Far from jumping right into the shogi action, 3-gatsu no Lion goes for an introspective offering. While the choice is fine, it underlines one important aspect: the shogi is no more than an outlet in this show.
For those who want a “pure” sports anime, 3-gatsu simply isn’t the place to be. The closest it gets to a serious shogi match is when he talks about it with lifelong rival-cum-best buddy Harunobu. The well-rounded boy’s from an affluent family, but he’s offered his servant Hanaoka a trip around the world, so he’s got not one to monitor him for a whole eighty days. He consequently invades Rei’s apartment and eats pizza while attempting to act as the archetypal shounen manga rival… but Rei just isn’t receptive to the trope.
Now we know he has such a weirdo for a friend… why not introduce more of his weird acquaintances? Let’s start with Issa, from the same shogi club, 10 years or so his elder, and a fiery man… who can’t win against the meek Rei for all his acts of (reckless) bravery. But why does he have to meet another madcap? Well, they have a match. They’re striving to compete in the NHK Cup… and Issa really wanted to go. The cup is broadcast nationwide, and he wanted his ill grandpa who’s remained in the country to watch his exploits. But it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to go that far…
So he goes to the bar for some consolation – it’s Rei’s treat, of course. They’re accompanied by nice and mature Smith. Despite having such different personalities, the three of them have point in common… their sensitivity to the waitress’ charms. This beautiful woman’s name is none other than Akari, the gentle girl who always welcomes Rei to her home along with her two sisters Hina and Momo. Despite being somewhat of a motherly figure, Rei’s clearly weak to her sheer elegance.
As part of his introspective experience, we get flashbacks of their first encounter. It seems Rei wasn’t always so well surrounded, and past senpai treated him quite terribly. She picked him up one night he had been forced to drink to the point of drunkenness. She carried him home, helped relieve him of the alcohol and let him sleep. Rei says this is part of why he can’t resist her: she’s already seen him at his most pathetic, so there’s no appearance for him to keep up.
This sensitive aspect to Rei’s personality is part of the subtle characterization this episode thrives on. He shows that he’s a maturing youth like any other with this vulnerability to feminine allure, but the episode doesn’t stop at that.
In fact, the episode once again mentions early days in the city to explore his character further. When he first came and was so stressed out, he could only see the city in black and white. But then, Akari and her sisters came around, and told him he could come see them anytime. Though he still questions if that’s true, the mere fact that someone directed these words at him was enough for the city to take on bright colors. This reveals Rei’s dependency on others. While the loss his parents (they’re buried in Nagaoka) and subsequent life alone have forced him to grow, he remains fragile. As a result, he needs others to care for him; and the Kawamoto siblings were to first to reach their hand out to him.
Coincidentally, it’s time for O-bon: a traditional festival during which people go back to their hometowns and take care of their ancestors’ graves. Rei may not be able to go, but this allows us to understand why these siblings are so nice to him. The festivities are calm, a sense of nostalgia wrapping itself around every frame: because they, too, have wounds they can’t open up about. More than understand Rei’s pain, they share it, and that’s why they can accept him without reservations. They provide one another comfort in the knowledge that they’re going through similar feelings.
In a sense, both parties may feel their encounter a blessing. Rei admits it himself: ever since his parents passed away, he’s been in a daze, his every movement a lifeless mechanism. Perhaps these siblings can help get him back on the right path: one on which he can get his joy for playing shogi back.
When 3-gatsu started, few would have expected it to be this slow paced and focused on almost everything except shogi. And yet, in spite of its surprising approach, this second episode was thoroughly enjoyable. Rei’s characterization is subtle, but the sensitive directing (every delicate display of emotions, the withdrawn soundtrack beneath the monologues) give this series a subtlety as a character drama that few series can claim to. Now, surely we’re bound to see more sports in the next episodes (the only match here was fairly comedic): based on how the show handles this aspect, we may have a great series on our hands.
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