Review/discussion about: 3-gatsu no Lion
The pawns were my friends, the knights my family, and the queen my lover. For I was king.
When it came to chess, I was the best. In my corner of the world, anyway. I lived the sport as much as I could. Winning school tournaments, going to summer camps to learn new skills. Squaring off against multiple opponents simultaneously. Practicing with a plastic travel set and a versus timer and a book on named openings. For a while, chess was my calling. A passion that neither bishop nor rook could squander.
Today, that’s no longer the case. Writing, programming, and other -ing’s have replaced what was once my kingly domain. But, even today, having not played chess for years, I know that I could go back to that board. See the same familiar pieces. And they would invite me back with open arms (if they had arms, anyway).
Because, just as 3-gatsu no Lion would claim, what we experience never really leaves us – and that there’s always someone waiting to lend a loving hand.
3-gatsu centers on a young man named Rei Kiriyama. As only the fifth shogi player to become a professional while still in middle school, the prodigy engages in hard-fought battles in this sport of the mind. However, his most daunting battlefield occurs off the board. In a place simply called “life.” But thanks to Akari, Hinata, and Momo, three kindhearted sisters in his neighborhood who have taken him under their wings, Rei survives onward, fending off “attacks” all around him.
According to outside sources and information about the series in its current state, this season of 3-gatsu is merely the first of many. In what is meant to be a very long, very articulate journey (should the original author, SHAFT, and the anime gods will it). Thus, these introductory twenty-two episodes have the honor of setting up its story for the audience. What it entails, where it plans to go, and why any of it matters at all.
And like a shogi board primed for an upcoming match, 3-gatsu sets up said story with expert ease.
It doesn’t take too long to understand that shogi in and of itself makes for an important plot element for this anime. This sport forms the crux of many of the events and becomes the driving force behind Rei’s actions. It’s essentially Japanese chess except it includes a few extra pieces (the lance, the golden general, etc.).
While nothing extensive, 3-gatsu teaches the audience about these different pieces and the overall structure, letting the audience have a better grasp of this plot element on a technical level. And it does what it can to vary up the depicted matches. Quietness, sweltering heat, hyper-focus. While the board and the pieces never change, each match has a certain air about it that keeps them from falling prey to stagnation.
Admittedly, shogi is not the most thrilling of sports to watch. There’s no “action” besides the players picking up and placing their pieces. Moves often require many, many minutes of thinking. The environment calls for very little fanfare.
However, like most sports anime (and, indeed, most sports stories), shogi isn’t necessarily all about the spectacle. Rather, it’s a catalyst, a vehicle that allows 3-gatsu to carry its grander, more thoughtful ideas forward.
It starts by viewing shogi in a thematic sense. Yes, it’s just a bunch of wood carvings with Japanese words etched into them. But, in the larger context of the story, it means so much more.
Shogi is a singular sport; the player can only rely on himself or herself. In a way, it’s rather lonely, almost isolated. Yet it’s also a dual (and duel) sport. Someone else takes the other side of the board, forcing two minds, two ideals, and two people to clash. In a broader sense, shogi requires a winner and a loser (which is almost always the case based on the rules). Each player can only control his or her own pieces, meaning they themselves command their fate. And the game’s rooted tradition and strict etiquette mask the tumultuous feelings harbored within.
As described, and considering the context of 3-gatsu, shogi is a metaphor for life itself. Individuals act on their own and interact with others, controlling what they themselves say and do. They “win” and they “lose” all the time. They don’t always reveal how they feel, for emotions aren’t the simplest to explain.
The parallels here are important because, outside of shogi, where 3-gatsu truly matters, life and what it encompasses takes precedence on a thematic and narrative level.
For instance, one of the anime’s most pronounced characteristics is its tonal range. The story will often swing back and forth between extremely heartwarming and utterly crestfallen, raising and lowering the audience’s emotions without remorse. It can be slightly jarring at times, but this dichotomy speaks to life’s own emotional rollercoaster. How happiness and sadness are closer than one may believe.
Furthermore, both sides of the spectrum elevate 3-gatsu’s plot points and explore its vital themes. On the happy end, Akari, Hinata, and Momo’s nostalgic, loving home is Rei’s “kotatsu.” They implore the importance of togetherness. That a belly full of food, a few good laughs, and a company of loved ones is all it takes to warm the soul. On the sad end, Rei’s barren apartment with an equally lonely lifestyle stresses reality’s gloomier corner. While tough to stomach, depression is a formidable foe that cannot always be cured with a touching smile (let alone a silver general).
To reach these ends and continue its exploration on life, the show fills its space with even more thematic exploration. It focuses on family – Akari and the girls, Rei’s deceased family, his foster family – to highlight how such close bonds both heal and harm. It emphasizes certain mindsets like having no regrets and refusing to lose. It talks about self-worth and the challenges people face in their own lives.
Yet the most intriguing thematic element (besides shogi) is its most prevalent feature: water. For Rei, water symbolizes so many of his darker thoughts: suffocation, obstruction, restriction. But it also symbolizes what could possibly be: refreshing, buoyant, sustainable.
In one scene, a thunderous storm hearkens harsh ocean waves that drown his mind. Then, in another scene, he’ll take a swig from his plastic bottle at home to quench his thirst. Indeed, water is a constant in Rei’s life. A duality that, once again, plays to the anime’s strengths through its thematic connections to life and its clear, precise presence.
All this thematic discussion hasn’t even elaborated on 3-gatsu’s main plot points and story beats.
Part of what grounds the show’s story is how much Rei loses. Despite his prodigy status, his losses up the realism of his current situation while readying him for his eventual climb later. They also put into perspective where he is at in his life and the strength of his numerous opponents.
It also has its memorable scenes. More specifically, Rei’s breakdown in episode ten explodes out the emotions he has been keeping trapped inside himself. He basically yells at the world for making him think everything is always his fault, and that giving up or giving in is not an option for him or anyone. As Nikaidou would put it, Rei “doesn’t want to lose” – in every sense of the phrase.
And extra narrative facets keep the story progressing. Foreshadowing with the top shogi player as the beast to beat. A subplot involving Kyouko’s jerkwad “boyfriend.” Rei’s decision to stay away from Akari, Hinata, and Momo’s home for much of the second half of the season is not only seen but felt. The creation of the shogi club at Rei’s school makes for an optimistic finale moving forward.
Even after all this analyzing, 3-gatsu presents even more to its audience. Effective comedy. Interesting dialogue. Purposeful chapter structure. Simply put, as the introductory portion to this story, the anime roars like a ferocious lion preparing for what will unfold.
ART & ANIMATION
When watching 3-gatsu, its actual animation soars during scenes where it overexaggerates the Kawamoto sisters’ actions or forms a fantastical aside. (Shogi remains quite the stationary sport.) But it’s the impressive artistry and the technical finesse that allow this show to reach ever higher heights.
Above anything else, the anime loves its visual metaphors. From a pair of balloons floating upwards through the sky to gallons of water submerging Rei as he sits on the steps leading to the school rooftop, 3-gatsu constantly creates thoughtful, engaging scenes. They not only bolster the ideas of the show but also provide the audience with yet another thematic layer to think about.
The show has tons of flair, too. A first-person perspective obfuscated by strands of hair. Shifts in camera angles, like a top-down view of Akari as her cats whirl around her. Multiple styles shifted between seamlessly: rough, quirky, sharp, involved. The sheer amount of techniques employed, the obvious attention to cinematography, and the risks taken with its vast variance turn this slice-of-life drama into both an outstandingly diverse and an artistically worthwhile endeavor.
To go even further, 3-gatsu also focuses intently on the overall look and feel of the visuals themselves. Color choices reach across the rainbow, sparking lots of contrast between its melancholic mood (blues, greys, blacks) and its sweet serenity (oranges, yellows, pinks). A noticeably soft approach ushers in a calm setting while still carrying its weighty, solemn baggage. And its backgrounds – from inside the sisters’ home to the imaginative moments – persist as a constant example of the anime’s artistic integrity.
And one cannot ignore the designs of the characters, for they evoke the same sense of wonder that the rest of the visuals deliver. Generally, they’re rather unique in their facial details: lines fill out their eyes, their mouths are slightly thicker than normal, their gazes often exude a gentle aura.
Individually, Akari’s ponytail draped over her shoulder, her purple-colored eyes, small hairpin, cardigan sweaters, usual apron, and ample assets paint her as the womanly goddess she is. Hinata’s long twin-tailed hair, her smaller physique, girly outfits, and sincere smile captures her energy and kindness. Momo’s short, light-orange hair and wide eyes highlight her cute and childish status that much more.
There’s also Rei with his frazzled black hair, green eyes, glasses, white buttoned-up shirt, and jeans that give him a nerdy, quiet look that fits his character all too well. The girls’ grandpa’s squareness. Smith’s tall, Western vibe. Kyouko’s brown overcoat and devilish beauty. Nikaidou’s rotund shape and Shimada’s lanky frame. The characters’ designs are interesting and attractive and different.
Exactly like the rest of 3-gatsu’s artistry.
In 3-gatsu, the characters exemplify their respective roles: the main protagonist, the supporting cast, and so on. But they represent much more than just what a literary definition could ascribe. In fact, they continue the exploration of the anime’s themes through thoughtful ideas and progression of their own.
As the star of this tale, Rei Kiriyama doesn’t lead the most eventful of lives. He wakes up each day without anybody around. He puts on his clothes and munches on some convenience-store food before making the long walk and the sad train ride to his local shogi hall. He plays a couple of games in relative silence. Then he goes back home. To a desolate, no-drapes apartment where he practices the sport by himself – which is arguably one of the loneliest activities imaginable – in the middle of his wide-open room. Only to fall asleep, wake up, and go through the whole process ad infinitum.
Loneliness characterizes Rei to a depressing degree. From him eating his cold lunch by himself to sitting outside on the cold concrete as the wind howls about him, Rei is often alone. Sometimes of his own choosing, sometimes because it can’t be helped. But this void follows him nonetheless.
And it always has. The true beginning of Rei’s loneliness starts with the tragic death of his parents and his little sister in a freak car accident. Having lost those held most dear to him, he doesn’t know what to do. So, he latches onto shogi – to keep his thoughts focused and to numb the pain in his heart.
Rei describes his relationship with “the god of shogi” as an “ugly lie.” That he only agreed to like the sport so he could survive. Indeed, in lying, Rei’s father’s friend Kouda takes Rei in as a foster child.
Unfortunately for the young boy, loneliness just won’t let go. Rei’s presence in his foster family tears them apart. As Kouda favors the prodigy player, his other kids suffer. His son Ayumu regresses into seclusion, and Kyouko succumbs to rebellion and seethes with rage. Rage that she takes out on Rei through physical abuse.
This form of abuse is new to Rei, but abuse in general is not. For, as a school student, he has often been ignored or neglected by others, enduring mental abuse without really knowing it. Their bullying stops Rei from reaching out to anyone except for the ants on the ground. Even more loneliness for the lonely protagonist.
Rei, realizing what he (inadvertently) does to his new family, separates himself from them, choosing the path of a professional shogi player to keep his unluckiness from spreading. Sadly, despite his quick rise in the shogi world, Rei hits a block of sorts. With expectations of his future set high, and people (outwardly or not) questioning his abilities, loneliness further tightens around him.
Up to now, Rei is a “liar.” A “home-wrecker.” A “loser.” His situation is practically unfair and wholly unbearable. However, a wholesome, miraculous light in his life keeps him going: the Kawamoto sisters.
Across a couple of bridges and down a few roads, Akari, Hinata, and Momo accept Rei as one of their own. They brighten the atmosphere with delicious food, energetic actions, and cuteness galore. Through their personalities, nostalgia permeates the air. Warmth radiates outward. Kindness envelops everything.
Rei may not word it exactly this way, but, for him, their home is heaven on Earth. It’s one of the only places where he can truly feel at ease. Where his loneliness must wait at the door and his happiness grows to levels he never thought possible.
It’s all thanks to the girls themselves. Beginning with Akari, she dotes on Rei as much as she can. She saves him from his “friends” and their “drinking game.” She leads the charge in curing his cold. She speaks earnestly with him about matters. She directly invites him over or slyly involves him in other ways to get him active.
Akari’s thoughtfulness cannot be understated. She looks after her two little sisters by herself. She works at her grandpa’s shop and her aunt’s lounge. She remains emotionally strong despite the pain they have experienced in their own lives. And that’s not even the half of it. Akari is not only the best supporting character in 3-gatsu but also one of the best in all of anime.
Hinata doesn’t earn the same accolades, but that certainly doesn’t mean she isn’t without her own incredibly supportive nature. She is genuinely glad to see more sides of Rei’s personality. She thinks about how he’s doing when he’s not around. She overcomes “boundaries” like giving him food in front of and inquiring about Kyouko. Hinata’s heartwarming relationship with Rei proves that she cares deeply about him – more so than he may realize.
And Momo supports in her own way, too. She’s a toddler, so she understandably can’t do much. But, as she views Rei as her older brother and dances excitedly whenever he arrives, she subconsciously gives him a sense of responsibility and self-esteem that nobody can replicate.
Akari, Hinata, and Momo are amazing supporters. So much so, in fact, that they even know when not to support. While the second half of the season contains less of these three than one would prefer, them giving Rei space argues for the fact that, sometimes, it’s best to let a person focus on what he or she needs to so that they, too, can help themselves.
That’s not easy to do, though. Despite the girls caring for him, and despite his determination, Rei still struggles. He experiences agony. Arrogance. Anger. Just as the people in his life influence him, he affects himself through the actions and thoughts he takes. That is, loneliness cannot always be blamed on everyone else. It’s also up to that person to do something about it.
So, Rei does just that. He divulges his feelings to Yuusuke about going back to school and not wanting to run away. He reaffirms why he played shogi in the first place when he remembers the games that had his father really thinking hard. He agrees to forming the joint shogi-science club at his school to earn him a new set of friends.
Just as things start to look a bit brighter, Kyouko injects herself into Rei’s life. Now an adult, Kyouko preys on Rei. She isn’t laughably maniacal or in possession of some mega power. Instead, she simply uses her words. To spite, to hurt, and to poison her foster brother.
Kyouko’s manipulation, her uncomfortably forward physicality makes their relationship an abusive yet striking one. She loves him to death and despises his guts. She hates her father, she fell for a man one too many years her senior, and she is beyond selfish. As Momo would put it, she’s a “witch” – but also somebody in desperate need of support. Altogether, her complicated thoughts and her complex feelings turn her into one of the best “villains” to grace the medium in a long while.
As for Rei, despite her abuse and their unique relationship, he wants to help his foster sister. And it’s this reversal of roles, where he can be there for someone who is lonely, that ultimately gets at 3-gatsu’s most important theme.
To reiterate, Akari, Hinata, and Momo support Rei however they can. But they aren’t the only ones who do so. Nikaidou is Rei’s rival, motivator, and friend. Takashi may not always have tact, but he sincerely guides Rei as both a teacher and as an adult. His foster father calls him on his cell phone multiple times when he isn’t responding. Shimada mentors Rei in the art of shogi, shows him what it means to persevere, teaches him what matters most when all is said and done, and gives him the chance to finally be relied on.
In other words, there is always someone nearby who cares. Rei has lost. He has been bullied. He has been hurt. But he has never truly been alone. For, all around him, from the Kawamoto sisters to the man who “cracked open his skull,” people in Rei’s life love him in one way or another.
This sentiment applies to the audience, making it the biggest takeaway from this first season. Life can be cruel, mean, and unfair. Yet, despite the problems people face and the seemingly insurmountable terrors they confront, there’s always someone nearby who cares.
Sure, it may not be people as perfect as Akari, Hinata, and Momo. But maybe it’s a close parent or a significant other or a friend that hasn’t been spoken to in years. No matter the case, someone is out there. Right now. Ready and willing to replace that loneliness with support of their own.
MUSIC & SOUND
Just as 3-gatsu’s story, art, and characters demonstrate their power, the music and the sound that surrounds the entire experience does the same.
Its opening tracks, “Answer” and “Sayonara Bystander,” fill the air with optimistic tones, rhyming lyricism, strong vocal work, catchy instrumentation, and various emotions. They create a set of powerful songs which capture the anime’s drive to tell a tale that’s both thoughtful and real. Their ability to not only kick off each episode with the right mood in mind but also invoke a sense of longing in the audience stands as a testament to their overwhelming strength.
Its ending tracks have a similar level of strength but go down different routes. The first ED, “Fighter,” embodies its title with a determined beat, sincere singing, and an empowering background choir. In comparison, the second ED, “orion,” incorporates hip-hop, distinct snapping, and smooth harmonizing to uplift the audience with grounded delivery. Together, they represent the show’s grander sense of hope and perseverance against the odds and the adversity that life so regularly throws into the mix.
Continuing with the spirit of the show, 3-gatsu’s original soundtrack implements music that strikes at the heart of its own ideals. In one track, crystal rings loudly to chill the air and to hallow out the atmosphere. In another track, zippy xylophone playing and a pronounced tuba reflect the infectious happiness of the Kawamoto sisters. In other tracks, piano moves effortlessly from soft and melancholic to fun and free as the mood shifts accordingly. Combined with acoustic guitars, marching drums, grating sounds, and a whole host of other instrumental work, the OST dares anyone to denounce its craftsmanship.
The voice-acting performances likewise stand tall. Ai Kayano as Akari uses a mature and loving voice that brings calm and comfort in droves. Kana Hanazawa as Hinata ups the silliness levels with her boisterous tone. Misaki Kuno’s cheerful way of speaking directly equates to the toddler’s cute behavior. Kengo Kawanishi as Rei narrates his loneliness well while also ranging in his emotions throughout the season. And Nobuhiko Okamoto as Nikaidou yells and motivates with care and without end.
Two special side-shout-outs go to Ms. Kayano, Ms. Hanazawa, and Ms. Kuno. First for voicing the cats. 3-gatsuverbalizing the cats’ inner thoughts was unexpected and hilarious, the three leading women making it so. Second, and speaking of cats, the anime’s special ending track “Nyaa Shougi Ondo” also deserves props. It was cool to see the creators go out of their way to (some extent) teach the sport of shogi to the audience. Even more impressive was making it into a song, using a cat motif, and having the women once again contribute with singing of their own (and few “nyaa” lyrics).
None of these musical pieces and performances mention the show’s attention to other sound-effects. The clack of a placed shogi piece. A growing-ever-louder grandfather clock. The plunging of water. The anime goes everywhere with its metaphors, comedy, and emotions, and the included sound-effects always keep up, rounding out this aural experience in fantastic fashion.
In my introduction, I wrote about my chess-dweeb era. It’s something that I will cherish forever. Practicing with my dad on the couch while we watched television together. Defeating my fifth-grade teacher for the first time. Laughing with my friends about the dumb moves we made. I rarely, if ever, pick up a pawn nowadays, but chess will always be a part of me no matter what.
Chess and shogi aren’t technically the same, but the show got me thinking about these precious memories of mine. Yet my connection to this anime goes deeper.
I haven’t lost my family. I’ve never been abused or bullied either. Meaning, I cannot claim that my situation in life has been anything like Rei’s. But I can empathize with his emotions – because I’ve been there. I know what it feels like to be put on a pedestal only to let everyone down. To succumb to loneliness. To not seek guidance out of misplaced fear and shame when those around me clearly want to help.
I’m saving the details of my own life-altering story for a more momentous moment. Suffice it to say, though, I connect with this show beyond just the sport it depicts. And it makes me so gosh darn happy to see how, wrapped around my personal connection to this tale, the anime does almost everything right that it possibly could.
The comedy makes me laugh a ton. Akari tapping her hands on the table back at Hinata. Hinata magically and hurriedly floating through the air and out the door. Momo asking Rei if he’s her older brother or not. If it isn’t already apparent, I adore the Kawamoto sisters.
The drama sucks me in. Kyouko’s manipulation. Takashi’s wise words. Rei’s troubled life. I became so interested in what was going on that I took half a day off from work just so that I could finish the remainder of the season because I couldn’t put it down.
The content itself means a lot to me. Purposeful themes treated with respect. All the creativity behind its visual direction. The strong writing throughout. Altogether, it’s an anime that appeals to my critiquing mind.
And, while I’ve already slightly talked about her already, let it be known: I have the biggest crush on Akari. Beautiful. Motherly. Kind. Thoughtful. Sincere. Attractive. Mature. Strong. She’s nothing short of angelic, and she has become one of my favorite characters of all-time without any shred of doubt.
In fact, this crush extends to the entire project here, for I love this anime. It’s the kind of show that only comes around once in a while. An anime that represents what this medium is and demonstrates what it can do. And I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to watch it.
At this point, there’s not much else I can write down. Which means there’s really only one thing left: give it the highest honors possible.
3-gatsu no Lion proves its outstanding worth in this medium through extreme execution. A thematically heavy story. Wonderful artistry. A host of awesome characters. Superb sound choices. A wealth of entertaining moments. Like any king, it has everything and then some.
And it’s only the opening.
Story: Great, as a thematically rich start to this journey, the tale explores life’s duality of happiness and sadness through shogi, nuanced narrative elements, and purposeful plot points while delivering a meaningful and expressive slice-of-life drama
Art & Animation: Great, visual metaphors, impressive variance in artistry, and lovely character designs both engage the audience and bolster the themes therein
Characters: Great, Rei’s unfortunate abuse and struggles expound on the concept of loneliness, the Kawamoto sisters define supporting characters, smart writing crafts Kyouko into a stellar “antagonist,” and a heartfelt theme on there always being someone nearby who cares solidifies the cast’s incredible strength
Music & Sound: Great, a set of powerful OPs and EDs, an emotional OST, strong VA performances, and extra additions elevate the experience even further
Enjoyment: Great, personally relatable, downright entertaining, and Akari is beyond angelic
Final Score: 10/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3