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.
The latest episode of 3-gatsu No Lion played like an anime from the 70s. Even though the episode had a clear connection to the main plot, it featured a self-contained story, complete with its own introduction and comedic conclusion. There were a few references to those old days of TV anime, some of which I was able to recognize because my childhood was filled with old-school anime.
Japanese Title: 遠雷② / 遠雷③
I’ve always believed that good stories are both moral stories and focused stories.
By moral stories I don’t mean stories with an implied moral lesson. I mean stories that break the superficial ice of plain narration that we often encounter in fairy tales and take a dive into the cold waters of the human psyche. Do you need to be an expert of psychology to do that? No, of course not. You just need a basic understanding of life, and perhaps a little empathy to go with it.
By focused stories I don’t mean a focus on a certain theme, but instead a focus on a certain person. Every story is unique to the person that experiences it, and by stuffing in too many people, there is less time to properly build on every one of them, even if the writing is exceptional, as it is in 3-gatsu no Lion.
The story of this episode was both a moral and a focused one. Rei recaps in his mind the harsh words of his step-sister as he spies on his 65-year-old rival, Matsunaga-san. He expected a more profound moment to take place as he watched the old shogi professional pray at a Shinto temple. Matsunaga-san wants to win. Of course he does. A life of 40 years playing shogi is hard to abolish in a single day. I am confident that Rei is not the only one who thinks about the future. We all do, no matter what our vocation is or what passion we decide to follow. ‘What will life be in 40 years?’ he asks himself. The soundtrack helps set the sorrowful tone. Will Rei end up like Matsunaga-san, an old dog ready to be put to rest by a young prodigy that still has her future ahead of him? Was Kyoko right?
Every scene we saw was a sneak peek inside the mind of the two players. The game was a little hard to follow (even though I had been trying to learn shogi for the last couple of weeks) but the interactions between them were enough to feel how Matsunaga-san tried to cling on the last game of his career, while Rei was bubbled by every weird move his opponent made. How can you be the nice guy when ‘it’s difficult to even lose on purpose?’
After a few shogi-related scenes, Matsunaga-san lost. What continued in ‘Distant Thunder: Part 3’ was the perfect conclusion to a story about youth and devotion. ‘Do you love shogi?’ Rei asks his elderly friend as the latter cries among a whirlwind of emotions, caused by his feelings for the game and the amounts of alcohol he consumed during their earlier dinner. ‘I don’t know’ he replies. ‘I only know that the extreme happiness I feel when I win and the glooming sorrow when I lose. How do you call that feeling?’ You call it love. You call it passion. You call it whatever you decide to call it after 40 years of doing the same thing, watching the same scenery, feeling frustrated and blessed as you see young prodigies come and go, seeing a young opponent as your very own Shinigami, and after that Shinigami turns from an angel of death to a savior: Because of Rei, Matsunaga-san is not going to retire. Shogi is his life. How could he?
History Lesson: I am sure that every person proud of his hometown would know a story or two. I actually found the segment quite interesting. I never pass on a history lesson, and Matsunaga-san’s passion for Fukushima was inspiring.
Darth Vader: During the game, a shadow emerged behind Matsunaga-san, which was undeniably Darth Vader from Star Wars. You could tell by both the shape and the heavy breathing. Even though I got the reference, I don’t know why it was used at that particular moment. If you have any idea, share it with me in the comments below.
Themes & Trivia
Thinking ahead: Many shogi and chess professional are super-humans. One of my professional chess-playing friends can replay a whole chess game after its completion without any mistake. He would frequently stop, explain why a certain move was beneficial or not, play a few variants on the board, return the pieces the way they were before he deviated from the actual game, and continue with the moves. Just wow.
8-bit Pixel Game: ‘Matsunaga 7th Dan appears.’ The quote comes from the Gameboy versions of the Pokemon game, a quote that was kept for all games thereafter. The pixelized 8-bit version of the game referred to the graphic style of 80s and 90s Japanese role playing games. I am a sucker for pixel art, and I felt my nostalgia meter hitting red.
Floral Backgrounds: The color backgrounds we more than once saw behind Matsunaga-san’s close-ups were frequently used in anime of the 70s and the 80s. Having such a background created a surreal moment that helped focus on the person and the feeling instead of the place in which the action takes place. I’m not very versed in anime techniques (I am getting educated as we speak) but I think that it may have been a way to save on drawing extra backgrounds.
Shogi Song: This was Part Three of the cat shogi song. We saw the Bishop and the King. The song is now out in iTunes if you want to listen to its catchy theme in its entirety.
The anime felt like an episode of a title broadcast in the late 70s. Floral backgrounds, comedic scenes, a focus on the story at hand and not at the story at large. Rei more than once misunderstood the seriousness of a situation, a seriousness that Matsunaga-san made sure to turn into comedy with his comments.
This was a great chapter for the shogi-themed anime. By focusing the action on Rei and Matsunaga-san, we were given a bittersweet story that could stand on its own. I am really glad that the anime will continue for a second back-to-back cour. 3-gatsu no Lion will, of course, be part of our review list for the next anime season, Winter 2017!
Did you like the episode? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to check the rest of our episodic reviews.
NEXT TIME: Something Given (Part 1) / Something Given (Part 2) (贈られたもの① / 贈られたもの②)
Broadcasting from October 8 at 23:00 via NHK General TV