I realized something this week. Whenever 3GL strays too far from the core cast of Rei, the Kawamotos, and Niakidou, my interest flags. We’re now in episode 40 of 44, and the show (granted, based on the manga) has seen fit to spend not just one but two episodes on the grizzled 9-time Kishou champion Yanagihara, looking to beat a revitalized Shimada for his tenth to make him an “eternal champion.”
Which is fine; that’s all fine…if I really cared about Yanagihara as a character…and I don’t. Aside from bickering with the comic relief chariman, I hadn’t really thought much of the guy, and while we certainly get a portrait of the kind of man he is and the burdens he carries (all his old retired friends see him as a proxy in this match), the “old man raging against the dying of the light” is, to be generous, a well-tread path.
From a technical standpoint the execution is all there, as is Shinbou’s usual eclectic visualizations of the players’ emotional states. The trips into Yanagihara’s psyche in which he’s bound and pulled by the hundreds to thousands of strips of cloth, or burning like a human torch, or standing in a one-burnt but now verdant field, are all visually arresting.
And yet…I was still left mostly cold, in part because he ends up winning (and delivering Shimada yet another loss), and in part because, as I said, Yanagihara just isn’t on my list of characters I’m emotionally invested in, and two episodes simultaneously felt like not quite enough to get invested in, and too much time to spend on a tertiary (at best) member of the cast.
Mostly, I think I’ve just got Kawamoto withdrawal. So congrats, Saku-chan, for winning the tenth and becoming eternal with one hell of a game of shogi—a game no one who knows shogi (or thought they knew it) expected a man of his years to play. But with just four episodes left, I’m ready to get back to our core characters’ lives.