3-gatsu no Lion – 36

We start things off with Shimada and Yanagihara inspecting a conspicuously cool and high-quality poster prominently featuring Kiriyama and Souya’s upcoming commemorative match. Takanori says he spared no expense because he needs interested eyes and ears on the match, and because Shimada and Yanigahara’s “sickly” match involving hacking coughs and stomach pains simply wasn’t the most marketable shogi, so limited resources have to be allocated where they’ll be most effective.

Rei isn’t concerned with the poster composition or style, but on studying for his very first match against Souya Meijin. He’s so immersed in game notes he initially doesn’t realize Hayashida-sensei has joined him on the roof.

Rei takes the opportunity to relay to his teacher that Kawamoto Hinata’s troubles would thankfully seem to be resolved, before once again lamenting how he wasn’t able to do anything. Hayashida asks Rei if she said that to Hina (he did) and whether she responded by saying that wasn’t true (she did). Results don’t reach people, and the world doesn’t revolve around them.

With that, Rei and Souya depart for their journey to the site of the commemorative match in Morioka, Iwate, and Rei is overwhelmed by the fanciness of the hot springs hotel room and facilities in which he’ll have free reign.

One thing I love about 3GL is its geographic accuracy; it only took fifteen seconds on Google Maps to locate Lake Gosho, the Tsunagi Hot Spring, and the Hotel Taikan where he’s staying. While strange fantasy worlds are cool, so are places I can actually go and experience the highly alkaline waters of the Tsunagi springs, and their naturally moisturizing salicic acid, for myself.

But like I said, Rei is easily overwhelmed, and what should be a haven of peace and relaxation is more like a storm. Granted, were I to go, I wouldn’t have to deal with an evening reception with speeches, Q & A, flowers, signings, etc. This is the big leagues, and it’s a lot for someone as reserved and bashful as Rei to endure.

Rei observes Souya, who is much older despite his looks, navigating the same choppy waters with aplomb…until he doesn’t. Souya apparently reaches his limit of human interaction before the festivities have ended, resulting in him delivering the wrong rehearsed answers to questions, and not reacting at all when a hostess spills wine all over his white suit, the only one he brought to Iwate.

Souya has always been a bit of a cautionary future look at Rei if he devotes his life to shogi and shogi alone. If Souya ever had something like the Kawamotos (or Kyouko for that matter) in his life, he doesn’t seem to anymore, and as a result, he lives for shogi and shogi alone.

One attendee calls him a “demon of shogi” who can only hold his “human form” for so long. However far in the world of shogi Rei wishes to go, he doesn’t want to go so far he doesn’t even know when he looks like he was slashed with a chainsaw.

And yet, Rei cannot deny that Souya’s total dedication and complete lack of distractions has made him so formidable a shogi player that he’s nigh unbeatable. When the demon emerges the next day for the match, he’s switched from his irreparably stained suit to traditional Japanese dress; all silver and white as always.

And Rei forebodingly reports that the morning of their match, an unseasonable typhoon began creeping up to the Japanese archipelago, so for the next few days he’ll have to deal with storms both within and without the shogi venue.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 35

Thanks to the efforts of Kobuku, the bullying in Hina’s class has stopped. The ringleader Takagi and her five co-conspirators were exposed for all to see and made to apologize to the class for their actions. And yet Kobuku remains unconvinced that Takagi in particular shows any remorse for what she’s done.

In an interrogation-style scene, he tries to get past Takagi’s limp excuses (it’s society’s fault) and tries to get to the root of her trouble. Takagi is frustrated with always being told to study and work hard by people who won’t take responsibility if all that studying and working amounts to nothing.

But more importantly, as all those people were dishing out those platitudes, they never made any real effort to ask Takagi how she feels and what she wants. But now she has Koboku’s undivided attention; she no longer has any excuses.

Hollow apology or not, Hina is happy the darkness in her class has been expelled, even if she’s still terribly hurt by the effects of Takagi and her henchmen, especially where poor Sakura Chiho is concerned, which is why Hina is so overjoyed when she finally receives a letter from her.

In it, Chiho tells Hina that after initially being a bit lonely, she’s made friends and found peace at the remote farm surrounded by mountains and forests and full of animals and kind people. Tears well up in Hina’s eyes as she reads; tears of both enduring heartbreak of what went down in their class, and relief that Chiho is okay, and wants Hina to visit some time.

Rei, perhaps feeling like Hinata is slowly stealing his show (he’s not wrong!), shows up at the Kawamoto residence to find Hina lying supine and fast asleep in the sun. She has an etheral, almost angelic aura about her that makes him feel extra self-conscious about entering the room. So he waits in the genkan, only to be woken up by Hina.

She tells him, simply, that “it’s over”, and eagerly describes the day when her classmates cried and apologized to her, then invited her over to make cookies. These were the same classmates who, with the threat of retribution from Takagi and her ilk removed, finally felt safe enough to tell the teacher what happened and to talk with and hang out with Hina again.

When Hina opens her mouth wide to show Rei the burn caused by a fresh baked cookie, Rei decides to make this about himself: Woe is he, who wasn’t able to do anything to help Hina in her time of need. Oh wait, he didn’t do nothing in that time; he did a lot!

Hina sets him straight by listing everything he’s done for her, then doles out punishment in the form of several love bites. Then she starts to dance and twirl under his arm as they walk briskly beside the river, happy as you please. Which begs the question: Is Hina merely the best girl in the galaxy, or the entire universe? I’m gonna go with the latter.

3-gatsu no Lion – 12

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I watched this episode in a similar environment to the one Rei keeps finding himself in after recovering from his illness; a place very hard to leave once you’re there, like a kotatsu. It’s currently 20 degrees F and snowing outside, but I’m nice and toasty in my apartment with a hot mug of cocoa, and because it’s Saturday and I don’t have a possibly career-defining tournament to participate in, I’m more than content to stay right there!

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Now that he’s better, Rei has some serious things to consider. Chief among them is ‘not losing anymore this year’, including the huge highly-publicized Lion King Tournament. He just barely defeats one opponent (who has a bizarre way with words), and may well have to go up against Gotou, the guy who calls Kyoko a “stalker girl” and who once beat him up. If it wasn’t for Smith, he’d have gotten beaten up again.

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Instead, he heads to the Kawamotos with bags bursting with freshly-caught fish from the association president, and Akari couldn’t be happier, as it means they can save on food expenses for a while. As usual, the home is warm, fuzzy, full of love and hard to leave…but Rei has to leave. He can’t be the best shogi player he can be if he doesn’t go home and study. So he tells Momo as earnestly as he can, and she and Hina tell him to do his best.

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Perhaps like no previous episode, this one really strongly marked the contrast between the Kawamoto Kotatsu and the world outside, using every visual method at its disposal. As bright and warm and colorful as it is in the sisters’ house, it’s dark and cold and bleak, even threatening outside.

But Rei is determined to become someone who can live in both worlds, and neither be trapped in one or unable to endure the other. Joy and pain are both inescapable parts of life he must learn to balance. And the beast inside relishes the potential opportunity to deliver a blow or two to Gotou, not with his fists, but on the shogi board.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 11

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We’re halfway through 3GL, and I’ve been remiss in mentioning Hashimoto Yukari. Who is Hashimoto Yukari? She does the music for 3GL, and it’s been fantastic throughout, but never more so than during Rei’s post-shogi season descent into bedridden delirium. The watercolor aesthetic has always given the show a dreamlike aura; Rei’s fever dreams are that much more dreamlike.

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I’m willing to entertain the fact that Rei’s mention last week of a “beast within him” that feeds on victory in shogi hasn’t been exaggerated. Here we see the beast being starved from lack of competition (since the shogi matches for the year are over), and what such a deficit does to Rei’s body. It stands to reason that someone for whom “shogi is everything” would cease to have anything when the shogi stopped.

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But Rei does have more than shogi going in his life. There’s a lovely Ghibli-esque quality to the manner in which the Kawamoto sisters spirit Rei away to the doctor, then to their home for proper convalescence. In his state when they found him, it was clear Rei was incapable of taking care of himself or lifting his fever in a timely fashion. The sisters basically save him.

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But when he thanks the Kawamotos profusely for saving him and apologizes for interfering with their end-of-year festivities, Akari demurs. After all, she wanted Rei to come and be part of their family; otherwise she says she’d be “cleaning alone and crying”, the hole her lost family members left still raw and festering.

Rei takes her mind off that, and for that, Rei has her thanks. Rei was, as he says, too preoccupied with his own loneliness to recognize the loneliness of another, but that failure to recognize it is now over.

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So despite starting out the episode feeling absolutely miserable in his dim, sparse apartment, Rei ends up not only warmly, cozily ensconced in the Kawamoto residence, feeling much better, but also is perfectly comfortable and at peace in the house—weird bathroom addition and all.

The stickers on the chest of drawers remind him of his life with his mother and sister. That family may no longer be with him, but he has a new family that helps him a lot, and lets him sleep more soundly.

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Flying Witch – 08

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Makoto Chinatsu and Kei just be chillin’ like vanilla villains playing violins in a villa. Put less poetically, they spend the entire episode hanging out in the cafe, meeting its owner (mistaking her for her nearly identical daughter at first), are formally introduced to Hina the ghost, and also meet some of the cafe’s regulars.

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Yet no matter how insectoid (the thistle-eating ladybugs), vulpine (the cherry-loving fox), or intimidating (the Veil of Darkness and Bringer of the Night, everyone they meet is nice, welcoming, and friendly, even if Chinatsu is being a bit nosy or intrusive.

The overall feeling is that this definitely a cafe where I’d like to spend some time, sip some tea, and munch on some pastries. Anzu’s mom’s comment about Kei not having to worry about being “normal” (because he hangs out with witches) was pretty funny, too.

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While the others are at the cafe, Akane is hard at work on a potion, but for what we don’t learn until after the credits roll, Marvel-style. She teleports with Kenny all the way to otherworldly, picturesque Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, where she accidentally turns the entire landscape monochrome.

It’s temporary, though, so rather than panic, Akane teleports back to Aomori, grabs a half-asleep Makoto, and has her snap a photo of her and Kenny…which Akane later remembers as a strange dream. But that’s life as a witch: sometimes things get a little surreal and dream-like, and ya just gotta roll with it.

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Barakamon – 12 (Fin)

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It’s a testament to this show’s quality of characters that I can utterly disagree with Sei’s mom’s position but still love her to death simply because she’s so hilarious and awesome. As worried as she is that her son is being corrupted by island yokels, she’s the one doing childish things like sticking talismans on his door and rains down blows upon anyone who looks at her the wrong way. Mostly though, I can forgive her hypocrisy because she just plain misses her son.

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As the gang (mostly Miwa) goes through an infinite cycle of trashing, cleaning, then trashing his house, it looks like Sei’s mom may get her way by sheer force of her maternal power, but Sei, strengthened by his time on the island, isn’t going to surrender so easily.

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When her husband breaks out albums from when he was on the island, her position starts to crumble, and when the gang mails him the results of his calligraphy tutoring, she loses the moral high ground altogether, which was built upon an ignorance about what exactly he was doing there anyway.

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Seishuu has had a track record of acting impulsively, and be it punching an old man or accidentally buying corn soup on a hot summer day, it often results in painful experiences. But that same impulsiveness allowed him to act upon sudden flashes of inspiration and break out of his conservative style.

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Thus, it’s more about tempering and balancing that impulsivity rather than rooting it out. The best environment for that has been and shall continue to be the island, which he already considers “home.” And even for the gang, home doesn’t feel the same anymore without Sensei.

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When Sei arrives back on the island and the village chief is a no-show, he leaves the airport, wanders, and immediately gets in trouble. But then Naru’s grandpa offers him a ride on his tractor, and he sees the gorgeous ocean that gramps says is “nothing special”, and he’s lockedback into an Island state of mind, where “nothing special” is the best.

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As Seishuu has taught the islanders about calligraphy and entertained them with his cosmopolitan shut-in ways, they’ve taught him that there’s nothing quite like a life lived with cheer surrounded by people you care about. It’s fun, but it’s also good for the soul, and good for his artistry.

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Once a surly, willful wretch that was first exiled to the island against his will, Seishuu’s now a little more mature and content. His eyes are wide open to what the world has to offer, and how best to contribute.

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Barakamon – 11

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“All Work and No Play” – that’s what Handa Seishuu was before traveling to the island. All that work was preventing him from experiencing life and stifling his calligraphy.That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if the director provoked the punch that sent Sei away on purpose, conspiring with Sei’s dad to get the lad out of his hermetically-sealed comfort zone of Tokyo to a place where he would find new inspiration and where his talents could expand and blossom.

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Whether it was all planned or the grown-ups used the punch as an excuse, the gambit paid off nicely, as Handa Seishuu is not only doing far more interesting work, but is also a more humble, caring, present person. Of course his growth doesn’t stop him from splashing tea on his “star” masterpiece just seconds before the director has a chance to bestow a grand prize appraisal of it. In other words, it was good enough for the exhibition, but now it’s ruined, so he must come up with another, even better piece.

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The first we see of Seishuu in this episode, he’s very stern and distant-looking in a suit on a train platform, carrying over the somewhat “stranger-ish” nature of his sudden departure from the island without a word. Thankfully, as soon as he interacts with Kawafuji we see he’s the same old overdramatic overreacting man-child we know and love. And it’s actually not a bad thing to wreck what would have been his exhibition submission, since it challenges him to repeat the brilliance with new constraints of time and location.

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It doesn’t go well at first. At his stately traditional-style family home, surrounded by the bustling city, Seishuu finds he simply can’t write the way he did on the island. Trying to have Kawafuji and Kousuke role play as villagers doesn’t cut it, either. Kawafuji determines the only way to get anything out of Seishuu is to bring the villagers to him…via telephone. Hearing everyone’s voices brightens his mood and sparks his imagination, and after pulling another all-nighter, he seems confident he’s again achieved excellence.

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We don’t get to see that piece yet, but all I know for sure is that this episode achieved excellence for sure. It was an elegant, uncompromising blend of side-splitting comedy (mostly at Seishuu’s expense) and affecting drama—elements not uncommon in any episode of Barakamon but taken up a notch here, and augmented by the fresh setting and hectic circumstances. Seishuu looks to be in good shape for the exhibition, and hopefully he’ll be back in the village at some point during the finale.

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Barakamon – 10

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Being the audience this week is tough, because only we know it’s Seishuu’s last day on the island. No one, not even Naru, sees it coming from the way he acts on that last day, and maybe that’s the point. After helping Naru’s grandpa build a wall, he attends the village festival with Naru and Hina, and seems committed to not spoiling the little time he has left with them.

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He does, in fact, try to tell everyone (everyone being Naru, Miwa, Tama, Naru, Hina, and Hiro), but it’s just when the awesome fireworks are about to begin. He can’t very well say it then, now can he? The reaction would be predictable, with Naru likely having a fit and running off, possibly into danger. All episode I was waiting for that kind of confrontation.

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But nothing of the kind came; in the end, Seishuu chose not to mar another happy, fun day with the villagers that just happens to be his last. Instead, he lives that day to the fullest, and doesn’t so much as betray a hint that he’s out of there the next day. He disappears from the island as quickly as he appeared, but his absence is sure to lead to despair.

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Part of me is afraid of the possibility that Seishuu always meant to leave suddenly ike this, like ripping a band-aid from a wound, and that his connection to the island was never as strong as it seemed; that he was merely here to figure out his calligraphy, and once he had, had no further reason to be there. For the record, I don’t think (or rather, don’t want to think) that’s true, but it’s hard not to think like that considering how suddenly he peaced out.

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Barakamon – 09

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Seishuu may have acclimated somewhat to his remote island village home, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a city boy, and there’s still a lot he has yet to experience. Case in point, when his gas-fueled bath heater packs it in, he must resort to foraging for twigs and building a fire in the old wood heater. The village chief makes the point that if Seishuu had a wife, she’d tend the fire for him.

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Seishuu has never bothered with romance, pouring everything he has into his art, reasonably certain he’ll die alone, but not necessarily happy about it. He emerges from the bath and is surprised to find Hiro in the kitchen making his food (his mom was busy). Hiro often seems more mature than Seishuu despite the fact the latter is older, and that’s exhibited when Seishuu tries to “out-prepare” a bowl of miso cucumber rice. Suffice it to say, Seishuu can’t cook…but he’s too proud to admit it.

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Next, Seishuu finds himself in the middle of deep-seeded island politics when Hina tells him Naru is being bullied by kids from the neighboring village. Seishuu and Hiro try their best to reason with, and later intimidate the little punks, but they’re at a distinct disadvantage in that said punks know the adults can’t really hit them, or they’ll be arrested. Turns out the punks are friends with Akki, who resolves the situation simply by passing by. If anything, this segment reminds me of the best strategy for dealing with combative kids: Don’t. Just avoid them if you can.

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Finally, with just over two weeks left until the Naruka Exhibition, Seishuu’s sparks of drawing inspiration in response to his new living situation have grown more infrequent, to the point where he questions the efficacy of simply waiting for inspiration to show up, even though that’s really the only way. After a day of playing Tarzan with the kids, he gets one in the form of a truly awesome sunset. He makes a move back for home, but slips and falls off a ledge.

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Reverting to full City Boy mode, being isolated, alone, and lost in the dark terrifies him, until he sees a glint in the grass and finds the key to his house Miwa had lost. Then he gets his second flash of inspiration of the day: a majestic star field. His resulting drawing, with white writing on a black background, is another fun, striking, inventive piece he never would’ve attempted before coming to the island. Which begs the question: what is said to him on the phone that makes him so quickly and easily agree to leave?

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Barakamon – 08

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This week offers two slice-of-life stories that reinforce how nicely Seishuu has fit into the village, and how close his bond with Naru has gotten without him knowing it. In the first story, it’s Naru’s seventh birthday. After Miwa and Tama get ¥1000 out of Seishuu for a cake, he realizes he must also get her a suitable gift for Naru.

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Unsurprisingly, most gifts deemed “suitable” for a seven-year-old girl aren’t going to cut it for the precocious tomboy. His first thought is bugs, sending him on a bug-hunting adventure with the three village boys her age. This exercise backfires, since in addition to the fact the boys have already chosen to give her bugs, Seishuu is completely inept at catching them, and even when he manages to do so, falls off a ladder and kills it.

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The evening of the party arrives, and Seishuu’s last-minute half-assed gift—a hand-written, one-time “do whatever you say” ticket—ends up thrilling her immensely, to everyone else’s surprise. It just goes to show that Seishuu cares enough for Naru to want to give her a good gift, and knows her a lot better than he gives himself credit for.

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In the second story, it’s Obon, and Naru’s grandpa asks Seishuu to keep Naru company as she holds vigil over her grandma. It’s another new world for Seishuu, as he’s not used to a graveyard in the evening, lighting lanterns and setting off fireworks. He’s also mesmerized by the Onde dance performed for the recently deceased.

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Hanging out in the graveyard, and more to the point, being totally welcome there despite being an outsider, again drives home the fact that this village is becoming a home to Seishuu. Being there also makes him wonder where Naru’s parents are, and realizes that despite almost constantly being surrounded by people, Naru gets lonely too.

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In the beginning of the episode, he waters sunflowers despite not knowing who grew them and the fact they could well grow just fine without his care. Later they become a metaphor for Naru. She too could grow up just fine without him, but he wants to be there for her anyway. In an omake dream, the shopkeep’s dog joins him forfishing and asks him why he doesn’t simply settle down here. It’s a good question.

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Barakamon – 07

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On Kawafuji and Kousuke’s last day on the island, everyone Goes Fishin’ (well, almost everybody; Tama isn’t around…perhaps she’s still recovering from seeing all those men together?). Miwa teaches the city boys how to catch horse mackerel. Kousuke turns it into another competition in which he’s the best, but he only catches the shoal.

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When Kawafuji hears that Kousuke bashed Seishuu’s new work, that’s when the truth comes out: Kousuke is the one in a slump. Having virtually copied Seishuu’s old, “fundamentals-first” style, when Seishuu changed style, it was as if his fish had dropped the hook and sploshed back into the sea, leaving him with an empty line.

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Kawafuji brought Kousuke to the island not to light a fire under Seishuu’s ass, but to try to get him to look at things from a perspective other than his own. Like the Seishuu of old, he think’s he’s the best and if anyone disagrees, they’re wrong. That attitude stifles artistic growth, and Kousuke is too young to be settling into anything.

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The message coming out of this episode is that it’s up to youth not just to carry on their elders’ traditions, but to come up with some of their own, sometimes out of the most unlikely places. But one can only come up with stuff if you’re out there living and experiencing new things, meeting new people.

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Naru gets things started by creating an avant-garde line made up of dozens of hooks, which looks comical but does end up snagging a rock snapper, which is what Hiro was after all along. It breaks up in mid-air and the big catch escapes, but that’s just another symbol of how innovation doesn’t always net concrete results, but the attempt, and the momentary flash of success, still has value. “Lose the battle, win the war,” and all that.

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After five days of clashing with Kousuke, now that he knows what’s really up with him, Seishuu is no longer threatened or annoyed. When the day of fishing is over, he reports to Kousuke the periodic flashes of inspiration he’s gotten ever since coming to the island. This culminates in writing calligraphy using a mackerel as a brush, his most “unconventional” piece yet.

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Not surprisingly, Miwa and Naru think its also his best. It’s probably not exhibition-worthy, but for someone once so firmly stuck in convention, it’s another huge leap forward in his artistic growth. When Kawafuji and Kousuke leave, merely being on that plane gets Hiro and Miwa thinking about how one day that could be them; the older inspiring the younger to go forth and find their own way in the world.

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