3-gatsu no Lion – 25

After Matsumoto and Smith mess around with the towering Kumakura’s huge shoes, we see a shogi den settled down for lunch in June…when I guess it’s to hot to eat outside? As he munches on his healthy yet high-class meal, Nikaidou rants about how Rei must get to the finals of the Newcomer Tournament so they can face one another, then proceeds to analyze Rei in a manner that’s far too accurate for Rei’s taste.

When Nikaidou tells him it stands to reason he’d know his deepest depths like no one else, because they’re not just rivals but best friends, Rei, a paragon of stoicism to that point, freaks out and books it out of the room. “Leave him be,” an older player says, “it’s funnier that way.” And to a geezer like him who was one, teenagers are funny, with their needless emotional outbursts and poor organization of priorities.

But what I took out of the first half of “June” is that Hey, Rei is his Nikaidou and Nikaidou is Rei’s. Rei has a friend. Not the only one, either! That fact might embarrass him, but that’s progress, and it took a lot for him to get to that point.

In the second half of “June” we get a welcome cut to the Kawamoto residence, where Grampa makes his first appearance this season (his love of and fawning over Momo will never get old, because let’s face it, Momo deserves all the love). He’s holding a brainstorming session for new sweets after the success of the last one.

When Momo is asked what goes in the water, she first says “duck”, but a duck on top of an agar sweet could easily fall off, while a duck encased in that agar would look like a dead one. Then Momo suggests a sandal, recalling a time she lost one while Akari was walking with her near the water. Gramps instantly declares her a genius and a prodigy.

But there’s something off about this scene: Hinata. She doesn’t say a word, and has her head down as she scribbles into a notebook. At bathtime, Akari finds her sitting alone on the stoop, and when asks what’s wrong, Hina says “nothing” and shows her sister a smile that’s probably forced, because it’s gone again when she’s alone in the bath, looking up at the moon.

So what’s up with Hina? I can guess, considering she’s entering adolescence, but little did I know the next segment would serve as a dark preface to that question’s answer. In the present day Rei notices a plant with the same leaves as a “ladybug bush” he noticed when he was a little kid being teased, bullied, and ostracized at school.

As we know, Rei chose shogi to please his stepfather, willing to endure the hate from the man’s biological children because he had no choice. Now we know to the extent Rei, Shogi Prodigy is not the product of a nature or nurture, but pure, elemental survival.

Rei had no safe haven from the hatred of classmates or stepsiblings. He made himself more invisible and indifferent to prevent escalation at school, but trying to ingratiate himself with his stepparents and not feel like a burden only intensified his siblings’ resentment towards him.

As much as Kyouko’s been humanized in the present, the villainous version reappears in these flashbacks, as someone who couldn’t give a shit Rei’s problems, either the loss of his family or the continued abuse he faces at school. He’s a creepy eyesore to her. No wonder it’s still hard for him to talk to her today!

Shogi wasn’t a dream or aspiration, it was a life raft. Instead of reacting to the horrible things in his life, he buried his nose in shogi books, studied feverishly, and played like his life depended on it, because he thought it did. A perfect and devastating visual is of him desperately treading water in a dark sea, with nothing to cling to but a floating shogi board.

Things are much better for Rei now; he has friends, a surrogate family that loves him unconditionally, and even a place to hang out at school—but though he still carries wounds and scars that may never heal. More importantly to the closing act, a product of his ordeal is that he can spot the warning signs of others enduring the same from a mile away, as he instantly does when Hina enters the room.

She’s missing her left shoe (in a weird, prophetic echo of the shoe Momo suggested for the dessert), the sock is filthy, and her face is a raw mess of tears. For the show to so quickly and concisely reassert all the crap Rei had to go through, only to visit it upon one of the kindlest, gentlest souls in the show in Hina, is almost too much to bear, especially when the episode ends before we’re able to learn the details or see her be comforted.

I guess the details don’t matter; it would seem she’s now going through the same thing Rei did. I can only hope that if she cannot find a solution at school, at least going home won’t just add to her shit sandwich. Unlike Rei, who only had shogi, she has Rei, Akari, Momo, and Gramps. Being a teenager is usually terrible for everyone, but it’s still worse for some than others.

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Sakura Trick – 01

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First off, what we have here is a silly school romance comedy that’s far better-looking than you’d expect, like Love Lab last Summer. A typical shortcut is employed (not coloring in the extras), but we liked the clever use of symbols to preface actions and lines by characters, be it Yuu’s flower, Haruka’s ribbon, or Yuzu’s…a yuzu for Yuzu. That frees up animation resources for when they counted the most, like when Yuu and Haruka are in close physical contact, which is surprisingly often.

Any hopes of this being a subtle Yuri show along the lines of Aoi Hana or Sasameki Koto surviving past the cold open were were promptly, cruelly defenestrated by the off-putting OP, which was a bit too exhibitionist for our taste. But once that was over, things settled down nicely. There’s no trick to Sakura Trick; it never comes close to anything resembling drama or peril. It’s just a pleasant slice-of-life about two girls starting high school who are Pre-Into each other. Their exploits probably wouldn’t be too scandalous except in more conservative high schools. We’re not sure whether this is one such school, but it can’t hurt to not get caught regardless!

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The episode is split into two stories (a la Kill Me Baby, mais contrairement Kimi ni Todoke). The big event of the A-part—Yuu and Haruka’s first kiss—informs those of the B-part: Haruka is worried Yuu forgot about it, but is ultimately proven otherwise. Yuu (Iguchi Yuka) is the shorter, peppier, more naturally popular one while Haruka (Tomatsu Haruka. Haruka Matata!) is the taller, bustier, clingier, more jealosy-prone one. And even though the A-part is mostly from Haruka’s POV, there’s a good overall balance to their interactions and banter. They work as a couple.

We enjoyed how a big reason Yuu and Haruka got to be alone so early and often was essentially because their school is failing, because there aren’t enough kids to justify keeping it open another year. That means there was a vacant, lightly-guarded classroom to retreat to. They eventually end up in a spot of playful danger when teachers notice the door ajar and lock them in, but Haruka’s initial clumsiness is neutralized by Yuu’s surprising strength and athleticism. Hey, we’re talking about them jumping between verandas—get your minds out of the sewer! On that note, we’re pleased to report that there wasn’t a single panty-shot in the whole installment, which is…kind of amazing.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)