Domestic na Kanojo – 10 – Cowardly Lion

This week’s cold open features Hina cooking for Natsuo at her place—or rather trying to cook while he paws her. They look cozy, comfortable; lived-in. It’s clear he’s been coming to her place a lot. Cut to what must mercifully be the shortest cultural festival I can remember (they usually take up 2-3 episodes in shows like this!) followed by the concerned lit club members paying Kiriya-sensei a visit.

Turns out Kiriya is not just a famous author, but one of Natsuo’s idols. He presents Natsuo with the opportunity to submit his work for an award that could get him on the fast track to a professional writing career. Later, Natsuo teases Miu about liking Kiriya, and she accidentally shoves him down some stairs, fracturing his leg.

Natsuo’s physical “crashing down” is a portent for another imminent and unavoidable collapse: that of his half-assed web of lies!

I was very cross with the whole Natsuo x Hina situation last week, but I’ve moved on to the acceptance phase: I like Rui better, but it doesn’t look like it’s in the cards for her, so better to move on and see where this goes. But just because I’ve moved on doesn’t mean Rui isn’t going to use Natsuo’s injury as an excuse to act as his nurse—a role she embraces with gusto, including washing him in the bath while nude (and accidentally mistaking his little Natsuo for a soap pump).

It’s when Rui mentions how much she’s missed Natsuo being “at Fumiya’s house” so often recently that we learn how he’s gotten away with his visits to her under Rui’s watchful gaze: He’s just lying to Rui, because he’s a coward. Just like the Cowardly Lion in the school play. When Rui tells Fumiya about Natsuo’s leg, he says he hasn’t been by in ages. When Natsuo is caught in a lie and confronted by Rui, he lies again, saying he was going to Momo’s.

But the next time Natsuo is at Hina’s, and things start to get hot and heavy despite the cast, there’s a ring at the door and it’s Rui. When she sees Natsuo on the floor, clearly having been up to no good with Hina moments before, her eyes well up with tears and she storms off into the rainy night. The mood ruined, Natsuo goes home. But Rui isn’t there.

After a long time looking for her on his wet, muddy cast, Natsuo finally finds her, and she has a slap in the face ready for him. Turns out she was awakened to the possibility of where Natsuo might be (if not Fumiya’s) when she read his novel (which is presumably an extremely fast read). It’s the semi-biographical story of a student falling for his teacher even though he had a girlfriend.

Only instead of a girlfriend, Natsuo has Rui, the first person he slept with. Only he was never in love with her, but with Hina. Just because Rui has developed strong feelings for him doesn’t change that fact. It’s just a shame she had to find out the way she did, and that Natsuo had to lie to her not once but twice. This was the the wake-up call he needed to stir up some of that “nerve” the Cowardly Lion yearned for…it just came too late to spare Rui.

3-gatsu no Lion – 21

3GL has proven time and again it doesn’t have to stick to one story per episode to excel, and this is one of those split episodes that really resonated with me. The Lion King Tournament took up so much of the show’s—and Rei’s—attention and energy that the fact it’s over now feels like a great weight has been lifted, and now life goes on, which we get to witness a slice of.

Rei accompanies Shimada to his hometown of Yanagata, and as he’s known as a “rainbringer”, the Human Shogi can’t be performed outdoors. It is, however, still performed, on a stage in an auditorium, and I have to say I really dug the tradition and pageantry involved in such a production. The town’s pride and devotion to shogi is evident in every one of the human shogi pawns’ faces.

As for Shimada, he may have brought gray clouds and rain, but indoors, the various Yanagata shogi festivities seem to recharge him, to the point that by the time he’s leaving, he’s ready to start his climb to masterdom all over again, realizing he’s been rushing and failing to enjoy the ride.

At the same time, hearing that Shimada came up with a community shogi program that benefits otherwise isolated elderly folks adds another dimension to Shimada, who has now gotten more development than any other shogi player besides Rei.

The next segment has nothing to do with Shimada, but is focused on the Kawamotos as Gramps mines his granddaughters for inspiration. He’s trying to craft another “signature sweet” to supplement the already popular “baked crescents”.

He trusts and respects the sisters’ opinions, at least to a point: when they start getting too non-traditional, he bristles. That being said, he also loves Momo’s suggestion of using gum, though that’s probably just ’cause he loves Momo and would call her a genius even if she suggested something truly heretical, like Hershey’s Kisses.

Later, Akari and Hina decide to splurge at a sweet shop, but end up going overboard with extras, sending the check skyrocketing to a sum that could have been used to feed the family for a week. As they say, those places are at trap, and they’ll clean you out and leave you fat, but that doesn’t mean the treats they push aren’t great anyway, or that it’s wrong to treat oneself once in a while.

Later, Hina is the one with the eureka moment, developing a versatile and cute daifuku snowman confection. Clearly the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, as Gramps admits the sisters’ mom was the one who came up with the Baked Crescents. Family, for Gramps, is not just obligation, but a font of inspiration. And the shop stays in business thanks in part to their ideas and energy.

In an exceedingly adorable closing scene, Hina calls Rei, then hears his phone ringing at the door; he happened to be arriving by surprise. It’s nice to see the two so in sync. There’s also a nice positive “karma” in Rei showing up with excess Yanagata treats from Shimada, as if the universe is re-filling the coffers Akari and Hina’s parfait run emptied. But more than anything, it’s nice to see Rei reunited with the Kawamotos.

3-gatsu no Lion – 20

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After losing the first three matches, and on the eve of the fourth which will determine whether he’ll get to play in his hometown, Shimada has a dream about a seemingly ideal life.

His girlfriend never left him, he gave up on being a pro, and he lived happily in his hometown with a big extended family. Yet even in the dream, there is shogi. As lovely as it looks, it might be a nightmare to him, because he gave up.

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At one point in the final match, Shimada actually seems to be glad to have a “black bog” churning in the pit of his stomach, because he feels alive. The pain keeps him focused from all the people talking no-so-behind his back about how he won’t win a single game.

Rei has to hear the same negativity while on stage with another A-ranker who leaves before the match is even over once he’s satisfied Souya has him where he wants him. The grizzled veteran makes Rei amazed stomach pains are all Shimada has suffered, and how frightening and impossible the prospect of surviving in rank A seems, at least at this point in his career.

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Shimada’s ideal dream/nightmare, it would seem, was a consoltion for the fact he wouldn’t make it to his hometown, because there would be no fifth match. Souta simply silently covers him in layer after layer of snow until he’s well and truly buried.

By the time Rei rushes to the monitors, hoping to will him into the move that could save the match, Shimada has already conceded. Like Rei in his match with Shimada, there was a gap that was simply too wide to be crossed.

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Watching his mentor’s defeat, and everything that surrounded it, is a vital learning experience for Rei. Already convinced he will not attain the heights of previous middle school pros, and always dubious of his own worth in general, Rei sought a reversal of all the pessimism around him, perhaps to also convince himself to have faith things could turn around.

But instead he learns that beyond the storm is just another, more severe storm, and Shimada has weathered those storms, and feels better for doing so. Rei will also have to learn not to wither before seemingly insurmountable odds, nor fear defeat, because win or lose, something is learned, and life is enriched.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 19

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We step away from the Kawamoto sisters this week, but we see their warm caring nature reflected in Rei as he takes care of Shimada. Flashbacks indicate he’s had often-crippling stomach pains since he was a teenager, likely due in part to the pressure his small but well-meaning village put on him to become a master. He doesn’t want to let them down any more than himself.

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The Lion King Tournament with Souya is really doing a number on his already shaky health, so Rei comes by to make him a delicious udon bowl, stating his father (not Kouda-san) had the same stomach problems. Rei doesn’t cook for himself at home, but he’s happy to do it here, and is actually good at it. I can just imagine Hina’s joy (as well as Akari and Momo’s, but particularly Hina’s) if he whipped up a bowl for her!

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Rei goes against his better judgement and acquiesces to Shimada’s demand to play shogi with him, despite the fact what the dude needs most is sleep. But Rei is flattered to hear the reason why: like Souya, Rei is an all-rounder with similar “viewpoints” on the game Shimada can’t get elsewhere. Rei may be a stopgap (i.e. nowhere near as good) but he’s better than nothing. Souya even used the same word to describe the 3-g silver (or whatever) move: “disturbing.”

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From his house, Rei gets Shimada on the shinkansen, into his hotel room, and thanks to an altruistic assist from Souya, Shimada’s role in the pre-match reception is mercifully brief. The day of the match, Rei still second-guesses staying and playing with Shimada instead of insisting he rest back home, but there’s nothing he can do about it now. All he can do is hope Shimada has enough left in the tank to grab a win.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 07

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Shiina’s family is always given way too much saury (AKA mackerel pike), leading to an infestation of cats. To prevent that, she proposes a cookout at her estate to cook the fish off. Ryou and Kirin agree immediately. But there’ll be a catch this time: Ryou won’t be doing any of the cooking or cleaning. She’s done enough; now it’s time for the other two to cook and clean for her.

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Their sensei in this enterprise is Tsuyuko, who is apparently an iron chef-caliber culinary master who just happens to be content as the maid of a wealthy family. Grilling saury is about as basic as it gets, which means even the slightest mistake in preparation and cooking is exposed.

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Tsuyuko is a firm yet patient teacher, showing Kirin and Shiina the simple yet very exacting way of seasoning and scoring the fish, and the importance of not making eye contact, even if the fresh fish’s eyes are mesmorizingly clear and sparkling.

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Throughout their trials, Ryou is forced to simply hang back and watch. Giving up control isn’t easy, but not because Ryou thinks the others won’t do as good a job. It’s more a matter of her having always either cooked for herself or others since her grandma passed away. It’s become a habit, and any habit is hard to suddenly break, but she does her best not to interfere.

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The finished product Kirin and Shiina present her with—a splendidly grilled fish with crispy salty skin and fluffy, succulent flesh—is a revelation for Ryou. She knew food tasted better when sharing it with others, but thanks to her friends, now she knows that having food cooked for you makes it taste even better…in most cases.

Some people, of course, just flat-out can’t cook, but lucky for her Kirin and Shiina aren’t bad. Now that she’s a recipient of their cooking, she now knows firsthand the joy her cooking has brought them, inspiring them to repay her.

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Naturally, later that night Ryou can’t help using some of the leftover saury in a dish with ginger, bamboo shoot and rice. The show thus far has been good at showing how the leftovers of one meal can lead to another, totally different second meal.

Kirin wants to cook, but so does Ryou, so they compromise and share the work, making it that much more fun and the food that much tastier, because a meal prepared together is the best of both worlds. And now I must keep my eyes peeled for some saury at my local Asian grocery.

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