I’ve read some wonderful articles about Akiyuki Shinbo’s role at Shaft and let me lay this out for you. Anime fans seem to love/hate him for all the wrong reasons. Because his name always pop up in almost Shaft’s shows, together with Shaft’s very distinctive styles (to put it very mildly), anime viewers have often mistaken him as being a sole lead director of Shaft. Well, far from it. If you really take notice, more often than not in Shaft shows there are two directors: Shinbo and someone else. Usually that someone else is the main director, and Shinbo, well, if I can put his role more accurately, he’s more like an artistic supervisor than an actual director. Since he took his role in Shaft back in 2004, his main roles have been tutoring the young staffs to bring their own visual styles, and ensuring that every Shaft’s shows are consistently weird. After all, being distinctively and consistently weird means that they have a brand. Shaft’s brand. All that lead to two things. First, Shinbo has always been a director, but in that sense, he has directed Shaft the studio than really directed any Shaft’s show. Second, he didn’t solely direct any shows because he couldn’t; considering all his commitments. Prior to the airing of 3-gatsu no Lion, I originally thought the show’s going to be his first sole effort in director chair, but then I checked again and apparently Kenjirou Okada is a co-director. So, that means they repeat the circle again. Well, c’est la vie.
Now on to the actual episode itself, it seems like 3-gatsu no Lion formula is one half of Rei and his shogi life, and the other half about him having great time with the sisters. Contrast to last week’s lack-of-dialogue first half when we followed Rei gets on the train to compete with his adoptive father, this first half is loud and sometimes silly with many eccentric shogi players. Those characters might lighten up the screen a bit, but they are far from the show’s best moments. Actually, I think it is intentional to introduce those high-energy shogi players. They are here to contrast with Rei’s loneliness, almost emptied living space and as a result they kind of spark a little life into the guy. Judging from that I think those parts work as a whole but there are still some tonal imbalances between this first half and the rest. We were witnessed to the real shogi match and while I have no idea about shogi, the show did a great job of NOT creating any tension towards this match, but instead show the match as Rei’s professional everyday life. The reason why this guy Issa wanted to win so badly is conveyed very well and that shed a new light into his character. That’s what I love about this show’s writing. Through little moments or little details that we gather, we can understand more about their personalities. Many of those characters already feel like human.
The shogi senpais drag Kei to Misaki bar where Akari works and this is where the two parts connected. From last week we already know that Akari helps her grandpa to set up shop in the morning, now we get to learn her day job. Akari looks just gorgeous here but her natural gestures towards Kei and her friendly attitudes towards the senpais make her really feel like a different person. Through her story we get to know that the first time Akari met Kei, he was drunk and was dumped by the other upperclassmen. Rei’s now living alone all by himself so that makes him an easy target for those guys to play around with him. At least things could’ve been worse I suppose. If there is one thing that I really like about Shaft’s adaptation to this manga, it is their editing. They are not smooth per se but each cut they make, they highlight very well the theme of the show. The motif of water bubbling, ice bubbling, and papers flying up all represent his isolations and the feeling he hide inside that keep boiling over the surface.
In the second part, Rei joins the three sisters preparing for the Obon festival. It is a Japanese 3-days custom to remember the ancestors of one’s family because it is believed that on those 3 days the spirits of them will revisit their former households. This custom of course fit very well with the show. We learned that Rei’s parents passed away, so did the three sisters’ mother ad grandma (I’m not sure about the father though). The Obon festival, without saying, is the one event that they want to forget. Rei did forget about the time right after his parents deceased, and I totally understand that. At those time he felt like he’s floating (which again match up with the motif), saw the world around him in black and white (kudos to Shaft’s visual art style again), and felt lost. Those three sisters are something reminiscent of the family he would’ve have.
For now, just two episodes, the show already establishes a solid fundamental emotional core. 3-gatsu no Lion maintains its very confident pacing. Shaft’s aesthetic visual styles actually strengthen the show right now, reinforce the emotions without become too distracting. The show follows slowly to the manga (2 episodes for 4 chapters? This will be a long ride indeed). I know so far the show’s not perfect, but there’s no denying that just in 2 episodes, 3-gatsu no Lion is already a poignant little beast.