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.
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.
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.
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.