I didn’t touch upon it in my first episode review (mainly because I didn’t catch on), but I’m a big fan of the episode format that 3gatsu uses. It seems to adapt two chapters per episode according to the Crunchyroll titles, and by splitting the episode into two distinct halves, it almost feels like the relaxing, episodic shows that are Natsume Yuujinchou or Kino’s Journey. Episode three’s first half is titled Harunobu and of course revolves around Harunobu Nikaidou, self proclaimed rival of Rei.
It seems like 3gatsu’s mangaka enjoys giving heartfelt backstories to every character introduced, and it makes the anime feel a lot more real. Very few shows go as far as to developing the side characters as 3gatsu has in its first three episodes. Episode one revealed Rei’s ‘father’s’ story and his complicated relationship with Rei himself. In episode two we had Issa Matsumoto and his dream of getting televised on NHK for his grandpa to see. Akari and her siblings are bound to blaze forward with development, but their tragic history has already been established through small comments and the Obon festival of the last episode. Harunobu Nikaidou is no exception and quickly develops beyond the rival archetype into a genuine character.
His history with Rei is revealed through a flashback as Rei reminisces on a hot summer day, long ago. The match plays out and Rei noticed the paling skin of Nikaidou, along with the huge amounts of sweat pouring out from his skin. Arrogantly, Rei decides he’ll finish the match quickly in an act of mercy to Nikaidou, unknowingly insulting Nikaidou’s fighting spirit and love for Shogi. Here is when Nikaidou receives his first leap of development as both we the viewers and Rei learn that Harunobu couldn’t care less about his condition, he wanted to win. Through the terrible heat and the drenching sweat, Nikaidou plays out the match, clinging onto any sliver of hope he can find. He eventually loses, but not after giving his all against Rei. He is at his core, someone who truly loves Shogi and possesses a fiery determination to win, something even Rei comes to respect. Their relationship is also symbolized by the balloons floating away into the sky, with the cold blue of Rei always flying above the bright red of Nikaidou. It’s an artsy way to represent their relationship, and shows how Harunobu is intent on constantly climbing towards Rei, no matter the gap.
As their fates collide once more in the present day, Harunobu displays the same symptoms as he did during their first match. This time, however, Rei requests someone check the air conditioner, displaying his growth as a person since their first match where he stayed silent. But Rei isn’t the only character who’s grown, and Nikaidou tells Rei the heat is nothing compared to that first summer day. Now that is a true act of manliness, and if Nikaidou has definitely earned the respect of any sane viewer. He even puts up such a strong fight that some of his moves baffle Rei, who lets out a smile and decides he too wants to win. Nikaidou loses the match and his caretaker, Hanaoka, reveals Nikaidou’s health problems to us the viewers. It makes one curious how Nikaidou would do against Rei on equal footing, but that is not what we should take away from this. Instead I’ve developed an intense admiration of Nikaidou who tanked through the pain of his condition, determined to defeat Rei at Shogi. It’s manly, it’s honorable, and god it’s respectable.
The second half of the episode is titled, “Beyond the Night Sky,” and follows Rei as he visits Akari and her siblings once more, for the final day of Obon. I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable feels trip that the final day of Obon would bring, but I don’t think there’s any way to actually be ready for it.
“They were all smiling as usual, but somehow a certain solemness permeated the mood.” Rei says that as he watches Akari and her siblings light the final fire for Obon, and I think it captures 3gatsu so well. I mentioned in my previous episode review that 3gatsu has this way of interweaving an underlying feeling of sadness with a happy exterior, and I’m glad Rei notices it too. I’m still not sure what the exact formula for this feeling is, I know the great writing definitely contributes a lot, but it’s also the music. These perfectly melancholy tunes somehow invoke this feeling of crying even when all the characters on screen are smiling, and it’s brilliant. There’s no need for a river of tears, 3gatsu manages to show the sadness without them. Simply seeing the usually loud and happy Momo crying into Akari’s dress is enough to tell us that things are sad, and it really puts a lump in your heart.
This makes Hina’s tears so much more impactful later on. We have this beautiful shot of Hina looking out at the river, with city lights reflecting off its blue surface. When Rei sees Hina’s tears, we see the shards of shattered glass around his face. He realizes how much Hina has been holding it in, putting up a strong front for the family, and it makes you wonder how much Akari or the gramps are holding in as well. Hina sobs as Rei stands beside her, triggering the doubts in Rei’s own head. He reveals how he’s chased away the thought of his deceased parents, not wanting to dwell on things that made him sad. He questions whether it was the right choice, and ends the episode staring at the July sky.
The episode was a rollercoaster of emotions, but in a strange way. It wasn’t a pit of despair that left me depressed, but a mellow sadness that steadily increased. From Nikaidou’s determination to win against Rei to Hina’s breakdown, the episode was stock full of character moments that left me moved.
As I watched Akari tease Hina about her crush in the first few minutes of the episode, it became ever clearer that Akari’s become their family’s substitute for a mother. Perhaps the light-hearted chestnut peeling scene wasn’t supposed to evoke such melancholic thoughts, but I think Akari’s role as substitute will be an important character arc in the future. Having to provide for your younger siblings in the absence of your mother (and father seemingly) at such a young age is no doubt incredibly stressful. It’s been established since the Obon festival that she and the rest of her family are still struggling to cope with the death of their mother, and I can’t help but feel that the strain on Akari will one day cause a crack. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but jeez I really feel for Akari.
But away from the depressing stuff, Hina’s quest for the perfect bento was both funny and adorable. The constant chatter of their cats begging for food and pats, cute Momo sleeping like a stone. All the while, Hina and Akari arguing over the components of the bento. One thinking of romance and the other thinking of price and practicality. It’s beautiful chemistry! I especially loved when Hina grouped feeding their cats as the same as feeding Kiriyama, much to his dismay. But turns out it’s more than just a joke, with Hina later referring to Rei as another stray that Akari picked up. It’s incredibly wholesome how Hina describes Akari’s love for taking in mistreated strays and getting them all fat and fluffy, god why is Akari so pure!?
However, my admiration of the wholesomeness of this show was quickly interrupted by two things. One, Hina failing to give Takahashi the bento after she spent so much time and effort one it. And two, Rei’s flashback after he thought about love. The flashback was odd, the same female figure that we saw in Rei’s nightmare at the start of episode one. The same eyeless face, and wide smile. It seems to suggest that Rei’s been sexually assaulted in the past, but I’m not too sure yet. Another plot point for the future to reveal!
I was feeling very sorry for Hina, but I knew all was well when she returned home to Akari. Akari understands how it was for Hina since she was in the exact same position long ago, and tells Hina that their mother told Akari the same thing in the past. The fact that Akari parroted it to Hina just goes to show how Akari has fulfilled the motherly role in the family. Perhaps this half of the episode should’ve been titled Akari rather than Hina, because Akari is the MVP!
The second half of the episode is titled ‘V.S’ and it’s quite light hearted compared to the usual. However, there is an underlying kettle that’s just waiting to boil out of control. Nikaidou’s caution before meals further emphasizes his health issues, something that the brilliant Akari quickly catches onto. The hint that really got me though was Nikaidou’s desire to have a Shogi move named after him. I may be overthinking it, but it’s likely because he may not have too much time due to his failing health. I hope I’m wrong though, because Nikaidou seems like an awesome, really nice guy!
Overall, a solid episode with a powerful first half, and an entertaining second half! Let’s keep going.