3-gatsu no Lion – 34

Despite all of the good vibes sent Hina’s way by her sisters, her grandpa, and of courses, Rei, the bullying is still going on, and it has cast a pall of black, miasma-like mist over the entire classroom and school. Takagi Megumi won’t stop stirring the shit, and Hina won’t stop bravely confronting it head-on. Both can probably keep the battle going indefinitely, but their teacher has had enough.

This isn’t the first time her class has been thrown into shadow and chaos by one shit-stirrer and one defiant victim, and the stress that comes from her helplessness to ever resolve such situations, combined with the dread that comes with the certainty it will happen again, proves too much for the poor woman, who unleashes a desperate rant before passing out.

Now that Takagi has not only sent a victim off, but the supposed authority figure as well, one would think she’s “winning” this particular war. But whether she actually really wants this to go on or not, she seems almost as powerless to stop this as her victims. That makes whatever victory that might come feel not only hollow, but Pyrrhic.

This is some Scorched Earth-kinda shit going own, so who better to deal with averting apocalypse than Ikari Gendo himself? Just kidding; a 3GL-Eva crossover would be too weird (though not altogether unwelcome!) But the ruined teacher’s temporary replacement Mr. Kokobu is voiced by the same guy, doing a more causal performance more indicative of Zaraki Kenpachi.

Kokobu comes in not only knowing pretty much exactly what’s going on, but on whom to pin the blame. He laments that a class so close to high school entrance exams must be disrupted by a faculty shake-up, but also says, basically, “you little shits have no one to blame for not making a peep when one of their classmates had to change schools because of the bullying.”

And of course, he’s right. Takagi and Hina aren’t as powerful as a classroom united against bullying and conflict. But Takagi has spent so much time and effort neutralizing them with threats of retribution that they’ve kept quiet all this time. But it’s not like I expect the class to en masse decide to take a stand.

The overarching problem is that no one is in a situation they can control or pull themselves out of alone. It will take a unity of will and intent, and Kokobu likely hopes the unpleasantness of the situation to date will start bringing this mess to an end.

The last thing Hina wanted to do was bring her sister Akari into this, but that’s what has to happen, and Akari doesn’t shrink before the task at hand, nor does she hesitate to spoil Hina with some of her favorite foods (some kind of french toast drink and a beef croquette) on the eve of their parent-teacher conference.

Akari even fends off Grandpa, who has an important sweets order to take care of, so seriously does she take her promise to her dying mother that she’d take care of Hina and Momo. That she made this promise in her uniform, showing she’s still a child herself, makes it the dream much more heartbreaking.

It’s a dream that keeps Akari up late, so even if she had a particular game plan against the eventuality of encountering Takagi’s formidable mom in the hall (and she does not), she wouldn’t be at 100% to execute that plan.

Any thoughts of Takagi losing her hold on the class anytime soon are dashed when two of the classmates lure Mr. Kokobu away with a lie about a broken window, leaving the two students and their guardians alone together. Takagi’s mom immediately sets to work telling Akari to sort Hina out, and Akari falls all too easily into a trap where the mom asks her for proof of her daughter’s malfeasance, for which there is only Hina’s word.

Unaccustomed to such aggressive confrontation, overwhelmed by the promise she made to her mom, and fatigued from last night’s lack of sleep, Akari quickly falters, but before Mrs. Takagi can finish her, Kokobu returns, and it is Hina who takes Akari’s hand and sends her of to calm her down, not the other way around.

In this horribly shitty situation, Hina maintains her composure and is able to stand and endure the black mist. In the nurse’s office, she vows, like a shounen hero, that she’ll survive and graduate, she wins, so she’s not going to spend a second of her life worrying about the words and actions of c-words like Takagi again. Even if that’s better said than done, Akari is heartened.

Meanwhile, Kokobu calmly listens to Takagi’s Mom’s grievances, but cannot accept them without proof Hina is lying (which she obviously isn’t). The burden of proof both Takagi and her Mom were touting works both ways, and without the opportunity to pawn all the shit her daughter stirred up on to someone else, neither are ever going to be happy about the situation any more than Hina and Akari.

That means we have something of a stalemate.  Hopefully the escalation has been halted, the miasma somewhat cleared, and that with Kokobu’s guidance, the possibility of productive peace talks isn’t as remote as it once was.

3GL always seems to know when I’m hankering for a Kawamoto-heavy episode, and this one pretty one delivered everything I could have hoped for, with phenomenal performances by Kayano Ai and Hanazawa Kana and  a sweet guest appearance by the always authoritative Fumihiko Tachiki— (not to mention some nice work from Yuuki Aoi as Takagi).

The episode leans on the 3GL habit of using stark contrasts in light, dark, water, and color as the mood of the episode changes. We also get a new OP sung by Unison Square Garden and a sensational new ED featuring “I Am Standing” by Ruann. Forget March, it’s January that comes in like a lion with this, probably the best episode yet of 3GL’s second season.

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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 – 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