3-gatsu no Lion has a rare shogi-focused episode… though there’s little actual shogi. The show, once again, centers itself on themes such as the meaning of the game to its player.
We start with a short-lived match between Rei and a rather quirky old man named Matsunaga. He’s an old man, having been a pro for over forty years; rumor has it he’ll retire if he doesn’t get promoted this season. This defeat could be the last for him. The episode starts with many close-ups of Rei’s face covered in dark shades that show the emotional burden this implies for him, and almost put him in a villainous position.
Matsunaga’s erratic play, while confusing at first, is simply not enough to trouble someone of Rei’s talent, and he must quickly admit defeat. Once again it’s telling that the match is mostly comedic: it is no more than a light introduction into the mind of the player called Matsunaga. Why is he so erratic? Here the colors are light, there’s imagery of animals and Rei’s lively inner monologue. But at night, on the side of the river where streetlights don’t reach (a visual theme that reminds us of Rei’s emotional difficulties), he reveals that, while he went in thinking he’d lose, he instinctively started wanting to win.
That said, one must not downplay the value of the match, if only for its entertainment value. In addition to what we mentioned above, the RPG-style presentation, albeit short-lived, is a great move: as if against an opponent with one HP left, Rei decides to launch the decisive attack. It’s a creative and funny moment. This kind of striking of presentation continues into Rei and Matsunaga’s drinking party, as the latter launches into an impressive history lesson complete with amusing redraws of Edo era maps and ukiyo-e. It’s all quite amusing, but one may be critical of all the time spent on comedy. It’s great that Rei isn’t as depressed anymore, but too much of the episode goes into “foreplay”, aka “the most amusing possible introduction of Matsunaga’s character before we actually talk about him seriously”.
Thankfully, the serious talk is worthwhile when it finally comes. Plot-wise, Matsunaga reveals that he doesn’t know if he likes shogi: he loves it when he wins, but hates it when he loses. This is important for Rei, who’d always thought that all these other pros were in love with the game and he was the only ugly duckling. Furthermore, the Van Gogh-like presentation reflects Matsunaga’s emotional turmoil well; it provides an indirect comparison between the shogi player and the artist. Both are haunted by their art.
Kyouko’s call to Rei also helps contrast Rei’s situation with hers. They’re in the same city, yet the lights behind her shine an eerie green; the world she’s living in seems different, more dangerous, reminiscent of Persona 3’s Dark Hour. Meanwhile, Rei’s in a generally dark but quiet place; the lights on the other side are more gentle, and some even reach him to provide him and Matsunaga with a path to follow. Their shadows are even lit up in the end. The scenery is clearly more pleasant and serene for Rei; this is so clear to him, he even ignores Kyouko’s talk.
And here we have another episode of 3-gatsu. It’s well-realized as always (perhaps even more here), though the amount of comedy is an issue (it seems the show can’t find a balance between comedy and depression; it’s either too much of one or the other). That said, the developments are positive: we get a Rei who is finally walking toward the lights the show has always shown as being far from him. It feels like the show’s story is now coming together. With so many episodes to go, it’s maybe time to regain some optimism for the show.
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