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.
Happy New Otaku Year, everybody! Your favorite shogi anime is back with its second back-to-back cour whose end will coincide with the release of the live action movie. 3-gatsu no Lion is not going to hold any punches back this season. This episode introduces the main (physical) antagonist and gives us a struggle we can relate with.
Japanese Title: 対岸にあるもの / 黒い河①
Up until now, 3-gatsu no Lion didn’t have a villain. Rei struggled, of course, with his depression, his troubled past, and his relationship with his sister, but Kyoko is far from the antagonist archetype. I have long suspected that the role will be filled by her mysterious boyfriend, Godou, but I never thought would have guessed that he was a famous shogi player, married, and a jerk. That last one was a lie, I already knew he was a jerk.
Chapter 24: What lies on the opposite shore
What lies on the opposite shore? It seems more like a rhetorical question than an actual inquiry. We have so many times seen that the bridge that connects Rei’s neighborhood to the Kawamoto sisters is more than just a bundle of concrete and wires. It’s a passage from his secluded and lonely life to a life of liveliness and family warmth. After 12 episodes, Rei discovers that the reason he didn’t miss that kind of life is probably because he’d never experienced it before. I don’t find that very hard to believe, especially after the flashbacks of his life with the Kouda family. But the Kawamoto family is like a kotatsu: once you feel its warmth, it is hard to walk away without missing it.
It’s warm, and it makes you feel happy
And that was exactly the thing missing from Rei’s family: warmth, happiness, someone to care for and be cared by. He is no longer content with what he previously felt ‘ok’ with. He starts noticing trivial things, like the ticking of the clock or the sound of the air condition, but it’s not the sounds themselves that hold any significance, but the change of mind that comes with noticing new things. Something has changed inside Rei, and the thought of change terrifies him. He resigns to his logic to bring him out of this pinch. He doesn’t outright decline these new feelings, but instead prioritizes his needs: Yes, this is something he needs to address, but not before focusing on securing his ‘purpose’ and source of livelihood. Mature thinking from a person who has succumbed more than once succumbed to the dark alleys of depression. Another sign of internal change?
The heavy weight of the first part of this chapter was counterbalanced by the quarter-final shogi matches of the Lion King Tournament (I’m a little lost on the time frame of the anime, but I wonder if the name of the tournament has anything to do with the name of the anime.) 3-gatsu no Lion knows how to balance every aspect of its narrative, from the gloomy sequences to the comedic bits, and the tournament was a nice change of pace in which we had the chance to learn a bit more about the upcoming Lion King tournament (ok, I just pictured Simba playing shogi) see a few shogi strategies and hear the thoughts of more players than Rei, like Okuyasu Yokomizo and his master’s incredibly useful advice:
Women may betray you, but stolen pieces never will…
Chapter 25: Black River Part 1
It was the second part though that really gave the series the necessary push it lacked during the first cour. Gotou is a great villain, the one we all love to hate. His character had already been painted by a few references made by Rei and Kyoko, but he remained a distant figure, someone who would or wouldn’t play a role in the future. Now that we have a face and a character to hate, things became much more interesting. I can feel my blood pumping. ‘Hit him’, I shouted to the screen as Gotou started firing him with insults. He brought Rei to his limits and now the only thing that can bring resolution is for Rei to triumph over him at the finals. But, of course, he first needs to go through the semi-finals. Something to wait, yei. Chapter 24 combined with Gotou’s appearance and Rei’s outburst were the catalysts that concluded the episode. For the first time since the beginning of our story, Rei has a real purpose and that purpose helps him see clearly that running is not an option. And by running I don’t mean just from his confrontation with Gotou, but from his own feelings as well. When Momo asks him to stay overnight, he keeps the line between him and the Kawamoto sisters open and inviting: he refuses the invitation and offers not an excuse, but instead a sincere explanation that the girls can understand. She opens his heart to the people that live in the house that feels like a warm kotatsu.
Word Games: I really like word games and puns. So much in fact that many of my friends have applied a veto that dictates my abstinence from such comments when we go out. I was very sad that I couldn’t fully comprehend or appreciate the comments of Takeshi Tsujii.
Old Videogames: Chika Umino must have been (or still is) an avid gamer during the 8 and 16-bit era. When Okuyasu Yokomizo is faced with a dilemma during his game with Mr.Smith, his choices are portrayed in a Jrpg-like dialogue box with his eventual defeat shown in a pixelized frame.
Tournament Names: The tournament ‘Shishi-Ou’ translated as Lion King Tournament, is a play on the prestigious Ryu-Ou Tournament (Dragon King Tournament). What the show is translating as Master Tournament is more commonly known as the Meijin Tournament, and is the most prestigious title both in the show and in real life. Fans of Chihayafuru are probably already very familiar with the title of Meijin.
Jokes: Many cultures associate silly and nonsensical jokes to low temperatures. These jokes are so bad that they give the feeling of an icy cold wind passing through you. The episode had some great visual similes during the match between Rei and his joke-cracking opponent, 9th dan Takeshi Tsujii.
Shogi Prizes: 600.000 JPY is a lot of money (about 5000 US dollars.) Professional players can make quite a profit from taking part in tournaments, with each win raising their bank account by a considerable amount. The same applies to professional players of most sports, including board games, e-sports, and other kind of games.
Shogi Superpowers: Professional shogi and chess players plan their strategy by visualizing in their heads every possible move combination, usually going as far as being able to think three or four moves ahead.
Kotatsu: A kotatsu (炬燵) is that low, wooden table frame you have probably seen more than once in an anime. It is usually covered by a futon, or heavy blanket. Underneath is a heat source, usually an electric stove, often built into the table itself. I haven’t found any references of a similar table outside Japan. If you do use something similar in your country, let me know in the comments below!
This house is like a kotatsu
New cour usually means new opening and ending themes. YUKI sings the new OP, Sayonara Bystander, and Kenshi Yonezu sings the new ED, Orion. Both tunes are great, though not nearly as great as the OP and ED themes from BUMP OF CHICKEN. Fighter was one of the greatest ending themes I have heard in the years. Anime fans are very lucky that they are able to experience so many great Japanese songs through the medium. Of course, the music and anime industry are very closely related and one helps the other.
The Endcard was illustrated by VOFAN, famous for his Monogatari Series designs.
Gotou is a great villain. Arrogant, selfish, and indifferent to Rei’s feelings. I can’t wait for the match between them. I share his anger: REVENGE!
Did you like episode 12 of 3-gatsu no Lion? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to check the rest of our anime episodic reviews for the Winter 2017 season.
Broadcasting from October 8 at 23:00 via NHK General TV