Thanasis is a writer, professional geek, and assistant editor at MANGA.TOKYO. He started watching anime with the mecha shows of the 70s and hasn't stopped since. He loves JRPGs.
In this endless parade of anime productions, once in a while comes a series so good that makes you remember why you love anime in the first place. 3-gatsu no Lion is one of those series, an impressive narrative, beautifully animated. I’ve read that in 2014 it won the Grand Prize of the 18th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize. Now I know why.
Japanese Title: 桐山零 / 河沿いの町
3-Gatsu no Lion (March Comes in Like a Lion -月のライオン) is based on an on-going manga series by Chika Umino who is best known for Honey and Clover. The TV Anime is produced by Shaft and a two-part live action film is already scheduled for March and April 2017. It’s going to be a 22-episode series, directed by Akiyuki Shinbo, character designs by Nobuhiro Sugiyama, and music by Yukari Hashimoto. Both the opening and closing songs are performed by Bump of Chicken.
The summary of the series: Rei (lit. zero) is a 17-year-old professional shōgi player. He has no real family and no real friends. His attitude towards life and shōgi changes when he meets the Kawamoto sisters: Akari, Hinata, and Momo.
The episode starts with a film-like quality I rarely see in TV anime productions. The intro is adorned with a wonderful song from Bump of Chicken over a set of surreal images that remind us the psychological weight our main character has to carry.
This episode (and I guess every episode from now on) is cut into two parts/ chapters (Rei Kiriyama / The Town Along the River). The first part begins with a dream sequence of a woman listing all the reasons Rei’s name (lit. zero) suits him: he has no family, no real friends, he is alone. And that voice is the only thing we’ll hear for the next six minutes. Rei wakes up in an almost empty room, dresses up and heads for the shōgi hall. His movements are slow and derived of any energy. His commute is lonely and sad. His ghostly presence is interrupted only by a sequence of background images and the French lyrics of the soundtrack song. It is evident that Rei suffers from depression, something that is further reinforced by the piano music and the flashback sequences during the shōgi match with his teacher. Even the game in which he has devoted his life seems to be a burden, each piece move sounding louder than the previous. No words were needed. This was atmosphere building at its best.
But Rei’s life is not all gloom and black. It seems that he is close to the Kawamoto family: sisters Akari, Hinata and Momo who live with their grandpa and cats and run a wagashi shop. Their hope is possibly a metaphor that signifies the complete opposite of Rei’s emotional state: it is the warmest and most loving place you have ever encountered. It is full of energy and love and cats who can talk (well, at least we can hear them). The eldest sister and grandpa know that Rei is suffering and they try to keep him close. That surreal, unrealistic scenery is the main theme of the second part of the episode. Cute girls, bizarre scenes, good energy, and vibrant colors.
Images and Music: That’s the only highlight I am going to mention in this episode, because nothing else comes even close. The series’ drawings are beautiful and the multi-scene sequences on top of the soft, calming piano pieces give 3-gatsu no Lion an almost ethereal feeling. This is going to be one tear-jerking story and the atmosphere is already set.
Contrast: This is definitely the main theme of the episode, if not of the whole series. The contrast between depression and love. It’s evident that Rei comes from a troubled family. The Kawamoto family is the exact opposite. When Rei was a child he had a spark in his eyes when he played shōgi. Now his stare is hollow and empty. He doesn’t believe that anyone cares for him, he doesn’t eat properly, and he obviously cries himself to sleep.
Shōgi: Shogi (将棋), also known as Japanese chess or the Generals’ Game, is a two-player strategy board game in the same family as chess, it’s the most popular of the chess variants and it’s native to Japan. I have no idea how to play the game, but according to this page, the popularity of shogi is due to a rule where the captured pieces can be returned to the game by the opponent. David Pritchard credits the drop rule to the practice of 16th century mercenaries who switched loyalties when captured—no doubt as an alternative to execution.
Wagashi: The shop of the Kawamoto family sells wagashi. They are traditional Japanese sweets that are often served with tea. Before the introduction of sugar in Japan, the word kasha (lit. sweets) referred to fruits and nuts. Now, Japanese confectionery is a treat for both the eyes and the palette. They really know how to make sweets.
‘The calm mind is the way’ reads a wall mural during Rei’s shōgi match. His mind is definitely not calm, but rid with regrets, self-doubt, and unbelievable sadness. The story seems familiar (last season Orange dealt with depression as well) but that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting or relevant. Maybe the fact that it’s so relevant should make us think how common the condition is in our age.
Rei’s story is not something new. Hundreds, thousands of similar stories play every day all around us. It seems familiar, maybe a little too bluntly familiar. But that’s what make it even more interesting. I am looking forward to the next episode.
To be broadcast on October 8 at 23:00 via NHK General TV