3-gatsu no Lion – 12

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I watched this episode in a similar environment to the one Rei keeps finding himself in after recovering from his illness; a place very hard to leave once you’re there, like a kotatsu. It’s currently 20 degrees F and snowing outside, but I’m nice and toasty in my apartment with a hot mug of cocoa, and because it’s Saturday and I don’t have a possibly career-defining tournament to participate in, I’m more than content to stay right there!

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Now that he’s better, Rei has some serious things to consider. Chief among them is ‘not losing anymore this year’, including the huge highly-publicized Lion King Tournament. He just barely defeats one opponent (who has a bizarre way with words), and may well have to go up against Gotou, the guy who calls Kyoko a “stalker girl” and who once beat him up. If it wasn’t for Smith, he’d have gotten beaten up again.

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Instead, he heads to the Kawamotos with bags bursting with freshly-caught fish from the association president, and Akari couldn’t be happier, as it means they can save on food expenses for a while. As usual, the home is warm, fuzzy, full of love and hard to leave…but Rei has to leave. He can’t be the best shogi player he can be if he doesn’t go home and study. So he tells Momo as earnestly as he can, and she and Hina tell him to do his best.

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Perhaps like no previous episode, this one really strongly marked the contrast between the Kawamoto Kotatsu and the world outside, using every visual method at its disposal. As bright and warm and colorful as it is in the sisters’ house, it’s dark and cold and bleak, even threatening outside.

But Rei is determined to become someone who can live in both worlds, and neither be trapped in one or unable to endure the other. Joy and pain are both inescapable parts of life he must learn to balance. And the beast inside relishes the potential opportunity to deliver a blow or two to Gotou, not with his fists, but on the shogi board.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 11

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We’re halfway through 3GL, and I’ve been remiss in mentioning Hashimoto Yukari. Who is Hashimoto Yukari? She does the music for 3GL, and it’s been fantastic throughout, but never more so than during Rei’s post-shogi season descent into bedridden delirium. The watercolor aesthetic has always given the show a dreamlike aura; Rei’s fever dreams are that much more dreamlike.

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I’m willing to entertain the fact that Rei’s mention last week of a “beast within him” that feeds on victory in shogi hasn’t been exaggerated. Here we see the beast being starved from lack of competition (since the shogi matches for the year are over), and what such a deficit does to Rei’s body. It stands to reason that someone for whom “shogi is everything” would cease to have anything when the shogi stopped.

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But Rei does have more than shogi going in his life. There’s a lovely Ghibli-esque quality to the manner in which the Kawamoto sisters spirit Rei away to the doctor, then to their home for proper convalescence. In his state when they found him, it was clear Rei was incapable of taking care of himself or lifting his fever in a timely fashion. The sisters basically save him.

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But when he thanks the Kawamotos profusely for saving him and apologizes for interfering with their end-of-year festivities, Akari demurs. After all, she wanted Rei to come and be part of their family; otherwise she says she’d be “cleaning alone and crying”, the hole her lost family members left still raw and festering.

Rei takes her mind off that, and for that, Rei has her thanks. Rei was, as he says, too preoccupied with his own loneliness to recognize the loneliness of another, but that failure to recognize it is now over.

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So despite starting out the episode feeling absolutely miserable in his dim, sparse apartment, Rei ends up not only warmly, cozily ensconced in the Kawamoto residence, feeling much better, but also is perfectly comfortable and at peace in the house—weird bathroom addition and all.

The stickers on the chest of drawers remind him of his life with his mother and sister. That family may no longer be with him, but he has a new family that helps him a lot, and lets him sleep more soundly.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 10

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We were a little confused at first by the new face of Uchiki Yuki (Iguchi Yuka; or Index to Ryou’s Railgun), but this was a beautiful episode about anxiety, loneliness, and the power of pizza to tackle both.

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With Winter in its last throes but Spring yet to bloom (much like the weather where I am), Kirin is worried about a lot of things, from getting into high school to making friends there, to the state of the country’s crops and the effect of environmental damage on the earth.

After a horror movie doesn’t help Kirin’s mood, Ryou remembers she left the futons out on the balcony, and that’s when the two of them hear a depressing phone conversation from Ryou’s shy, sad, lonely neighbor directly below them.

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When one of Ryou’s futons slips off the balcony, it takes Kirin with it, which turns out to be a fateful incident. Ryou was ready to stop eavesdropping and go inside, but Kirin’s spill means they have no choice but to interact with Yuki, and vice-versa.

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Because we’re dealing with three uncommonly nice people, the earnest apologies fly where insults might infect the interactions of lesser humans. Ryou and Kirin both notice Yuki gets so stuck in her thoughts she creates and reacts outwardly to entire narratives she cooks up in there.

Kirin sees the same anxiety in Yuki that she herself is feeling, and that anxiety, while negative on its own, becomes a positive because it brings these two together. It also shows Yuki that if someone as bright and spunky as Kirin can feel the same things she can, she suddenly doesn’t feel so alone.

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A ring at the doorbell comes; it’s a pizza delivery girl. And boy, this might just be the tastiest pizza I have ever seen animated. In fact, it is. But while she obviously doesn’t skimp when it comes to quality, there’s still a pointed sadness to Yuki’s practicality: the pizza’s toppings are split four ways so she won’t get sick of it even if she eats it for all three meals—which she’s been doing for three weeks.

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Yuki offers the pizza to Ryou and Kirin for their trouble, but Ryou has a far better idea—an idea borne out of her experience sharing food with others, something she’s still rather new to herself: she invites Yuki upstairs so they can eat the pizza together.

As if the pizza wasn’t tasty-looking enough, Ryou and Kirin sweeten the deal with their usual poetic, over-the-top reactions to enjoying food, a display that Yuki finds both intriguing and uplifting.

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Ryou insists Yuki have a slice herself, assuring her it will taste better if she eats with them. Yuki gives in, and sure enough, she has the same kind of experience we’ve come to expect from Ryou, Kirin, and Shiina. In fact, eating the pizza with them brings out a whole other side of her personality. She doesn’t hold her tongue when it comes to describing the deliciousness.

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The unexpectedly joyful evening, along with Ryou and Kirin’s invitation for home-cooked meal in the future, infuses Yuki with a fresh courage and outlook on her situation, which she uses to bravely face an orientation the next day.

Meanwhile, Ryou learned that a very nice person lives close by whom she should hang out more with, and Kirin learned that as long as she has as a full stomach, she too can face whatever the future brings.

As for me, in all honesty I would have ordered a fancy pizza from a gourmet pizzeria nearby, but it’s St. Patrick’s Day and I’ve corned beef on the stove. Oh well; there’s always tomorrow!

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Koufuku Graffiti – 09

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This week, it’s not just New Year’s Eve, but also the anniversary of Ryou and Kirin meeting. That calls for more than just New Year’s Soba. Shiina, who will be off with her family (apparently a dangerous affair) suggests Oden, and Ryou agrees: Oden it is.

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Kirin doesn’t reserve a seat and has to wait for an late train because she was watching TV, while Ryou polishes her home to a blinding sheen, starts cooking, and a single innocent taste ends up being closer to a dozen tastes, to the point we thought Ryou might accidentally eat all the oden before Kirin arrived.

To me, this sequence kind of felt like early Thanksgiving day, when everyone is either in transit or preparing the feast. To avoid further temptation, Ryou leaves the house to wait for Kirin at the station, as she did the first time they met.

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She recalls how lonely it once felt to watch loved ones reunite at the station. Now, she has someone to wait for, and after waiting out in the cold so long with a skirt and no gloves or hat, Kirin, who is still warm from the train, is a welcome presence. You can really feel the love as they hug again on the way to Ryou’s house.

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After positively stuffing themselves on soba, boiled eggs, daikon, konjac, fishcakes, and mochi-stuffed fried tofu (!), they, along with Ryou’s aunt, strike back out into the cold night for their first shrine visit of the year, and cut through that cold with piping cups of amazake, which I’ve never tried before but now MUST, as the way its described and the manner in which it’s enjoyed make it all but irresistible.

There’s also the fact that after a year, Kirin has gotten better at acting like her lovely charming self around adults. It’s a subtle but welcome development, as one day Kirin will be an adult herself, so she’d better get used to interacting with them, beyond her own parents.

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Akira ditches Kirin and her niece to drink with some dudes, so Ryou and Kirin head back home and have some oden leftovers. As Ryou watches a content Kirin resting her head on the table, she tells Kirin how it was her who taught her that food tastes better when sharing it with those you love.

Ryou also wishes, in her head, that even many New Years from now, the two of them will remain friends who share their cooking with one another. Kirin then echoes Ryou’s thoughts out loud, suggesting they will indeed be good friends many years down the road.

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