Posted on 12 November 2017 with categories: 3-gatsu no Lion, Currently Watching:

During the bizarre cold open of this makeshift two-parter, the thought flashed across my mind: are we getting one last bit of frivolity before the other shoe drops, or is wackiness the new normal for 3-gatsu? Over the last couple weeks, we’ve witnessed a lot of exaggerated behavior from characters like Hiyashida-sensei, Nikaidou, and even Rei himself, and as much as it pleases me to see everyone enjoying shogi and loving life, I’ve been waiting for the series to take a dramatic turn. I’ll even confess to experiencing a sinking feeling as Rei’s self-proclaimed rival engaged in his usual hysterics during “June,” wondering if the rest of this season was going to be more of the same. But if you’ve seen both of these episodes (which you almost certainly have, since this post is weeks overdue), you already know that my worrying was in vain. From the moment Akari opened that door to reveal her sister’s mismatched shoes and teary eyes, this show put me through an emotional wringer as powerful as anything from its first season. 3-gatsu, I’m sorry I ever doubted you.

Apart from the inherent injustice of Hinata’s circumstances, what makes her story particularly effective is how strongly Rei can relate to her. He’s been bullied for a good portion of his life, whether it was being labeled a robot on the class chalkboard, having a classmate refuse to sit next to him on a field trip, or getting cans full of rocks chucked at his head. As a quiet, introverted kid, made more quiet and introverted by the death of his biological family, Rei was a perfect target for bullying by exclusion. The show even refreshes our memory on the subject just before telling Hina’s story, so it’s easy to identify her withdrawal at home as a symptom of bullying. When the truth finally comes out, Rei is horrified to realize that the pain he once felt is now being visited upon someone who has always supported him. And when Hinata bolts from her house, filled with shame and self-loathing, there’s no question of who will follow. The only thing he manages to say before sprinting after her is, “I will.”

Bullying in Japan is often characterized by its intensity, and the scope with which it’s carried out. Entire classrooms can ally themselves against individuals in the name of conformity, and even teachers may be complicit, as they are in this case. Though Hinata’s sensei refuses to acknowledge the abuse occurring just under her nose, kind-hearted Hina could never abandon a friend, so she sits with Chiho during lunch and sticks up for her in class. But Chiho eventually changes schools, and the bullies shift their sights to the closest remaining target. After Hinata recounts all of this to her family, she begs through her sobs for Akari to tell her what she ought to have done to save her friend. But later, as she confesses her fear and sorrow to Rei on that bench by the river, she starts on the long journey of putting herself back together. With big Ghibli tears dripping down her face, she raises her voice and screams in defiance of her classmates, teachers, and culture that what she did was right.

That was the moment where I lost all control. How could Hinata, who never goes anywhere without a smile, be reduced to this scared and angry state? How could the incompetents running that school allow any of this to happen? The girls who stole her shoes could work their whole lives and still fail to pay for the hurt they caused her. I was furious – but Rei, despite all the bullying he’s endured, had a different reaction. His promise to Hinata, to stay with her and to spend the rest of his life paying her back for her kindness, closely resembled a marriage proposal, and his commitment felt just as strong. He even got down on one knee before making his big declaration, which I’m sure was a conscious decision on Umino-sensei’s part. When Rei described the feeling of being saved by Hina’s courage, it struck me that both of these characters are uniquely positioned to help the other. Hinata’s good nature allows her to extend warmth to people who dwell in dark places, and Rei’s familiarity with that darkness enables him to lead others out of it. This episode, more than any other, has convinced me of their suitedness for one another, and of my love for this series. May it continue for years to come.

Some other thoughts about these episodes:

  • Though Rei’s initial reaction by the river is one of dedication and compassion, he later thinks to himself that he wants to rip Hina’s tormentors limb from limb. Episode 26 even closes with him wracking his brain for a way to improve her situation, so we haven’t reached the end of this story yet.
  • The symbolism behind the ladybug in “Ladybug Bush (Part 3)” was a stumper for me, perhaps because of the language barrier. I did a little Googling, and it turns out that aside from the general superstition of ladybugs bringing good luck, they can also represent impending happiness, or the idea that one’s troubles have come to an end. Hinata would welcome either possibility, I’m sure.
  • Someji’s commendation of his granddaughter’s courage warmed my heart (and what a fantastic lesson for little Momo), but even more moving were the contents of the dinner that Akari prepared for her little sister: deep-fried chicken, potato salad, and cream stew, all of Hinata’s favorite foods. The fictional moments that touch me most are always the ones where people are good to each other.
Posted on 30 October 2017 with categories: 3-gatsu no Lion, Currently Watching:

Ask the average 3-gatsu fan who embodies the heart and soul of the show, and they’re likely to say Momo, the precocious preschool-aged sister in the Kawamoto trio. Another popular pick would be Hinata, whose sensitivity and unflagging support for Rei make her an invaluable member of the cast. Yet despite their big fanbase and importance in balancing the series’ tone, we hardly got a glimpse of them in the last episode, and they were nowhere to be found in this one. Though I haven’t read the manga, I’ve heard that Hinata will be the focus of a big arc in the near future, so I guess Umino-sensei is saving the ever-popular sisters for that moment. In the meantime, we got to reconnect with plenty of familiar faces in this episode, including Nikaidou, Smith, Gotou, and Kyouko. How nice to be reunited with friends!

I talked a lot last week about Yanagihara, who became one of the show’s most captivating characters practically overnight, and he cemented that feeling for me in “Chaos.” The man really commands a room, shutting down Rei and Nikaidou’s antics and forcing others to accommodate his need for space as the Meijin title match continues. Many other pros tolerate the eccentricities of their fellow shogi players, but Yanagihara puts the game above all else – including people, one suspects. Not even Gotou, whose imposing frame and viper’s tongue cause people to tread carefully around him, can phase the old master as he studies the Souya/Kumakura match. Still, there’s a chill in the air during their scene together, with mournful strings blaring in the background as they size each other up. Based on Rei’s dislike for Gotou (who is sleeping with his adopted sister), one might assume this tragic background track is meant to foreshadow a conflict between the prodigy and his most hated opponent. It seems to me, though, that Yanagihara and Gotou will be the ones sitting across the board from one another before too long. Their personalities and schools of thought are too different not to clash with shogi as a metaphor.

Contrary to my prediction about the Meijin match, Kumakura managed to take it to a seventh and final game. Given the way Souya checkmates him to protect his title, however, it’s safe to say there’s still a sizeable skill gap between the two. I was impressed by the way the show handled this scene: the match commentator and nearly every pro in the shogi hall couldn’t make sense of the move, but after thinking for a while, Kumakura gracefully admitted defeat, stunning nearly everyone. Apart from the two men engaged in combat, only Yanagihara realized it was mate in 17 moves, and only after playing it out did the truth become obvious to everyone else. 3-gatsu isn’t exactly a top-shelf psychological anime, but I’m always intrigued by the way it portrays its 9-dan players as existing on another plane of reality. Souya typically looks so fragile that a strong gust might blow him to pieces, but the wind in his world blows where he commands it. The show keeps giving us peeks into Shimada’s home, where the former challenger appears to be playing along with the current TV broadcast, never leaving his house or contacting anyone. If getting swept 4-0 can do this much damage to a man, how much anguish must Kumakura be experiencing, having tasted victory only to get blown back by Souya’s superhuman foresight?

Even with such a pivotal match taking place this early in the season, the highlight of this episode was what we learned about Gotou after he left the shogi hall. Rei’s biggest problem with the man isn’t just that he’s sleeping with Kyouko, but that he’s having an affair with her, and for anime-only fans, that fact has stained our perception of his character… until now. In a very tender hospital scene, the show reveals that his wife Misako is in a coma, and that the skincare products Kyouko bought for him were intended for her. Kyouko knows this, and asks if she ought to accompany him during his visit, but despite their continued intimacy, Gotou doesn’t want a lover’s comfort while visiting the woman he married. The show generates nothing for pity for these characters here, including Kyouko, whose feelings of loneliness and paternal abandonment drive her to show up at Gotou’s apartment later that night. She sweet-talks her way in, overriding his protests in a brief moment of levity, but the mood becomes sorrowful again as Kyouko observes his physical and emotional exhaustion. Forced to put her selfishness aside, she finds that she can’t get angry with him, which leaves her with only their shared pain to consider. This type of emotional gut punch is one of the things I love most about 3-gatsu, but deep down I’m waiting for the moment when Rei must contemplate his own pain and loss once again, since that’s what drew me to this show in the first place.

Posted on 26 October 2017 with categories: 3-gatsu no Lion, Currently Watching:

When 3-gatsu no Lion first aired in the fall of 2016, there was a heated controversy among manga fans about the appropriateness of Shaft’s adaptation. The show was undeniably faithful to its parent material in terms of story, but its abstract visuals and quirky mood shifts gave it a different flavor than its predecessor. Although Umino-sensei personally requested that Shaft handle the TV series, the decision was met with resistance by part of her fanbase, some of whom swore off the anime completely. Happily, I approached 3-gatsu last year with no prior expectations to weigh me down, and it became one of my favorite series in recent memory, and a virtual lock for my top 10 list in a couple months. Despite my love for the work, I opted not to read the manga during the offseason (a self-imposed restriction I’ll be sure to lift one day), so these blog posts will be written without knowledge of future events. I also want to say a quick thank you to Mario, who has graciously allowed me to continue where his coverage of the story left off six months ago. Cheers, mate!

After the previous season concluded on such a hopeful note, I was curious about which version of Rei we’d get in this opening episode: sadsack Rei or social Rei. Despite his clear growth leading up to this point, 3-gatsu hasn’t been afraid to isolate its main character as he struggles to break free of his anxiety and depression. The show opted to continue where its hopeful season finale left off, though, so we got to spend a delightful half hour with a friendly, optimistic Rei. Seeing him in a teaching role within the new Shogi Science Club was really satisfying – some of the best teachers are driven to give to others the type of care they never received, which I sensed from him in this opening scene. His style of instruction was gentle, but occasionally urgent, as if knowing just when Noguchi (the mustachioed senpai of the club) needed a push to continue with his frustrating shogi training. I really enjoyed the back-and-forth between these two, since Noguchi is much more mature than Rei, but maintains a willing attitude as a student for the benefit of his new friend. Their relationship isn’t just a one-way street, either, with the elder boy walking Rei through the process of creating homemade ramune candy, which he eagerly brought back to the Kawamoto household to share with the girls.

The lack of screen time given to Akari, Hinata, and Momo was a little disappointing, but the majority of this cast is interesting enough to have entire episodes structed around them. This one cut between the club’s viewing of the Meijin title match, the match itself, and the private musings of two legendary figures, who I’ll talk about in a bit. The current Meijin, Souya, is an unstoppable force in the shogi world, but it’s his opponent who dominated their scenes together. We only got a glimpse of Kumakura Kengo last season, but we received much more than that here, as he positively devoured the sweets that were brought to him during the match. The peculiar shots of delicate cakes being crushed, all set to a heavy electric guitar riff, were about as Shaft-y as you can get in a scene featuring two adult men eating. This was the one spot where the show’s visual presentation was distracting for me, but it was certainly a memorable way to convey Kumakura’s strength and intensity. Stern-faced and looming in stature, Kumakura appears to present a difficult obstacle for the Meijin, but given Souya’s place as 3-gatsu’s “final boss,” I doubt he’ll struggle too long before putting away his challenger.

The first of the two legends I mentioned earlier is Jinguuji Takanori, the chairman of the Japan Shogi Association. We’re already familiar with the fun-loving, responsibility-shirking chairman from his multiple appearances in the previous season, but his character took on a different dimension in his conversations here. The man sitting across from him was Yanagihara Sakutarou, whose name I only found by Googling, since it wasn’t mentioned in the episode. I really appreciated that 3-gatsu went for naturalism during his first appearance, rather than putting a title card on screen to inform us of his name, date of birth, JSA rank, blood type, and favorite foods. From the dialogue between these two men, we learn that Yanagihara is set to face Souya in a future tournament, where even the reigning shogi champ will occupy the role of challenger. Yanagihara is nearing 60, but his wry sense of humor is very much intact; though he confesses to fearing the Meijin, his tone verges on disrespectful as he describes Souya’s talent. The chairman even labels his playstyle as “mocking,” an accusation which his friend protests only half-heartedly. Based on their playful, layered conversation, I’m already looking forward to the moment when Yanagihara steps into the ring to face his destined opponent.

Posted on 20 March 2017 with categories: 3-gatsu no Lion, Currently Watching:

We get to an end of 3-gatsu run but it feels more like a new beginning. Like what I feared last week the last episode doesn’t really have a conclusive ending, instead offers us the new semester of Rei and his childhood and his shogi, which in all fairness are the weaker parts of 3-gatsu. In part I understand it’s tricky to make a conclusive ending point when you’re in the middle of the story, especially for a slice-of-life drama like this one, and the series does attempt to bring some out of order material to shows us how Rei has maturing up to that point. Fortunate for us, they greenlighted the second season which will air in this Fall season (I will be there blogging) so I’m not that dread over this “ending”; but they totally could turn last-week episode into the final episode and I’d be completely content with it. Okay, I’m done rambling now so let see what this episode has offered us.

Rei starts a new semester and again he finds himself unable to make new friends. Hayashida-sensei (becoming my favorite teacher that is) suggests him to form a shogi club, so that Rei can make new friends and he can still be Rei’s adviser. In all honesty, I would love to see his shogi club instead of the “shogi science club” and I find that students have zero interest in the old game kind of stretching it a bit (I’d join myself, especially if I know a professional player is the club president). But the merging of the club make sense narratively: if you want result, you need to take action. Rei still wants to go back to study because he wants the feeling of not running away, and lately he actually enjoys himself a bit more so I’m sure joining with those guys will be a great experience for him. Also, Noguchi’s moustache is great.

While this first half is generally light-hearted, the second half delves into Rei’s personal problems from way back: the feeling of a lone wolf that doesn’t feel belong to anywhere and scare that the sit next to him will forever be empty. That little trip in his childhood underlines his loneliness. He hides himself from everyone and eating bento all alone, looking at the ants and reading shogi all by himself. There’s also a sad feeling concerning his childhood, so he devotes himself to shogi. With him, shogi is not only the place to belong, but also the place that offers him his companions, offers him the seat where he knows for sure would be taken by his opponents. Then we have a metaphor of he’s riding a train of shogi, with all the shogi players tagging along into the great shiny shogi paradise. But here lies an interesting bit, the show has constantly showed us that the path of shogi is a path that people keeps wandering ahead in the wasteland-like, lonely and suffered; here we have the totally opposite visual metaphor. I guess it just depends on perspective, on how you choose to look at it huh?

In the end, I still have plenty of good time with this episode but it isn’t among its great ones, let alone be worthy enough to be a final episode of this season. I mean, there’s no three sisters, no Kyouko, even no shogi match this week. Normally I would give the show a proper full review, but since it’s confirmed that we will have a second season, plus the fact that I believe with this kind of story we’re better reviewing it as a complete story, I will hold off my full review for now. Overall, I still believe Shaft did a great job of adapting it, and while the shows still have some tonal issues and problems of adapting too faithfully to the source material, the show really shines whenever it digs deep to the characters and fleshes out their relationships. Rarely a show can write characters that deep and heartfelt so I feel overall pleased that we have the next season to look for. Until then.

Posted on 13 March 2017 with categories: 3-gatsu no Lion, Currently Watching:

I have a serious recall on the first episode while watching this episode. Like that premiere, this episode is divided sharply into two half, one focuses on Rei with his shogi life, the other pays attention to three sisters and Rei; and also like that premiere, each half is compelling on its own and brings out the feels that make the whole episode so rewarding. I could go so far to say that this episode IS the warmest episode of 3-gatsu we have encountered yet, to the point that this episode’s warm-heartedness might be the best way to end this season (but then again, we still have 1 more episode). Almost every character has a happy, joyful times. Well, they pretty much deserve to have a rose-color moments once in awhile, especially after weeks after weeks of depressions from Rei and then Shimada.

Coming back to Shimada’s hometown for a shogi festival, which many fun events like Human Shogi or 100 Move events, Shimada can’t help but feeling that he let people in his town down. He expects the old folks would cheer him up, tell him it’s alright despite him losing straight matches, and that make him feel even more guilty. What he doesn’t expect is that the old people in the town don’t even really mind about that title match. They love him and support him in different ways, not by the mere win – loss that Shimada always pushes himself to. The last part when the old men tell him to not rush forward make him realize that he has been pushing himself a little too much. The support from his hometown is always meant to give him strength, not as a pressure that he needs to achieve. It’s great if he can succeed on the road he choose, but either way they will always love him all the same, because simply he means much more to them than the shogi master title. And it’s so warming to hear the extend he goes to provide his old folks a community that they can share time together, playing shogi, eating food and getting daily necessities back home.

Seeing Shimada have a moment of relaxation and smiling with his folks are rewarding on its own, but Rei again is pretty in sync with the place as well. “I felt connected to it”, this might be one of those rare times that Rei really feels like he belong to somewhere, and it’s great to see him passionately talk about Shimada in front of the reporter. Although threatened by the “unexpected” rain, the Shogi festival turns out to be a lot of fun. Harunobu fits this festival so well and you can really see the pride of all people emerge themselves to this events. Every Human Shogi player has their face high up, every person in the 100 Move event waits excitingly, yet patiently to play with the professionals. This might be strictly my own preference but this kind of events I prefer much better than the professional shogi tournaments. This is the kind of events where fun is FUNdamental, where everyone just need to enjoy themselves to the fullest and worry about nothing else.

And I’m glad the Kawamoto sisters are back. I missed them so much to the point that I wouldn’t really mind if the entire second half just focus on them and their own little cute problems, be it their struggle over the new sweet creation, or their bigger struggle of staying away from sweet cake; but then it ties with Rei in the end so well that it brings the most heartfelt moments in this already-solid episode. In this episode, they recalled the sisters’ mom again with such achingly fond memory, and that tender moment really tugs my heartstring. The comedy in the second half mostly works well, Momo again steals the scene and Hina still shines with her directness persona, and I swear if they selling that Puffy Daruma I will be the first in line to try it. In the end, I get out of this episode feeling wholly satisfied and warm, something that I never expect the show could achieve so flawlessly. Now if only the last episode could give me that satisfaction. And a conclusive ending point (with the next chapter named “The New Semester” though, I do have my worry).

Posted on 6 March 2017 with categories: 3-gatsu no Lion, Currently Watching:

With this episode we come to an end of Shimada’s title challenge matches against Souya, and somewhat close his arc down. Shimada time has been very effective and touching time and he proves to be a very worthy addition to the cast. In this episode we get to see his dream: the dream sequence depicted the life Shimada could have been had he given up on shogi. In that dream, he lives a normal, happy life in his village with all the smiling and warmness from his hometown people. While this sequence sure is bittersweet, I can’t help but feel it was a tad heavy-handed. Now, “heavy-handed” is a term that I don’t normally use for 3-gatsu, even I don’t mind those sequences about Rei’s depression, as it lays bare the emotions Rei has been struggling to live his life. But the reason I find this dream a bit forceful is because when you make a career out of something, anything really the feeling of burden and “just stay on your feet and keep walking slowly ahead” are bound to happen. Not just shogi. Here the show tried to paint us that it was the life he sacrificed for his shogi professional path. Well, it’s not like his girlfriend left him because he chose shogi for one thing; moving to the big city to make ends meet and trying to survive is the very struggle of majority of people out there, and shogi career isn’t that bad. It could’ve been much worse. My point is that his dream feels like a wishful dream, and maybe that is the show’s point. Just like any sweet dream, it’s just too bright and too perfect to be real. In this life though, the stomach pain he got represent the responsibility he been carry through from the people from his village. He has to carry that weight and that pain for the rest of his life; but like he acknowledges later on, he embraces that pain because the pain makes him feel alive.

The match between him and Souya ends up in another straight loss for Shimada. Boy, here I thought with all that build-up, the show would just make him win this match so that he could play in his hometown; guess I was underestimated the show’s writing. One interesting thing (and how true) I noticed is that doesn’t matter how Shimada tried his best to climb his way up slowly and steady; in public eyes, at least for now he will be remembered as “the challenger who loss straight matches”, “a loser whose skills ain’t that great to be in the title match”. It’s a shame though the way publicity works, sometimes you just see the ice tips on the surface and ignore the rest of the iceberg. And he comes this close to win that match without even realizing it. The same thing. “Almost winning” still doesn’t mean anything to others but maybe himself, Souya and Rei. All his efforts weren’t rewarded this time, but now he knows that he still has a potential to actually beat the master.

Rei, on the other hand, has become really active lately and I believe he has matured a lot in this trip. It’s great to see him actively feel concern for someone he cares, and moreover express his feeling towards Shimada in the final moments of the match, something that the timid Rei in the beginning of the series wouldn’t dare to do. Witnessing Shimada struggling through matches, his will to play, and finally that “last move” have given him a lot of valuable lessons as well. After he sees the weathered Shimada sleeping soundly on the train back home, he learns that what lies on the other side of the storm is just more furious and non-stop storms. Pretty deep stuff here. At the same time, it reaffirms that our Rei is, in fact, special (surprise surprise! He’s our protagonist after all) to find the final move that only Souya could see afterwards. Kidding aside, it draws the parallel between Souya and Rei, as in term of shogi, they pretty have the same style and the same instinct. The real difference is that while Souya is always portrayed as a perfect inhuman being (time stop around him, snow falls, he doesn’t age), it comes with a price too: he’s so far removed from the rest of the world. With Rei thought, he’s human, he’s imperfect and although he feels lonely at times he has others who actually care for him. They’re not the same in the least. With only 2 episodes left (meaning 4 more chapters), all I can really hope is for 3-gatsu to have a proper ending point. But I really doubt that, since like in real life; we, and life itself, just keep moving on.

Posted on 27 February 2017 with categories: 3-gatsu no Lion, Currently Watching:

This week we have an episode that dedicated to Shimada the 8th Dan and overall it was a satisfying episode. Looking back to his first introduction, I’m even more amazed how the show pulled his character off by purposely made him insignificant when we first met him both by his plain appearance and by Rei’s occupied thoughts on Gotou; until he demanded Rei’s and our full attention. He might be plain and always seems to be lurking in the background (and the show keep pointing that out as well), but as this episode proves magnificently, even ordinary everyday man has his own personal compelling tales to tell, just like real people we meet in our lives. Chica Umino is a masterclass when it comes to character writing and I’m in overall happy with what she accomplished to Shimada’s character here.

Starting off by Shimada’s flashback on his rural hometown and how he gotten into shougi, we followed his perspective on the struggle he had to stand on his own in the shogi world. We usually find this kind of flashback in other anime as well, the whole episode focused on certain character’s backstory to flesh out the character, but in this case I would argue this flashback is an example on how to use it right. Because in addition of giving more depth to Shimada, this flashback never at once feel out of place or even disrupt the flow of the story. Everything they showed in that flashback was just deepen what we already know about Shimada. That night bus keeps squeaking as it runs through the night perfectly sum up thematically his struggle towards just barely make it there to shogi, become “a small fish in a sea of sharks” and keeping the hope from the people in his town (man, how I love this writing). I had been in night buses before (and night planes that took forever) so I can relate to it all to well. Waking up and there’s a different, unfamiliar world awaiting you; but the moment when you’re alone in those buses waiting to get there was the loneliest time ever. His stomach pain also represents his pressure towards the kindness and hope of the people in his village; but those hopes (and that heartfelt banter) are something that keep him going, that make him try harder and harder in his shogi path.

I’m honestly quite surprised about Rei, as he takes a very good care of Shimada in this episode; because let me tell ya, taking care of a person is a freaking demanding job. He felt a bit responsible for Shimada’s current stomach pain so he decided to accompany him to Kyoto (that place! One of my favorite place that is). Rei has gotten more active roles lately and I’m glad that he starts to take care (AKA giving his support) to others because then people can rely back to him. It’s the right step in the right direction for our protagonist. It’s interesting to note that he’s actually shared the same thinking with Souya regarding shogi, because mostly they play the same all-rounder style and both relatively “genius” among his peers. Well, the Souya comparison will get more apparent as Rei’s getting better at his game I’m sure, but it’s still nice to see that Shimida acknowledged it sooner than anyone else. Also, we learn a bit more about Souya. He’s like an outcast, I don’t think he feels belong to this shogi world, but he keeps getting forward without looking back and apart from that he doesn’t care for anything else at all, just wandering around places with his mind in the sky. There’s really a thin line between a genius and a fool after all. Next week, we gonna see how the title match in Kyoto progress and I hope this time Shimada can break through so that he could play shogi in his hometown. You have my full support Shimada.

Posted on 20 February 2017 with categories: 3-gatsu no Lion, Currently Watching:

We have a fairly typical 3-gatsu this week, in which its level of quality is what we come to expect now. Its awkward shift in tone and the lack of big thematic plot points are still prominent in this episode, but we also have many heart-warming little moments, occasional touch of visual greatness and the plot that focus balancedly on Rei in his professional shogi life, his social life and his personal life. The notion of hometown, in particular, plays a big theme in this episode. As Shimada talks about his hometown to Rei, there’s really nothing in his town, just farmland, yet he tries his best so he can play the title match in that town again. Doesn’t matter where you end up living, the place where you spend childhood will always give a special, nostalgic feeling to you. And where is the place that Rei consider his home anyways? His true life was taken away from him when he was too young; spending 10 years in a house with little to no happiness; and now living alone in an empty apartment? Is it the sisters’ house then, the house he was just accustomed himself to recently? That song “Hometown” in the end really brings the sad, quiet feeling and it was one hell of a way to end the episode. Nice craft, Shaft!

Although I would be more interested to see the title matches between Souya and Gotou instead, bringing Shimada to face Souya actually benefits the story better. Shimada is still at the level that isn’t out of Rei’s reach, so to see the man’s commitment to face off the top shogi player is a valuable experience for Rei. While I feel that they overplayed the part where Darth Vader and Yoda shogi fighting and the endlessly shogi rambling (still, steamed bun joke was very good), I like the way Rei feel unsettling about the situation in the workshop. He’s the allrounder type, so he tends to focus more on the overall situation than the specific puzzle, unlike those two. The water motif again is very on point this week, depicting Shimada’s spirit and his will through the influx of water that nearly swept Rei away. I’m glad that Rei has gotten really over his depression few episodes ago and now keeps trying to improve his game, both tactically and mentally.

It’s his time with Hayashida-sensei, however, gives the episode a lot of heart. Hayashida has become more and more important to Rei’s current life and he feels like one of a prominent character now, the way he makes his best effort to keep Rei engaging his school life socially. He is one of the best sensei Rei could’ve had (on a second thought, not really, since he actually encourages Rei to skip class and nearly cost the poor boy another year), not only helping him get along with his study life, but moreover gives him many valid advices and heartfelt comments. Rei always has a feeling that he’s currently in a standstill: he doesn’t get along well at school, barely make it pass the year, his ranking isn’t improving… but Hayashida pointed out correctly how he has been fighting all this time at an age that normally shouldn’t be bothered to try. While I’d would give the exact opposite advice if I were him- someone in Rei’s age needs to go get out more and explore the world- his sincere comment at least reaffirm Rei’s worth, his life isn’t empty as he think it is. He carries a big burden especially for someone his age and it’d be much better if he understands that his friends are more than happy to carry the load along with him.

And here comes more Hina and Momo moments. I was a bit afraid that having the sisters meet Kyouko would disrupt the balance of the tone of the series, but thank god it didn’t. The three sisters are always brimming with light and warmness, while Kyouko’s always surrounded by dark nights and cold detachments, so how can they mesh together on the same screen? After all, how often you see the sun and the moon together? And isn’t it those times when they are together a special occasions? This week, it’s nice to see Hina and Momo get into Rei’s apartment for the lamest excuse (yeah, like they need that bento box that urgency!), but Hina’s emotional directness always work for someone who always hide his feeling like Rei. Rei makes that moment even sadder when he admitted that Kyouko is his sister, but clearly they don’t share any siblings chemistry at all. It’s perfectly normal when siblings having a fight with each other once in awhile. It isn’t when they having a fight every single time. In fact, the only close-to-sibling-ly moments they shared together was when Kyouko teased Rei about the three sisters. Only Arika sees through this complex relationship and I hope we have a more touching moments the next time Rei encounter the three sisters. Now, allow me to end this post here so I can watch some Squirrely-sensei programme and go to that Mouseland for some adventure!!

Posted on 13 February 2017 with categories: 3-gatsu no Lion, Currently Watching:

Wow, this episode! This is one of the strongest 3-gatsu episode that we’ve encountered so far, both rich in effective little moments, strong characters interactions and smart visual executions. Speeding up to three chapters per episode might be this episode’s most successful trick, because 1) these 3 chapters are interconnected by the same narrative themes and 2) it allows strong moments to sink in faster, and much sharper and 3) the amount of solid characters moments is definitely much higher than normal 3-gatsu episode and this is one of the rare times in 3-gatsu experience that I do feel like I’ve been sink at the bottom of the sea with too much of a good things, for good reasons. The episode produces one of the most breathtaking visual that directly convey the mood and themes of the story. The water motif have been applied effectively throughout the series’ run, but here it adds another layer: both Rei and Kyouko are lost deep within the sea of life, suffocated by the pressure of everything around. The dim lights of her phone to create that light waves of sea is one of the show’s most sensitive visual-storytelling for me. Or the moment the rain just stop after Rei noticed Souya is equally impressive. Shaft carries this show with style, and this episode especially they brings out the best from its source, even the lighter scenes are brimming with finely-tuned touch.

Harunobu, as long last, has catched up with Rei, not only in their professional ranking sense, but also about their maturity. As Rei struggled with his forms and several depressions, Harunobu makes one steady step forward at a time, while fixedly aim at his goal ahead. Harunobu has gained a lot of strong material here and as of now I don’t mind to have his accompany at all. On the other spectrum, the sudden appearance of Souya gives the show the almost dreamlike quality. Souya here is portrayed as someone out of this world, the one who can stop the time, who is unchanged in his appearance after 10 odd years, an angel that so pure and powerful that it brings the force of destruction instead. When people compare him to demon, guess what really remind me of? The old shogi player Matsunaga commented about Rei himself as a “beautiful reaper”. Guess there’s not much difference between Souya and Rei then.

Kyouko also makes the most out of her screen time this week and this might be the first time we have a full picture of Kyouko and her relationship with Rei. In this episode, she’s in her usual spiteful mood at one time, become spirited and playful at other and then deeply vulnerable the next. Her bashing out on the sisters is heavy and malicious, yes, but it comes from her own pain and belief that Rei was the one wrecking her family. What she said isn’t entirely wrong though, As Rei found himself very much at home at the sisters’ house, but still hearing those intentions from a dark and mean perspective certainly is hard. Afterwards, after staying over Rei’s house though, Kyouko amps up her playfulness and really that light tone between them isn’t something we see very often, if at all. The comedy mostly works here and they give off a great chemistry with each other. Kyouko then breaks down, she’s unsure about how to deal with her life. At heart, both of them are pretty insecure individuals, sharing almost the same pain of trying to figure out the way through life. Their relationship, moreover, become much complex and Rei remarks so true in the end “we also haven’t been able to become siblings nor remain strangers”. This was a beautiful chapter.

But the greatest moments for me was when the sisters appearing while Rei and Kyouko having an arguments. At long last, the two forces of nature: the warm, light side from the sisters and the dark, destructive side from Kyouko finally collided and the result is a weird mixed of raw, dark feeling with surprisingly warm-hearted touch. Momo again steals her scene, Hina again is the voice of “follow your heart” sentiments and watching Hina fighting Kyouko might be the greatest pleasure ever (also: Momo calling her “witch”). Those contrasted forces produce such unique sparks that in my book this is one of the show’s brightest and most effective moments. 3-gatsu no Lion is going stronger than ever, and this solid episode comes totally expected because it draws from the current strengths the show has been well established throughout its run. The only downside with it is that now I won’t expect less from it. I know I have been spoiled with too much Kyouko’s and three sister’s moments but give me more doses of excellent characters writing please. Otherwise I would get really pissed-off, just like Hina-chan.

Posted on 8 February 2017 with categories: 3-gatsu no Lion, Currently Watching:

3-gatsu had another solid episode this week, which for now was exactly what you would expect from this show. Rei’s getting more social life, and this episode demonstrates the importance of the tutors’ roles, as both Hayashida-sensei and Shimada continues to guide him to improve himself, both in his personal life as well as his professional shogi life. But “solid” and “expected” also means that I don’t really have a lot to delve into, so instead of doing an usual format, I will try something different this time, running the episode down by key moments and giving you my thoughts on those. Notes that this is just one-off, mostly for the sake of trying something different.  

If you really think about it, this “arson club” is the kind of club that Rei would never be a part of. They are as different from Rei as chalk and chesse. The club is noisy, active and silly, Rei isn’t. They try to make soap to attract girls, the kind of thing that Rei would never dare to try. Yet, they’re getting along well, because the club is determined to help Rei out. This section gets as silly and light-heart that it could get, but this is the light-heartedness that I wanted to see. Like Hiyashida-sensei, just watching Rei enjoying himself with other people is rewarding enough.

But here, we have one of the most satisfied life lesson that one could learn from his sensei for a long while. Heck, this life lesson still resonates well even to me, more than 10 years older than Rei right now. You need to rely on others sometimes in things that otherwise difficult when you do it alone, because then people can rely back to you. Rei is the kind of person who doesn’t want to trouble his friends for his personal problems, which is fair enough, but by doing that he creates a border that others can’t cross, and in turns they keep their distance with him. I haven’t really talked about him in details before but Hiyashida-sensei proves to be one of the most reliable tutor Rei could’ve had for guiding him to be more open in his social life. Rei needs more friends, that’s a given, and seeing him slowly realize the significance of opening up to someone else is really satisfying.

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