3-gatsu no Lion – 02

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Two stories are told in this episode of 3G, which have thesis statements of their own, but tie into the central idea that Rei and the Kawamoto sisters aren’t in a one-sided deal. He’s not the only one getting something out of this. And he’s well aware he’s getting something out of this.

The first begins with the not-surprising realization that Rei has shoji buddies with far more forceful personalities, which he’s nonetheless able to coexist with on his own terms. Nishioka has made Rei his personal rival, and Matsumoto wants to beat him so he can appear on TV for his ill grandpa who taught him.

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Matsumoto and his longtime friend Smith are also nice guys, so when they go out to celebrate at the hostess club where Akari works, they’re nothing but respectful (and appropriately in awe) of the stunning Akari, and don’t make their 17-year-old Kohei drink liquor. Akari confides to Rei that these are the kind of guys to hang out with.

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It hearkens to the first time Akari and Rei met: when some not-so-nice guys did make Rei drink himself into a stupor (which probably didn’t take much, considering his size and complete lack of tolerance). It was Rei at his most vulnerable, and he had no way to hide it.

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That didn’t matter at all to Akari, who took him into her home and took care of him. It’s a pretty good chance he got alcohol poisoning that night, so when he couldn’t force himself to vomit some of it up to ease his pain, she showed him how. Concerned, gentle, caring: both the Akari at home and Akari the Hostess are equally amazing and beautiful to Rei.

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Before he met Akari, Rina, and Momo, Rei saw the new town he lived in in monochrome, as if walking through a dream. But from the moment Akari welcomed him in their lives and told him he could come by anytime (and meaning it), color returned to his life, and with it, a measure of joy.

The second half, “the other side of the bridge”, marks the difference between the cold industrial/commercial side where he lives (akin to Ayanami Rei’s memorable digs) and the warm, homey, comfortable side where all the Kawamoto sisters are, as well as the food.

Rei can never refuse Akari, and he doesn’t when she invites him to join them for Obon. Because he knows, the Kawamotos have suffered profound loss just as he did. He helps fill the void in their lives so it doesn’t fill with grief, and they restore color to his. It’s a nice arrangement, and watching it play out is enough to melt the hardest heart.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 01 (First Impressions)

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Except for a taunting voice in a dream about how Kiriyama Rei’s worth nothing (his name means ‘zero’), the first six-plus minutes of 3GL begin in silence, as we watch Rei’s lonely commute to the shogi hall. I was half-surprised that the automatic doors sense his presence, because he looks like a specter floating around the town.

Rei moves as if the weight of the world is on his slim shoulders. The clacking of shogi pieces starts to grow oppressive, as if playing the game is plumbing the depths of his despair. This is SHAFT at its best, IMO: no walls of words, just impeccable atmosphere building.

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The sun begins to set on Rei’s silent, dour day, when he gets a text invitation to dinner and a second text that makes sure he can’t refuse. Rei goes to the Kawamoto home for dinner with Akari, Hinata and Momo, three sisters who live with their grandpa and cats and run a wagashi.

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And it’s just about the warmest, most loving place you can imagine. An Rei can barely enjoy any of it, because he’s a deeply emotionally wounded individual. The eldest daughter, Akari (Kayano Ai, great as always) can sense the pain emanating from him; all we need is a look to know that.

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The middle sister Hinata (Hanazawa Kana, also great as always) doesn’t fully grasp how bad things are until she puts a blanket on Rei and takes off his glasses, revealing he cried himself to sleep. All these sisters can relate to carrying pain, as they lost their mother and grandmother and there’s no father in the picture. But Rei’s problems seem to go beyond loss and into, well, more existential stuff.

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3GL is gorgeously rendered and deliberately paced to ease you into its world where despair contrasts with unconditional love. Rei comes from a not-so-loving family. Rei both looks similar to and has similar problems to Your Lie in April’s Arima Kousei, and I had to convince myself halfway in that none of these sisters had a terminal illness (thanks, Violin Girl), but he’s not the only thing going on here.

Shinbou and Shaft brings their trademark multi-establishing shots, baller sound design, and over-the-top comedic moments where characters (or cats) exhibit super-strength or speed, but all of his directorial quirks are assets here, and don’t overshadow a familiar but still very nice story.

The sisters a a whirlwind of kindness and love, the youngest Momo (voiced by Kuno Misaki, who has definitely found a groove in such roles) is a little kid done right, and while I’m sure there will be moments when we’re far less sympathetic to Kousei Rei (as he’s very lucky to have these sisters in his life, but he’s likely to shun or lash out at them), but this is still a show I won’t be able to miss.

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