Episode nineteen starts with Shimada telling his own story of a young, countryside boy with limited entertainment options. He’s introduced to shogi by some of the locals, who quickly discover his talent for the game. The country prodigy enters the association in Tokyo where he realizes he is in fact, not too special. It’s quite the moving backstory of a player who’s had similar doubts of himself as our own Kiriyama. However, trudging through the ranks, Shimada continued forward, past his stomach pains or own doubts because the old men who introduced him to shogi are still his biggest fans. We later learn of an even heavier burden resting on Shimada’s shoulders, which is that of the sign that hangs above his local train station. The immense weight on his shoulders is absurd, the responsibility he feels for his people so high, and I can’t help but feel like perhaps he’s overthinking it.
As his own thoughts fade away, Rei joins Shimada in his home, bringing with him udon noodles and other groceries. He cooks a delicious meal for our sickly Shimada, who reveals that his sealed strategy had a hole in it, causing his unease and sickness. The interesting point comes afterwards, as Rei asks Shimada whether Shimada actually learns something from playing against Rei. While Rei is learning from playing against someone vastly his superior, he’s unsure whether Shimada is learning anything from the other side. However, Shimada counters that by citing Rei’s similarities to Souya, something that’s been quite noticeable since Souya’s first showing.
If Shimada’s time in Tokyo has taught him anything, it’s about his limitations and the gap between him and Souya. He describes Souya as a crane, elegant and beautiful, soaring above all others. Yet even though Souya’s brilliance is unrivaled, Souya himself never slacks or underestimates his opponent. Shimada himself accepts that he cannot reach Souya’s level, despite all the work he’s put into it. But perhaps that doesn’t even mean much to Shimada anymore, perhaps the banner above the train station matters so much more. At this point, Shimada is facing off against the unbeatable Souya to make his people proud rather than to overpower Souya. It may sound strange, but somehow this less common motivation makes their duel far more emotionally charged than it would be if Shimada just wanted to win.
All the while, as Shimada is dealing with these problems within both physically and mentally, Rei is helping him through it. It’s very reminiscent of the way the Kawamotos care for Rei when he was ill. Perhaps I’m overthinking it, but Rei is caring for someone else as everyone else has cared for him. Hype for the fight!
Episode twenty begins with a blizzard, quite literally. A relentless barrage of white snow pummels at Shimada as he trudges through the snow. Both weather and water have often been used as metaphors to describe the mental state of many of 3gatsu’s characters. The blizzard in this case likely represents Souya, who’s overwhelming ferocity makes Shimada out to be a dot in the storm.
What follows the blizzard is a beautiful field covered in an orange, setting sun. Shimada is farming the land and we’re given a perspective into a “could’ve been.” We see a long lost girlfriend holding a child, followed by a happy family dinner with plenty of guests. I’d be lying if I said Shimada didn’t seem happy here, in fact he looks the happiest we’ve ever seen him. The old man in the dream tells him that happiness can be found anywhere, telling him, “It’s enough Kai.” Perhaps this is a reflection of how the people of his town truly feel, perhaps they don’t even care if he wins, as long as he’s happy.
Why then does Shimada not throw it all away for that blessed life he dreamt of? For the exact same reason neither Rei nor Nikaidou can just drop the hobby. Shimada himself accepts the idea that even in his dream, he’d have shogi pulling at his spirit. This may be 3gatsu’s way of saying that there’ll be “what ifs” and regrets, regardless of which path anyone takes.
The crux of the episode is the final match between Shimada and Souya. With the emotional tension of the previous episode, combined with the pressure of this one, it culminates together to a grand final on a scale we’ve never seen. I wanted Shimada to win so badly, to trudge through the winter storm and find the light at the end of the tunnel. But it just wasn’t meant to be, Shimada concedes to Souya in a fatal mistake. He lets the pressure on his shoulders and the reputation of the infallible Souya get into his head, clouding his vision and rendering him unable to see the move that could’ve turned the game on its head. It’s a psychological battle at its finest, and we’ve been seeing the turmoil of Shimada’s mind for the past three episodes, and this is the final result.
But what an amazing climax indeed, and easily my favorite part of 3gatsu so far. As expected of the show, its development of Shimada reached a point that I’m almost depressed over his loss, even more so because there was a sliver of hope. But this officially announces the similarities between Rei and Souya, sowing the seeds for their future match, which will 100% happen one day.