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.
3-Gatsu No Lion is a difficult anime to write a review for. It belongs to the same category of anime as Fune wo Amu, a special group that reminds us that anime is not all shounen and harem. Anime is not just for kids or just for adults. Anime is the medium and it can tell so many different stories.
3-Gatsu No Lion is one of those stories. A tale of a man called Rei Kiriyama who has to battle against depression and find meaning in a life that seems meaningless.
Japanese Title: 晴信 / 夜空のむこう
No pre-opening scenes set the mood for this episode as we jumped straight to the amazing intro song from BUMP OF CHICKEN. Chapter Five: Harunobou and Chapter Six: Beyond the Night Sky took us through a full day of Rei’s life, from his first shogi match as a professional player to his first encounter with the sensitive side of the Kawamoto family.
Rei’s narration dominates the episode. The only time we hear someone else talk is when either Rei is not present or when his words are not enough to convey the meaning of the scene. This is a story that unveils itself in front of the viewers and for the viewers. It’s a lesson in life, and as a lesson it starts the same way it eventually ends, with a personal story of loss and perseverance. Rei and Nikaidou first crossed their paths in a summer tournament on the top of a department store. Rei remembers Nikaidou’s perseverance and torment. The heat was unbearable but it was especially stressful to Nikaidou who endured it whole because he didn’t want to lose. Rei, sure he was going to win, wanted to end the match as soon as possible so Nikaidou could get to a cooler place. His arrogance, he later realized, was disrespectful to his opponent’s determination. In their first professional match, Rei and Nikaidou found themselves in a similar state to that first match: the heat was unbearable and their determination was unparalleled. But this time it was Rei who finally realized what happened all those years ago: he didn’t want to lose. No matter the cost, he didn’t want to lose. The parallel between that match and this one made me sympathize with both players. I thought that no matter how many shounen anime will try to convince me otherwise, this is the true meaning of friendship. An indirect relationship that fuels each other with the determination needed to survive – and to succeed. My sympathy for Nikaidou grew after I learned a bit about his backstory and his health issues.
The second part is as bittersweet as the first. In Chapter Six: Beyond the Night Sky, the Kawamoto family ends the Obon Festival and sends their lost family members back to the spirit world. The whole segment had a sad but kind feeling as all sisters and the grandfather were calm and went through the ritual with a dignity you rarely meet in real life. Hina, however, kept a little too much inside. She wanted to cry and mourn and shout to the moon and that’s what she did. But she did it alone, without burdening anyone but the river, and Rei who followed her prompted by a concerned grandpa. Rei shared with us his thoughts about loss, making all the more clearer that he suffers from depression. ‘I chased all the bad thoughts out of my head’, he says, ‘was that the right thing to do?’
Miniature Meal: The Kawamoto sisters left a meal made of miniature dishes in the altar. We bought and opened a whole box of a similar miniature set that is sold in convenience stores in Japan. The collection is called Hinata no Takaramon and it features the middle sister, Hina-chan! Check our unboxing here!
Hina Crying: I shivered the moment Rei found Hina on the bridge. The direction was amazing. The muting of the sound gave me the right amount of time I needed to build myself emotionally to grasp the sadness in Hina-chan’s tears.
Manga Nikaidou: I didn’t really get the reference, but seeing Nikaidou portrayed as a manga character to properly show his determination was hilarious.
Shogi Match: I still haven’t checked the rules for shogi. Shame on me, I know, but I still enjoyed the match. The background piano piece elevated the action and the parallel to that first match when they were children made me relate to the characters. I may have no clue what happened in the match, but I certainly know what happened with the characters.
Rituals: Also called habits, these are routines that people keep in certain circumstances. For instance, Rei is always bringing a bottle of still water and a bottle of green tea in every shogi match. I always play a certain combination of chords before every guitar practice. I have a friend who has to write with a certain pen or he doesn’t write at all. Steven Pressfield always recites the first line of Homer’s Odyssey before he starts putting words on screen. Do you have any rituals of your own?
I am a sucker for sad stories that seem real and very well could be. As much as I agree that anime and manga are entertainment and we should be entertained, for me ‘entertainment’ doesn’t necessarily mean having fun or laughing my heart our or even shouting at the screen trying to become a Super Saiyan. Anime is an artistic medium that, if done right, can provide a window to the world. I knew that this series was going to be such a window from the moment I heard that the manga is written by Chica Umino, the creator of Honey and Clover. I am not a regular manga reader, but I think I’m going to give this one a shot.
That’s the simile Rei used for being a professional shogi player: It’s like boarding a train that never stops. You either continue riding it or you fall off. I am sure this simile doesn’t refer only to shogi in the episode, but that it is also connected to the sadness Rei is feeling and the reasons behind his undivided focus on the game.
Did you like the episode? Let me know in the comments!
To be broadcast on October 8 at 23:00 via NHK General TV