What’s this? A week without having to write 10-15 pages on Rome’s assimilation of the Gauls, or the colonialist causes of the Congolese Civil War? I guess that means I can finally write about good anime and not feel totally burned out on the writing process.
And 3gatsu really is a good anime. It manages to have emotional weight without resorting to needless melodrama, the art direction is effective, and the pathos behind the characters is presented in a way that emphasizes a myriad of struggles and how they drive the characters forward. Unfortunately, the way the show introduces that frowny fuck up there almost made me give up on the show after the first episode.
The show’s debut of its protagonist, Rei Kiriyama, devoid of later context, does not inspire confidence in the show’s ability to elicit an emotion other than revulsion toward. The dude looks like he was born with a frown stapled to his face, and thus makes every effort to fulfill a miserable, sad-sack self prophecy. It’s not without reason, serving as an introduction to the love that the Kawamoto sisters lavish on him, but it’s an introduction that makes Rei seem like the equivalent of a dude sighing loudly in the corner at a party to get somebody to talk to him. Considering that he’s nothing of the sort, it’s not a great indication of the nuance that is brought to his character.
This initial hurdle aside, 3gatsu Lion is mostly successful in its rumination over loneliness. It portrays Rei and his adoptive family and friends with sympathy, without going overboard into outright pity mode. In Rei’s world of shogi and bare minimum schooling is a web of strained relationships and dying ambition that tinges even the warmest of moments with melancholy.
That’s not to say that 3gatsu Lion doesn’t have moments of actual warmth—Rei’s interactions with the Kawamoto sisters are always a standout for this reason. But these serve as the exception to the cold world that Rei mostly finds himself in, rather than the norm. It achieves the desired effect of presenting the sisters’ house as an island in an otherwise turbulent sea of shogi pieces, anemic butterball childhood friends, and self doubt. But even so, their place in Rei’s life becomes effectively scarcer as he only gets more insecure.
Even though Shogi is viewed as a great separator between him and a comfortable lifestyle, and his slowing ascent to Shogi mastery is a great source of frustration for him, 3gatsu Lion doesn’t paint the game with an inherently negative brush. Hell, despite its importance, the game itself is almost incidental—Rei could be named Steve and be in a constant battle for World’s Most Appealing Person Named Steve and it would work just as well. Its importance stems not from the mechanics or from any direct correlation between the nature of the game and the show, ala Ping Pong, but from the impact that it has on those who play it—both positive nad negative.
While the shogi itself plays a secondary role in the show, it serves well as the most important influence in Rei’s life. 3gatsu Lion does a superb job at expressing Rei’s ambivalence toward the game, with it serving as his passion and as a source of income, but also as a huge source of stress as his career stagnates and he views those in a similar situation start to lose their passion for the game. Even somebody he admires as a diligent and highly skilled player who earned their high status through sheer persistence is shown to struggle against those viewed to have more talent. It gives Rei an avenue for self reflection that makes him an engrossing character to try and probe as he observes the world around him. I rewatched the first episode immediately upon finishing the show, and the added context makes his sadsackness far more bearable.
With his personality being so well integrated into the show, it’s surprising that Rei’s adoptive sister is probably the show’s strongest character. Every interaction between them oozes with jealousy and malice, with only the slightest bit of affection keeping her from being a totally poisonous influence on Rei’s life. She’s also by far the most pitiful character, chasing a love interest who’s long lost his passion for her, and turning to Rei as somebody who she can take out her frustrations on. It’s pathetic and relatable enough that her toxicity is lessened, turning her into a genuinely sympathetic antagonist.
All of 3gatsu’s character development is helped by well presented art direction that drenches Rei’s non-shogi and non-sisters world in cold hues, contrasted with the earthy warmth of the shogi board and the pleasant clutter of the Kawamoto sisters’ living room. It’s one of Shinbou’s stronger efforts as a director, adapting his unique sensibilities to the show without overloading the viewer with the abstract and the garish. The world and its characters are brought to life in a way that directly affects Rei’s life, while avoiding needless quirkiness.
3gatsu’s impression is more or less positive, thanks to strong tonal consistency and solid direction. It probably won’t make a Top Anime list for the year unless upcoming seasons prove to be extremely dire, but it’s an effort that’s well worth checking out.