3-gatsu no Lion – 10

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Another week, another weak opponent with a sad story Rei must face, another dose of caustic venom from Kyoko. Remembering back to a Christmas where Kyoko’s dad gave him a shogi set instead of her, Rei admits he wants to hear the poison from Kyoko.

He must believe on some unconscious level that he deserves punishment for the pain he caused her. Kyoko is all too happy to oblige, but her shtick is getting a little old, and not just with me.

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Predictably, Rei defeats Mr. Yasui. It doesn’t even take that long. He can tell Yasui is trying his best to bring a victory home to his daughter on the last Christmas before his divorce. But Rei sees Yasui’s mistakes before he does.

That means he can see more moves ahead, which means Yasui never had a chance. Throughout the game, Rei feels like he’s walking on eggshells around the faintly alcohol-scented ol’ bastard, and doesn’t feel particularly good about dispatching him so easily.

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When Yasui slinks away without the bag containing a gift for his daughter, Rei tries to be a nice guy and gets the bag back to him. Yasui pretends it isn’t his at first, but Rei presses the issue and Yasui angrily snatches it away before continuing off, probably to get drunk.

All the while, I was thinking about how unwise it was for Rei to involve himself in the personal lives of the sadsack opponents he beats. They’re not your problem, dude. You gotta focus on winning matches so you can eat and pay the bills.

Turns out…he listened!

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WRONG, Trump, WRONG! Not everything is Rei’s fault! It’s his opponents’ faults they lost, because they weren’t good enough to beat him. He realizes there’s a “beast” inside of him, fighting for his survival, that will elicit no mercy once the battle has begun.

No matter how he became a shogi player, the fact of the matter is, he’s a Shogi Player, and a damn good one. He’s sick of feeling like shit for beating people…and allowing Kyoko to keep that river of shit flowing. Could this be a turning point?

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3-gatsu no Lion – 09

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Rei isn’t feeling great about having to bring down a guy who’s been playing more than twice as long as he’s been alive, and that feeling doesn’t improve when he spots his opponent, Matsunaga, praying at a local shrine and acting very erratic.

The old man’s inscrutability translates to his shogi game, which Rei can’t quite suss out, even to the point he wonders if Matsunaga is placing pieces randomly. He also starts to doubt if his opponent’s stress is real or all an act. Neither can we; his opaqueness makes for some entertaining human observation.

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When the match is over, and Rei wins, Matsunaga nearly falls down some stairs (the same stairs Rei was going to use to sneak away), and ends up treating the old man to a sumptuous feast and more than he can drink. Turns out Rei is a nice guy like Kyouko said, because he doesn’t leave the man’s side as long as he’s not certain he’ll be okay.

But he will be okay. The liquor greases the hinges of the door to Matsunaga’s heart, and he opens up to us and Rei. Rei may not be able to fathom forty years of shogi, but hearing the old man speak of the addictive elation of victory despite the bitterness of defeat (and he’s suffered a lot more defeats than Rei), he’s able to finally relate. Those are the same things he feels.

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Even if Rei claims to hate shogi, and Matsunaga can’t answer the question of whether he likes it, the fact of the matter is, they are both shogi players. So when Kyouko calls to gloat over Rei having to “strangle an old dog”, Rei proudly announces that Matsunaga will, in fact, not be retiring from shogi after all.

Rather than serve as a young, beautiful grim reaper for the old man, Rei, their match, and the night that followed, made him reconsider quitting the game, even after Rei beat him (that, and he really doesn’t want to do house chores).

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Matsunaga this week, as I’m sure Rei didn’t. But I was pleasantly surprised by the swiftness with which his character was fleshed out. This week was a sprawling profile of the guy, from his knowledge of Fukushima history to the drive to play not snuffed out by Rei. Sorry Kyouko – no win for you!

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3-gatsu no Lion – 08

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3GL doesn’t conform to the usual one-twentyish-minute-episode per week, usually splitting into two or more parts. Never has the transition between two segments been as dramatic as this week, but it works in the show’s favor: Nikaidou’s teaching sessions and all the cat stuff was cute, but was also getting kinda old. I will say that it was nice of Nikaidou to buy Rei a sofa bed. That apartment needs more stuff in it!

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The hook for the much darker and emotionally dense second segment is beautifully illustrated when Rei recalls seeing a bolt of lightning in a clear blue sky: the harbinger of a storm. It’s one of his most powerful memories, and it appears – in a sense – at his doorstep when he comes home one night in the form of his estranged (I guess?) adoptive sister, Kouda Kyouko.

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From the moment we see this present-day, all-grown-up Kyouko, it’s clear the camera is a stand-in for Rei’s gaze. The camera loves Kyouko. Her piercing eyes, her golden locks, her painted toes – it’s all lovingly, enthusiastically captured, and evokes quite a bit of thought about what’s going on beneath the surface of this human bolt of lightning.

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What’s certain is that for all her talk of not knowing Rei very well, she does know one thing perhaps no one else does: she knows he doesn’t love shogi, or at least his relationship to shogi isn’t a simple as love or hate. I loved the ambiguity of Kyouko’s visit – at times she seems almost half-nice – before saying something she knows full well will upset her adoptive little brother.

Some scenes, out of context, make it appear like Rei and Kyouko might be involved in that way; which wouldn’t be a first, considering one of Rei’s darker memories has her on top of him. But the segment unfolds like a fantastic, seductive two-person play, brimming with atmosphere, tension, and malice, it wrapped around me like that overly-fluffy futon. The soundtrack that accompanied it was fantastic.

Kyouko saves her sharpest dagger for the morning, as walks out the door, warning Rei that the match he probably has to win will be against an elderly player who will be demoted and retire if he loses. Kyouko is the bolt that brings pounding rain to Rei’s life. Rei’s better at shogi, but she’s better at mind games. And yet…I don’t loathe, or even dislike her.

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Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt – 01

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Sunrise had a Christmas present of a kind ready for me today: another Gundam series that looks and feels like it could take place in the same universe and timeline as IBO, even exist in the same debris field that show’s cast is currently engaged in. In fact, IBO takes place in “P.D.” (Post Disaster) 323, while Thunderbolt takes place in U.C. 0079, the same year as the original Gundam, making it a direct spin-off.

Unlike Recon in G, but like the new Star Wars movie, it’s easy to settle into this world, which comes down to the juicy details. A melange of the ordinary (smoking, romances, jazz drumming on consoles, waiting on standby) and the extraordinary (the tremendous speed of battle, how quickly tides can turn, the blood-and-guts brutality of the battles) create a rich world in a scant fifteen minutes and change.

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The show also makes clear there’s no good or bad guy here, only two different warring sides who each have their reasons to fight. The Federation ace Io Fleming loves the freedom of space combat. Zeon’s Daryl Lorenz, who like many of his comrades has prosthetic legs, seems more serious, duty- and honor-bound. Many of their comrades die beside them in this episode, causing a great deal of grief for everyone who knew them but they keep on ticking.

Above all Thunderbolt portrays this futuristic life as a hard one, no matter which side you’re on, and no matter what you’re fighting for. It’s scuffed and gritty and bleak, so one living in such a world would tend to retreat into the embrace of the opposite sex, or porn, or carve out a little hollow of peace, be it girls or plants or music. Notably, Io prefers free jazz, while Daryl’s tastes hew more towards more structured pop music.

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After his own suit is destroyed, Io manages to EVA over to the Zeon snipers, take one out, and steal his suit to return to his ship. His captain (with whom he seems to be on close terms with) assigns him to a new prototype, Gundam, because everyone who outranked him is dead.

Whether it’s mobile suits, trained pilots, or simply flesh-and-blood limbs, everything is in short supply here in Thunderbolt, on the bleeding edge. And while Io embraces the increased  power of his iconic new suit, Daryl plans revenge against him for the death of his comrade.

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P.S. If the music reminded you of Cowboy Bebop, that’s because it was composed by Kikuchi Naruyoshi, saxophonist for The Seatbelts.