3-gatsu no Lion – 05

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For the last four episodes we’ve watched Rei in a really nice situation with caring loving people, and he still seems a bit uncomfortable, like he’s out of place. We’ve also seen glimpses of his Dark Past, but they come fully to the surface this week, as having to pick up Momo (and then tend to her kid wounds) triggers a memory that haunts and will always haunt him.

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Rei’s whole goddamn immediate family went and died instantly when a drunk driver killed them. They left the world, and left him with the rest of his blood relatives, who are portrayed as almost comically awful.

Despite having the means to adopt him, one of his aunts suggests an orphanage, far more concerned about her husband, the younger brother, taking control of the hospital with Rei’s dad out of the way. They’re a real great bunch, I tellya!

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Rei is saved by his dad’s old shogi rival, Kouda, and by a lie: he tells Kouda he loves shogi and wants to pursue a life of shogi, even though he only played shogi as a way to bond with his busy father. Kouda is kinder than any of Rei’s surviving family, but his kids, who are also trying to enter the world of shogi, are not.

Well, at least Kyouko does; the girl from that violent-looking flashback last week. She and her little brother Ayumu are quickly surpassed by Rei, who rises fast in a field he felt he had to pretend to be interested in to be adopted.

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Rei also blames himself for being a “cuckoo chick”, edging out the rightful offspring of the parent out of the nest; tearing a family apart after his was taken from him, like some kind of unconscious revenge/paying backward. Did I mention this is all very horrifically depressing?

I’m glad we’re finally getting Rei’s story of why he is the way he is in the present, but it kinda smothers you in a dark grey cloud of awfulness. The one bright spot is Momo in the first half, being her adorable Momo self. The fact we can understand what the cats and dogs are saying also lighten things up a bit.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 04

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Hina’s longtime crush, a baseball ace, has a Big Game coming up, and she wants to be there cheering him on, with a big, fancy bento in hand for when he’s done. She becomes so consumed with what to make she doesn’t realize she has no cash.

Rei buys her the food, but despite waking up early, Hina has problems with the tricky dishes she’s making for the first time, forgets to pick out what to wear, and is ultimately late.

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The previous night, and at the Big Game, Rei sees a side of Hina he’s never seen before: a side that seems to be in love. “Love” seems to be a triggering word for Rei, because he suddenly gets a black-and-white flashback to a very unsettling scene where a woman—his mom?—removes his glasses and gets on top of him. Clearly Rei’s concept of “love” is distorted in some way, but there are no details beyond this glimpse.

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As for Hina, as happy as she looks during the game, when it comes time to deliver her bento, the object of her affection is surrounded by teammates and other girls, and they all go off to eat dinner. He doesn’t even notice Hina’s there.

I’m not sure if Rei has just been hanging out watching Hina this whole time, but when she tries to throw out the bento, he stops her, and suggests they go home and eat it together. Once there, Akari, who Hina believes doesn’t know what she’s going through because she’s so beautiful and good at cooking.

But the truth is, the very same thing happened to Akari once, which is why she gave advice to cook something simple. It’s the same advice their mom gave her. Basically, fellas: after a ball game, make sure to look around for girls with handmade bentos, and accept them before letting yourself get whisked away to other things.

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Part Two of this week’s episode dispenses with any other hints as to what that black-and-white flashback was all about (aside form what I saw it as, which was some kind of abuse), and takes a much lighter tone as Nikaido  and Rei run into the sisters while in town grabbing lunch.

Nikaido proves to be a popular guy with Momo and Akari. Momo likens him to Boboro, a popular children’s character who is big, fat, soft, and intelligent; a comparison Nikaido gratefully accepts. Rei also laments that Momo seems happier with Nikaido than she ever did with him :(

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As for Akari, we learn that she harbors an unreasonable adoration for “soft fluffy things” as much as Working!!’s Takanashi loves small cute things. It’s the reason she brings in animals, and Reis, who are skin and bones, and fills them up until they’re her preferred soft and fluffy.

Nikaido is the pre-done deal, and when he asks for a less salty, fattening menu, she takes it upon herself to pull out all the stops for his sake, ignoring Rei, the cats, and Rina (the only Kawamoto not enchanted by Nikaido’s presence).

This episode makes Nikaido more likable, as it shows he’s a decent, kind lad who knows how to go with the flow. Sure, he can be a little pushy with Rei, but his insistence that he and Rei are best friends is in no way insincere or mocking. He’s a nice guy. A nice guy under constant surveillance from his butler!

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3-gatsu no Lion – 03

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3GL‘s third episode is again split into two vignettes with an overarching theme: Rei encountering those with more powerful outward emotions than he expresses, leading him question if the way he handles his own emotions is really optimal.

The first vignette deals with his self-proclaimed rival Nikaidou Harunobu, whom Rei beat on the rooftop of a department store in the searing summer heat years ago. In what he describes as an arrogant presumption, he wished to defeat Harunobu quickly so the poor kid could get out of the hot sun.

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But his strategy only made Harunobu play harder, desperately dragging out the game until he was totally out of moves. Years later he faces Harunobu in a professional match, and Harunobu is pumped up, but nothing has really changed.

It takes many hours, but Rei eventually defeats Harunobu once more, because like him, he doesn’t want to lose. Harunobu’s new line of attack is better than the last one, but Rei is better too, and he does what has to be done to win again. He’s both bemused and a bit inspired by Harunobu’s raw intensity.

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The second vignette, a real tearjerker, marks the welcome return of the Kawamoto sisters and their gramps, completing their Obon observance with an elaborate meal. Rei comes late but Rina has his dishes ready, in appropriately small portions to match his slight appetite.

As they light the fire to see off their lost loved ones they only recently welcomed back with a similar ritual, Rei sees the barely-contained pain in the faces of the Kawamotos, though Akari is still smiling outwardly and Momo hides her face. He doesn’t see the point of doing something that brings out so much pain.

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When Hinata suddenly says she has to grab a manga at the convenience store, Gramps sends Rei to go with her, but Rei keeps his distance, even as Hina’s pace quickens and it’s clear her destination isn’t the store, but the river. There, he finds her crying her eyes out, the gorgeous July moon shining down on her.

As with Harunobu, Rei is a bit in awe of Hina’s intense display, a display he long gave up on when he decided to push the pain of losing his family away. There is no doubt Hina is not okay, but just because he’s not crying doesn’t mean he is.

Again he wonders if the path he chose in dealing with his loss was the right one, all while staying with Hinata and giving her all the time she needs to cry it out. Just as certain defeat isn’t enough to rush a match to its conclusion, pushing pain aside doesn’t make it disappear.

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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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