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!

3-gatsu no Lion – 38

3GL is delivered in chapters, not episodes, so it’s not unusual for chapters that go long to pour into the next episode. That can sometimes seem random, but it also keeps the rhythm of the show fresh. And while we get three very different chapters, they all contain the same theme: Rei getting over his match and subsequent evening with Souya and rejoining mankind.

The Chairman gives Rei a call and is relieved both that Rei is fine and that he’s taking care of Souya. The Chairman throws a little dig at Rei for being so good at caring for others for his age, but he doesn’t know how much of an affect the Kawamoto sisters have had on him, and Rei may not even know he’s paying their kindness forward.

 

The Chairman also lets Rei in on a little-known fact: Souya’s hearing comes and goes, and the doctors can’t pinpoint anything other than “stess” as the cause.

There’s a great melancholy in the Chairman saying “just leave [Souya] alone and he’ll be fine”, but he’s proven right the next morning, when not only has Souya taken off before Rei, but paid for his room as thanks for assisting him yesterday.

Rei has a tendency to see Souya as some kind of god roaming the earth, unaware of its strange customs; one could also call him (shogi) royalty; a young king who has never had to live in the real world.

And when Souya is gone, the storm is gone as well, replaced by an almost fake-looking blue sky. The blinding white light of his “Souya Storm” match is back up in the sky, hanging there as the sun. It all feels like a weird dream, and Rei gets lost in it.

The sounds of school and other people around him gets muffled, replaced by the crisp sounds of the shogi pieces smacking against the board…almost like a tinnitus.

With the epic “White Storm” over, we get a titular—literal—”Restart” that gives us a fresh dose of the always-wonderful Kawamoto sisters.

Their half of the chapter plays like an after-episode omake, as they give us step-by-step instructions on how to make the perfect pork juice-marinated soft boiled egg, accompanying delectably tender braised pork.

It was nice to check into the sisters’ warm little world—particularly now that Hana (her hair up in a mature bun) is over her bullying ordeal and looking forward to seeing Chiho soon. But I couldn’t help but feel a bit worried by Rei’s text declining the dinner invite.

The last thing we need is him starting to follow in Souya’s footsteps, making the Fausitan deal of shogi divinity in exchange for utter and profound lifelong loneliness as the sounds of the world around him fades out. Let’s not go there, please!

When the chapter returns to Rei, who is so deep in the notes of his match with Souya Shimada has to stop him from getting trucked, my weariness for such a development lingered. However, once Shimada brings up Nikaidou, I was pleased to discover I had nothing to worry about.

Rei is at first shocked Nikaidou is already out of the hospital and playing matches, then worried for his classically shaky health. Shimada also tells him it’s likely Nik is feeling depressed since his absences have forced him to forfeit some matches, making rank demotion a possibility.

But Nikaidou isn’t depressed; he’s right where he wants to be, and when Rei checks in on him, he’s defeated an 8-dan with an all-new move he’s hopeful they’ll name after him. Seeing Rei there only compounds Nikaidou’s manic joy, and when Rei sees how wrong Shimada was and how happy his friend is, he can’t help but smile and laugh—something Souya could never do. I reckon Rei will be fine!

3-gatsu no Lion – 37

Rei has known Souya for years, but like everyone else, has regarded him as some kind of shogi diety, floating above the ground on a higher plane of existence…and shogi. But thanks to his win in the Newcomer Tournament, here he is, sitting opposite Souya, a real, living, breathing human being. Rei isn’t sure if Souya has strayed into his world, or if he has strayed into Souya’s.

As their commemorative match progresses, it’s pretty clear it’s the latter. And you know what? Rei likes it in Souya’s world! It’s a pretty chill place where he doesn’t feel the same pressures or emotions when facing previous opponents.

He’s in the eye of the white storm, where all is quiet, and where there is nothing but shogi, the next move, and the moves after that. Calm, tranquil, and refreshing almost to the point where Rei feels bad for insulting an opponent who defeated him.

And Souya does defeat him, mostly due to an error Rei knows he made the second he placed the piece. In the review, he makes the right move instead, and the Meijin nods. When Rei looks at the palm of his hand, Souya speaks the words “that’s what it’s like.”

Whether Rei can now feel the game through his fingers, the fact remains it was a good match. I’m glad Rei didn’t pull out a miracle win, because that frankly would have not lined up with all we know about Souya, mostly that he’s nigh unbeatable.

Rei doesn’t like losing, but at least he knows when a win simply isn’t in the cards; the gap is too wide, and he hasn’t figured out how he’ll catch up, if that’s even possible. And it wasn’t by any means an embarrasing loss; his match with Souya engendered much lively discussion among their shogi peers.

Last week Rei got his first taste of Souya-attempting-to-act-human at the pre-match reception, and was somewhat troubled by the fact Souya has always been profoundly alone.

Rei, as we know, has a fair amount of Kawamoto in him, and so when the bullet train service is suddenly suspended, he takes care of a disoriented Souya, who proceeds to follow Rei around like a lost puppy.

That being said, Souya has been on this earth longer than Rei, and so whenever Rei can’t find what he’s looking for among the chaotic crush of the station, Souya always seems to quietly point out the proper way forward, be it the ticket booth, finding an inn for the night, and finding an exit that won’t get them drenched.

But yeah, if Souya isn’t physically deaf, he’s certainly close to it…as if he cast off the need to hear sounds because sound isn’t required in shogi.

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.

3-gatsu no Lion – 33

In a bit of a bridge episode stocked with miscellany, Rei is chosen to challenge Souya in a commemoration match between present and future meijin to do the brass “a solid”, and is then surprised at school by the Shogi Science club with a party celebrating  his Newcomer King title, with all food and drink being crafted by the club with on-campus resources.

As such, this is all an opportunity for Rei to realize that he is, at this moment, actually quite happy. So happy, in fact, he has to run to the bathroom so no one sees his tears of joy. Will this happiness last forever? Perhaps, nay, probably not; and he’s right that it could be snatched as suddenly as it was dispensed.

But he aims to never forget these days, his Springtime of life, even acquiring a diary to capture those days in detail for future reminiscence. Indeed, his narration throughout the show thus far is likely from the pages of that diary!

An example of someone suffering a tremendous defeat but coming back as strong as ever is Shimada, who is not the brass’ pick to be the challenger in the Kishou Championship, owing to his lack of charisma. Their pick is Gakuto Sakurai, who has a tendency to take his shogi rivals into the mountains, put them in a spot, then show them kindness, endearing them to him and making them eternal fanboys of him.

Shimada, however grew up climbing mountains to forage, and as such is immune to Gakuto’s particular charms and beats him, showing that Gotou was right; Shimada, if left alone, was always going to come back and win. All it took was time.

Gaining, losing, then gaining things are “an unavoidable part of life”, and both disappointment and loneliness necessary emotions. Such emotions cause people to muster courage and expand their small worlds. These are the words of Noguchi, who not only looks like a sage adult, but talks like one too.

Since he’s a third year, he’ll be leaving the club to focus on college entrance, which means the one place at school Rei felt he “belonged” will be irrevocably changed. However, it won’t be taken away; not as long as Rei perseveres in securing members for the Shogi Club (the Science part, being Noguchi’s purview, goes away).

Fortunately for Rei, he has powerful proponents of a Shogi Club in the principal and vice-principal. While they’re not students, they will help ensure his club (which Rei is worried might be more of a “class” with him as the teacher) will endure. You have to hand it to 3GL; it always, always makes the simple matter of Rei interacting with his actual peers seem like an utter impossibility, because he’s such a highly-specialized, nerdy, shogi-obsessed weirdo.

And yet, considering how easily he’s able to interact with the Kawamotos, I believe Rei continues to sell himself short in the “ability to make friends at school” department. Surely there’s a happy medium between the nerds of the Science Club and the “popular crowd” in which he can find friends, and use his shogi to facilitate that friend-making? Perhaps, but for now, the average age of his new “school” club is 24.

3-gatsu no Lion – 24

A new tournament bracket has been released, and Nikaidou is furious that he and Rei are in different groups…as if Rei had anything to do with the seeding. The only thing for it is for the two to win their respective groups and face each other in the finals.

Nikaidou then launches into a torrent of trash-talk, calling Rei arrogant and pompous, and their loudness almost gets them kicked out of the watching room where the other pros are watching Souya and Kumakura. The two are still kids, after all…they need to argue with shoji, not words.

A couple other younger pros start talking about Shimada’s mental and physical state after losing to Souya, and Gotou, who hears a bit too much of it, is having none of it, sticking up for the absent Shimada by saying unproven young whelps who may never get within a mile of a title match shouldn’t be running their mouths about those who have “been in the ring.”

Rei is glad Shimada is being defended, but laments that the defense is coming from the same person who has caused, intentionally and unintentionally, his sister to suffer. It gets to the whole idea of “chaos” in this segment, in which both humans and shogi are full of contradictions and paradoxes; all mysteries that will never be solved, but we must simply live with.

In a move that surprises all spectators young and old, Kumakura responds to Souya’s seemingly innocuous move made to force a reaction out of his opponent…suddenly resigns, giving Souya another successful title defense. It’s only after everyone plays through that Rei and the other see what Kumakura saw: that Souya had beaten him, seeing many many moves ahead to Kuma’s doom.

Meanwhile, Kyouko is performing all of the duties of your classic wife figure for Gotou, and we learn why: his actual wife is in a coma in the hospital.

Rei may only see a villain and a scoundrel (or at best, an uneasy ally against those who would drag Shimada thorough the mud), but Kyouko’s been around him a lot more time, and while she may be blinded by infatuation, she also sees a role to play in Gotou’s wife’s absence…especially if her prognosis is such that soon Gotou will be a widower.

It’s not pretty to see him getting along with, even sharing the bed with, another woman poised to “attack” him while his wife still draws breath, but who ever said humanity was pretty? Not to mention, without Gotou, Kyouko always seems lost and alone, and Rei can’t be the one to fill the hole in her heart.

But Gotou made a good point to Rei that echos his own thoughts about chaos: seeing everything in good and bad or black and white is a recipe for a poor understanding the world. Life isn’t Go! If I had to choose between the two games, it’s more like Shoji.

As for the man who gives his name to this segment, Kumakura: he’s lost again, but takes the defeat with a cool calmness that makes many of his peers swoon. Of course, that is a public calmness; below the surface boils a man who has been shattered into pieces having to collect them all and re-construct himself in time for the next title challenge.

It’s a thankless, cruel task, but it’s the only way he knows how to live. Not to mention, kicking the shit out of a wall is always a quick way to release pent-up frustration!

This episode had solid slice of life and some good internal stuff with Rei…but after only catching a brief glimpse last week, I definitely missed the Kawamotos.

I realize the show is probably following the source’s chapters and the sisters and their grandpa are just one part of Rei’s life, but they’re an important (not to mention adorable!) one, and I hope we get to spend more quality time with them soon.

3-gatsu no Lion – 23

In a relatively slow, uneventful, yet still thoroughly enjoyable episode, we revel along with Rei in the warm camaraderie and cool science of the Shogi Science club. By school club standards, it’s small, but packs a punch in terms of the transfer of knowledge and even life perspective.

His fellow club members, for instance, had no idea how nerve-wracking defeat could be, how bitter it tastes as opposed to sweet victory, and how those intense emotions never go away and indeed grow more intense still as one plays shogi professionally for years. Rei may look slight, but he’s actually a pretty tough young man.

After playing shogi, his clubmates and advisor join him in watching a very serious and intense televised match between Souya and Kamakura Kengo, and watching how they recharge their brains in-game with concentrated doses of glucose—Souya preferring soft glucose cubes with lemon in his tea; while Kamakura quickly houses three delicious-looking slices of cake. Neither takes their eyes of the board.

The use of glucose to recharge provides a nice segue for the club to move from shogi to science, as the mustachioed Noguchi shows Rei how to make ramune candy from scratch and invites him to make some of his own. Rei is over the moon, participating in club activities and interacting with other humans who aren’t professional shogi players.

As for the Sisters Kawamoto, like citric acid in the ramune, we only get a miniscule amount of them this week, but what little we do see of them is adorable as usual. There’s something so heartwarming about Rei leaving one rewarding social activity and then going straight to another one; he’s only alone in the opening moments of the episode, on his way to club, but he looks a lot more together and less depressing.

Rei looks well on the way to living a more balanced and happy life, and even if he can’t quickly answer whether he finds shogi fun, there is thankfully stuff in his life now he can quickly and categorically describe as fun.

3-gatsu no Lion – 22 (Fin)

The more I watched this episode, the more I wished it didn’t have to exist. I mean…I already KNOW Rei’s a really lonely guy with no friends whatsoever at school. Do I really need the show to drill it into my head with more lonely montages? No, I do not.

It’s doubly frustrating to see Rei fail so hard at interacting with his peers because last’s week’s episode felt so good, and this is like having cold water poured on you; it’s just…unpleasant to watch Rei at school, as it always has. Seriously, Hayashida-sensei and those four weird burner club guys who aren’t really characters—those are the only people he ever speaks to!

At certain breaks in his inner monologue, I kept hoping against hope that someone, anyone resembling a normal high school student would approach him, maybe having seen or read about him. But no one ever comes.

The second half, which starts as a flashback to really drive home the point that Rei is awkward and lonely, again feels like a redundant detour that illustrates what I already know: Shogi is the “ticket” that ensures someone will always sit by him.

Rei envisions himself on (and the show is very intent on repeatedly showing) a magical floating CGI train in the sky; a train he shares with many other people headed towards the same destination.

Call me bitter because the previous episode was a perfect ending to the series as a whole, not just the Kawamoto side of Rei’s story. I guess, like all those high school kids, the actual shogi was never that interesting too me; too arcane to get too far into with its alphanumerical nomenclature.

Fortunately, everything else was not only interesting but endearing, charming, and relatable. So while it’s regrettable the series ends on a meh note, it doesn’t take away from last week’s loveliness, nor do I regret getting into the show.

Average Rating (22 episodes): 8.14

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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3-gatsu no Lion – 18

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Nikaidou and Shigeta are always fighting over the proper move to make, on diametrically opposite sides like Vader and Obi-wan. Neither ever seems to back down, resulting in escalation that has to be refereed by Shimada.

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The boys’ pulpy, comic-booky visualizations contrast sharply with the match Rei gets into with Shimada. Their visuals are more refined and rooted in classical art. It’s not just a matter of how the two pairs approach the shogi workshop.

Shimada’s elegant blue waves crashing against Rei’s hazy red base until he and it are consumed by the torrent. The exhaustion Rei feels afterwards in his overlfowing tub, are a means of expressing what it’s like for an A-rank player to come at your with everything he’s got.

Shimada isn’t just trying to beat Rei, but to learn something new from him, something that might not have occurred to him. Anything will do; after all, he’s one loss away from a do-or-die match with the reigning champion.

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Back at school, Rei examines his report card, which indicates he just squeaked by and will be advancing to the next grade. When he looks at the last school year, Rei laments how little he accomplished.

Hayashida-sensei lets him know what an ordinary 17-year-old typically accomplishes (not much) and how little he accomplished at that age, and puts things in perspective. Rei is not a kid who seeks praise directly, so as usual he finds all this praise uncomfortable.

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In another nice crossover of worlds, Hina comes by with Momo in tow to collect their empty food boxes. Both girls are very on-edge, but after downing a stiff drink composed of cold milk, Hina asks what she came to ask—who that beautiful, bad-tempered girl was—and gets an answer that satisfies both her and Mom.

Kyouko isn’t, in fact, a witch, she’s just his big sister. Siblings fight all the time, but they’re still close. The girls comprehend this from their own experiences with each other and Akari. It’s a nice air-clearing scene that brings warmth to Rei’s apartment, and lil’ kid expert Kuno Misaki and superstar Kana-chan kick ass as usual.

 

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I’ll just leave this here because it gave me a chuckle. It’s been a minute since I’ve seen Castle in the Sky…

Of course, when that’s what Hina tells Akari back home, the older sister wonders if it’s not actually worse than if Kyouko were Rei’s girlfriend. After all, from what she saw, Rei and Kyouko weren’t very close, despite ten years of living together.

Akari suspects that distance was the reason Rei yearned to leave that home, though to be fair to Rei and Kyouko, Akari doesn’t know the intricacies of their relationship, or the fact that every time they see one another they struggle to resolve what exactly they are, while simultaneously never doubting for a second that they’re…something.

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