3-gatsu no Lion comes out of its lull to give us perhaps its best episode yet, as it confronts Rei’s painful past in the form of flashbacks.
And, in fact, we start with one. As a kid, Rei played shogi with one of his father’s friends, Masachika. He was bullied at school and had no friends. He didn’t like shogi, but it was the precious time he could spend with his father, so he trained hard as he could.
But Rei’s reflections are interrupted by Akari’s call. She needs him to pick Momo up. He promptly does. It is an adorable moment, one of candid intimacy between a soon-to-be adult and a small child. The contrast between the two is striking, but Momo’s fun turns sour when she stumbles while running away from an overly excitable dog. She’s crying while Rei does his best to treat her (light) wounds. It’s a fairly banal scene – Akari tells our protagonist babies often fall… yet his overly apologetic stance hides the fact that, while holding Momo’s tiny hand, he too was crying.
This is when Akari reveals why to the whole family: Rei too used to have a little sister.
But… she died, along with the rest of his family, in a car accident while Rei was still a young child. This was a turning point in his life, and not just emotionally. While he sat there lost at the funerals, a scene of depressing cynicism was unfolding before his eyes. Some were badmouthing others, while these people were trying to gain the patriarch’s favor – said patriarch being more worried about the inheritance of his business than the pure emotional trauma. For all intent and purpose, no one cared about the silent boy. This is when Masachika came, and asked him a simple question: “do you like shogi?”. No, he didn’t. But he also knew that, if he were to keep living, he had to tell this one lie.
And he thus entered the “house of shogi”.
And now, on to the family story. But it has to be introduced with Rei’s present worries about the coming apart of one object: his green cardigan. Why is it of significance? Because it was none other than this father (Masachika) who gave it to him. It is the last remaining physical link between the two.
Under the roof were Masachika’s two biological children: Kyouko, for years Rei’s elder, and one Ayumu of the same age as him. The former, a very talented girl, received particularly harsh treatment from her father. She was wild in every sense of the term – talent, personality, beauty – and couldn’t stand Rei’s guts. She couldn’t stand his talent, and the way her father treated him like his own kid. But she was also uncontrollable because she knew that, as Masachika’s child, the only choice to remain part of the house was to improve her playing.
And Ayumu became a fine example. Unable to meet his father’s expectations, and with his grades dropping, he quit shogi and became entranced in video games. The father offered no support, either: he knows that the path to being a pro is one ever-increasingly difficult that requires the player to drive themselves. Someone who needs support from such a young age won’t be able to make it.
But the most bitter moment of irony came when, in front of the world, Rei triumphed from Masachika’s other biological child. After beating her, Kyouko was told to quit by none other than her dad. In the end, none of the shogi lover’s children made the cut, but a boy from another family did.
Kyouko’s lifestyle became helplessly dissolute after this humiliation. Seeing this, Rei compared himself to a cuckoo (a species which engages in brood parasitism); he knew he had to leave this house before tearing it apart. And that he did, taking only his father’s cardigan with him.
One may wonder just what prompted these reflections in Rei – they didn’t all come in one go, and it is not the first time we see him in apartment lacking anything to do. But no matter the origin, this episode was absolutely essential. We now know he never enjoyed shogi, and why he’s living alone without any family to speak of. Everything used to be shrouded in mystery, leaving Rei’s pain as a fact of life, widely accepted yet with an unacceptable lack of sense behind it. And now, here we have it, this sense we were anticipating. We know just what happened in Rei’s past – and effectively, we know who he is now. We know that he doesn’t like shogi, and that he’s someone who’s either been removed or willingly removed himself from family. This chain of sad scenes wasn’t the lightest one to watch (Kyouko’s sheer violence for instance was represented with perfect effectiveness), but it was needed. We mentioned the visual effectiveness, but the writing was also potent. The cuckoo comparison gives a wild, unforgiving aspect to Rei’s behavior that certainly helps the scene’s impact. And now we can finally make sense of Rei as well as his relation to the Kawamoto household.
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