3-gatsu no Lion goes, to the general surprise, with an episode mostly dedicated to none other than shogi; and we gain further insight into the show’s ever more attaching cast along the way.
It is a new dawn, but certainly not one like any other; especially not for Harunobu. It is the day he gets to face his lifelong rival in an official, all-important match again. No one in the world is more enthusiastic than him about it. Rei is far more blasé, but is caught reminiscing nevertheless.
Midsummer is when malls organize shogi tournaments aimed at skilled kids like him and his rival. It is under crushing conditions that they’d faced one another first. Harunobu, who has always had health problems (it’s later revealed that he’s been taking medicine for his kidneys since childhood), looked like he was about to collapse. Rei, a caring child, thought of ending this match quickly as possible, especially as the inevitability of his victory was only growing more evident.
This is when Rei learned what it means to be a competitor. Against both the natural conditions and the flow of play, Harunobu resisted with all he had, stretching the game until he had not a single move left; and when he had to admit defeat, it is not relief that filled his heart, but huge teardrops that poured from his eyes.
The conditions in this new encounter (Rei’s first match as a pro) are similar… but the match quite different. Rei doesn’t have all the dominance he used to; for long stretches it is Harunobu who’s firmly on the front foot, and Rei who has to ward off his relentless attack. But his ability to regain his composure even in the face of such surprises ultimately pays off and forces a gut-wrenching “I lost” out of Harunobu’s mouth.
It’s amusing to see how far they’ve come: both have improved tremendously, yet the difference remains the same. But the ending will come to remind us that, though both their endeavors are admirable, Rei has lost something precious Harunobu never has: joy for playing the game. Harunobu is devastated about the loss, while Rei takes it as just another win. This is perhaps the match’s greatest worth: showing the past linking these two important characters, and the two’s evolution, whether positive or negative.
Harunobu’s servant, Nanaoka, has come back early, and is here to support him in the face of not only defeat, but also his health issues. It’s a heartwarming scene, one that he needs more than anything else right now.
But heartwarming isn’t the quality that defines the end of this episode in spite of Rei’s victory. Back at the Kawamoto house for the ending of O-bon, he’s forced to notice the ceremoniousness and nostalgia that fills the air. They make sure to accompany their parents on their journey, sending them back in religious manner.
At the end of it all, Hina tells an obvious lie about going to the convenience store to buy a manga. Rei is told to follow suit, which he discreetly does. They eventually reach the river, where Rei is confronted with a heart-rending sight: Hina crying to the moon, calling out for her mother.
And just like that, we’re confronted with a whole new side of this energetic girl’s personality. Having to care for Momo, having to lead her life as if all was normal, having to maintain her energy; all of that is enormously taxing on a young girl like her. She misses her mother. She wasn’t ready for her to go.
This resonates deeply within Rei, who had shown his own worries the door. He thought ruminating over them was useless; but seeing Hina like this, he starts thinking he may need to confront his inner pain rather than shutting it away. So, when he has to come over to protect Hina from two unscrupulous guys, he lets her cry all she wants. It’s a moment not only of violent sadness, but also of calm, profound self-examination for our protagonist.
The ending is brilliant: it’s abrupt, emotional, but also pleasingly introspective. Seeing Hina’s weakness endears her to us, just as it hits Rei himself hard.
Once again, 3-gatsu no Lion is strong. Very strong. While the utterly calm approach to shogi will be a source of complaints, it’s impossible to deny how humane it is; even the matches echo Rei’s mindset effectively. As the ending shows, some issues the characters are facing are linked, forming a coherent whole; each individual issue is made more powerful by how it echoes another. This creates a small world within which there may just be a way out for everyone involved.
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