3-gatsu no Lion has been a show I’ve been recommended over a dozen times by numerous friends of mine. A well acclaimed source material, the brilliant Akiyuki Shinbou as director, and the production team of Studio Shaft, it’s a combination that shouldn’t fail in any timeline, and boy does it not disappoint.
As my first time watching 3-gatsu, the first thing that stood out to me was the clear mark of Akiyuki Shinbou’s directing and Shaft’s artistic touch. The entire beginning scene of Rei waking up is a quiet and beautifully sad scene. Rei’s room lacks any furniture whatsoever and it seems that the majority of his belongings are imprisoned in boxes, empty ramen cups do their job of establishing our main character’s state of life as unhealthy and lonely, shogi training books and a personal shogi table are more than enough to reveal Rei’s personal drive, and his choice of clothing is only a fight between olive pants or jeans. But perhaps the most saddening part of the scene is when Rei slides open his balcony window, revealing a spectacular view of the river. The water is blue and beautiful, and most people would probably be ecstatic at having such a view. However, our Rei Kiriyama doesn’t even hint at a smile, instead looking out with a deadpan expression. It’s just such an awesome scene that establishes so much about Rei’s character, and I’d go as far as to say that the introduction ‘nightmare’ of the woman insulting Rei was unnecessary in hindsight. God and this is only the first scene!
The momentum of the first scene doesn’t stop as Rei leaves his apartment, cueing a French song to accompany his journey across the city. The commute emphasizes once again how alone he is, and the beautiful scenery of the city falls flat to the dead eyes of Rei. Even when he arrives at his destination, the Shogi Hall, his face is expressionless and dead. A classic anime protagonist.
When I first watched the match between Rei and his father, I didn’t think too much of it. It was clear that the two had some history, but I would’ve never expected it to have been a serious match with his own father. I’m still unsure of whether it’s his biological father, adoptive father, or perhaps their relationship is far more complicated than that, but I’m sure it’ll be revealed in future episodes. The match itself is quite tense and we hear nothing but the soft music and the quiet sliding of Shogi pieces. It’s another beautiful scene that has Rei’s past interwoven throughout the turns, revealing Rei’s past with Kyouko and Ayumu, along with his ‘break up’ of sorts.
After all these artsy scenes and beautiful shots of the city, Shaft flips the entire show on its head with the introduction of Momo, Hinata, and Akari. They’re hyper, talkative, happy, always smiling, their first scene revolves around them worshipping pudding and ice cream. It’s such a sharp contrast from the scenes before that I was a bit taken aback, but it quickly becomes clear that they’re something that Rei desperately needs. His eyes are nowhere near as dead and rather than silently brooding like he has been for the past ten minutes, he’s getting flustered and doesn’t seem to despise existence. Momo is absolutely adorable, Hinata is just as endearing, and Akari holds up just as well. Their chemistry is very well done and the family curry dinner feels cozy and genuine. In fact the entire anime changes tone from cold bleak to cozy warmth, and it becomes far clearer that although Rei’s life revolves around Shogi, it has
become a source of inner conflict for him. He can’t avoid regressing to the cold bleak when he watches the news about a bludgeoning murder, connecting it to his Shogi match from earlier that day. He feels as if every Shogi move he made was another strike, beating his ‘father’ down.
Thankfully for our depressed Rei, Hinata notices his shaking hands and runs to bring him some medicine. This family of three really is a godsend for Rei and I hope nothing bad ever happens to them, but I have an uneasy feeling. It’s revealed during the dinner scene that Hinata, Akari, and Momo’s mother and grandmother have passed away, leaving them with only their grandfather. I’m unsure of where the father is, but perhaps that’ll be a plot point in the future? If anime gods exist they’ll make sure nothing tragic happens to these three, I mean c’mon they help their grandfather out at his shop!
The episode ends with the entrance of a chubby kid, probably a former Shogi friend? Anyway the first episode was spectacular. Let’s see how things go in episode 2!
It was pretty hilarious to start episode two and be met with Rei’s explanation on why he stares at the river, or walks across bridges. My initial interpretation of it was completely wrong, he’s not staring off into the distance in a state of perpetual sadness, but instead finds it soothing! Of course this doesn’t nullify the fact that Rei clearly has internal issues that are stressing him out, but it does change the entire perspective on the first scene from episode one! He was staring at the river to soothe himself after the nightmare, and to calm himself on match days. It’s a much less depressing truth than my assumption, and I’m quite glad he’s not as emotionally hollow as I thought.
We’re also introduced to Issa Matsumoto, a hotheaded, fiery character that could very easily fit the niche of perverted best friend that is all too common in a lot of Slice of Life anime. Rei’s match with Matsumoto is amusing, with the latter’s loud playstyle scaring the quiet Rei. I have no idea how Shogi is played, but I expect it’s quite difficult to teach, so 3-gatsu’s author made the choice not to go on a tangent explaining its rule and intricacies. The plays are highlighted with black text on a white background, a signature Studio Shaft choice, along with a upbeat track playing throughout. Rei defeats Issa, sending the latter into a depressive state wallowing in sorrow. Issa’s friend, Smith, drops a sudden feels bomb on the viewers by revealing Issa’s motivation for winning the NHK cup.
Luckily for Issa, Smith knows exactly how to cheer him up and the three depart to meet Akari, the oldest sister! This was a huge shocker for me, I had no idea Akari had a nighttime job as a hostess? I thought she was just a mother-like figure that spent her time helping out gramps at his store, but I suppose that’s a bit unrealistic, it’s quite a large family to feed after all. As Issa struggles to contain his love for Akari, Akari reveals quite quickly her origins with Rei. Although most of the details are left out, we learn that Rei was once forced into drinking and then abandoned in front of the bar. Good thing Akari has the heart of an angel and chose to take him in, who knows how badly he’d be doing without having met Akari’s happy family.
I’m also not exactly sure how this anime manages to be so comfortable and cozy, while having this underlying sadness. The entire Obon sequence is a family dinner with karaage and comedic cats, yet the grandpa’s comments to Momo made me feel so sad. It’s honestly a tonal balance I don’t see often in anime and segways perfectly into Rei’s backstory, which is tragic all in itself, a car accident that killed both this parents.
It’s now quite understandable while Rei is the way he is, but this episode reveals that even Akari’s seemingly happy family isn’t all fun and games. Akari says, “Having someone over will be a good distraction,” and once again 3-gatsu outdoes itself with its underlying sadness. It’s a combination of the soft art, the music, and of course the writing, but all together it’s amazingly sad.
3-gatsu is outdoing its amazing episode one, and I think I understand why so many of my friends love this show. It has this strange mixture of wholesome happiness and tragic feels that leaves me feeling emotionally drained after an episode that shouldn’t be that sad. I am very much looking forward to future episodes, and I’ll most definitely keep up with the reader request.
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I recall the endcards for 3-gatsu were done by a number of prolific/veteran mangaka & illustrators.
For example, you had endcards by Hara Tetsuo (Fist of the North Star), Hagio Moto (Heart of Thomas, considered the founder of modern shoujo), and Suetsugu Yuki (Chihayafuru), to name a few.
Every time I watch this show, I think of this song
Not sure if you allow links, but it’s “Watashi no Uso (Piano Version)” from the Your Lie in April OST. I know you guys dropped the show early on, but the OST is very spot on.
What’s great about this show is that everyone has a backstory. It’s really a strength how the author manages to give everyone a bit of personality. I like how you focus on what I feel are the strengths of this show. I can’t wait for your review of the next episodes.
Also, a cat that looks like an owl.
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