But he did. He felt he had to. Considering what Kyouko and her brother had to pay for Rei to be in the position he’s in, he felt it necessary to become an adult as soon as possible so he could “protect them”.
But leaving didn’t end Kyouko’s suffering, it only created a new void in her heart; a new crack. We also learn she first connected with Gotou because his wife is in the hospital, and the loneliness she perceives in him mirrors her own. I wonder if Kyouko ever expected Rei would up and leave the way he did – that he would challenge the status quo so forcefully, at such a young age.
But leave and challenge it he did…and he failed, and got humiliated, and had his whole world turned upside down. And you know what? Even Grandpa Kawamoto knows (from experience) that failure is good; failure is necessary. No one ever knows that when it’s happening, because it feels terrible, as losing to Gotou in the first of three final matches feels to Shimada.
Rei already shows some growth by ceasing his skulking and going back to the shogi hall to watch Shimada and Gotou in action with his colleagues. Unfortunately, due to a clerical error by Hayashida-sensei, Rei finds himself two attendance days in the red and heaps of schoolwork to do in order to prevent repeating the grade. Again, he faces potential humiliation and failure, but it will ultimately make him a better person.
Shimada regathers himself and expends a great deal of his charisma in the second match, in which he manages to defeat Gotou and bring the series even. Afterwards Shimada walks with Nikaidou, who tells him why he wanted him to kick Rei’s ass so soundly.
Nikaidou’s many victories against uninspiring opponents who clearly didn’t work as hard as he did left him “reduced to a lump of ego”, with a head to match. That big head was split in two when he faced off against Rei, but Rei also pulled him out of the dirt and offered him water in the searing heat. Rei saved him, and he repaid the favor with Shimada’s help.
In an interesting merging of the two plot lines, Shimada spots Kyouko yelling over being rejected once more by Gotou on his way home. Seing the young, beautiful woman so strongly affected by the far older Gotou serves as another means of indirect psychological warfare (to go along with Gotou’s impressive arsenal of the direct kind).
But Shimada quickly snaps out of it: it’s just another momentary humiliation; another fleeting failure; either of which will only serve to make him stronger. So too will Rei grow stronger from such things. Now, Shimada, for the love of God: beat that pompous gangster!