3-gatsu no Lion – 40

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.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 39

Returning from an Olympic break, 3GL turns its attention away from both Rei and the Kawamoto and focuses on two other shogi players. Shimada is going up against Yanagihara Sakutarou in the Kishou Championship; Rei and Nikaidou will only be giving commentary.

Yanagihara has won the championship fourteen times, and at 66 is the oldest active Class A player. As one of the elder statesmen of his sport, he seems to effortlessly surround himself with supporters and pals, all of whom call him “Saku-chan.” This irks Shimada, who really really wants to win his first title, even if he has to end Yanagihara’s warm reunions.

What Shimada might be too focused on winning to understand is that Yanagihara isn’t interested in passing the mantle of Kishou champion to anyone. Why would he? What comes next after he’s been knocked off the top of the pyramid?

He now stands alone, while everyone else has put their faith and their hopes in his continued success, and he wears those wishes like a mess of heavy white sashes, constantly threatening to smother him.

We see the weight both of those sashes and the realities of old age, as he takes every morning extra slow to ensure he takes all the medicine he needs to take. Once the match begins, Shimada is determined and uncharacteristically fiery, but Yanagihara is no slouch.

On the contrary, when an old friend told him early retirement “scared him” and was like “standing in a burnt field”, Yanagihara summons the flames that burned the field to begin with, and uses them to propel himself along in the match, which so far looks like the liveliest and most aggressive Kishou final match in years. Poor Shimada…he has the worst luck with opponents!