Saying the three episode rule applies here is a little moot considering that this is the second season of 3-gatsu no Lion. If anyone was going to drop this show, it would’ve been a whole season ago. But I find the whole “wait until the third episode kicks in” thing kind of applicable here. I enjoyed the first two episodes since it let me revisit characters I know and love again but it’s at the third episode where Season 2 seems to be shaping up into something special.
It seems that lately, Rei isn’t as emotionally reserved as he used to be and that’s evident with how he interacts with Nikaidou during their lunch break together. We still have Rei having a hard time keeping up with Nikaidou’s ramblings about the future of their rivalry but we also see Rei emote a lot more now. That Rei gets flustered when Nikaidou figures out his current motivations and proclaims to be his best friend really shows how much more comfortable Rei is with expressing his emotions. This scene also reveals that Rei’s goals in shogi are still very straightforward. It’s largely playing matches to make a living and getting promoted to Six Dan. If anything, Rei’s not terribly concerned, let alone fired up, about the tournament he’s currently participating in. Nikaidou doesn’t mind this all too much but that doesn’t stop Rei from feeling embarrassed about it.
Rei’s resolve in regards to his shogi career gets further explored as the episode takes a more serious tone and Rei reflects on his past once again. I really like how the memories trigger when Rei stumbles upon a bush frequently visited by ladybugs, which was something he once investigated as a child. There is something so believable about that; one would normally refrain from the dark corners of the mind and yet they tend to just resurface on their own. And you’d think hearing about Rei’s childhood again would be getting old but personally, I found myself glued to my seat as I watched this scene unfold.
Shogi is a very complicated part of Rei’s childhood. On one hand, it was Rei’s ticket to adoption and the biggest contributor to dividing the family apart. On the other hand, it was a means for the boy to escape from his real life troubles. At school, Rei got picked on by classmates, forcing him to be all by himself throughout the day. At home, Rei’s stepparents care a great deal about him but his step-siblings continue to make him feel unwelcomed. Studying shogi seems to be a form of escapism for Rei and while it only fed into his problems even more, it was all he could really rely on. Even when Rei was afraid that shogi would be all he’ll do in life, he nevertheless kept absorbing himself into it. That moment where we see young Rei paddling in an ocean with a shogi board really captures all of this perfectly. It’s hardly the best support and yet it’s either that or letting everything else consume you.
This flashback is notably juxtaposed with Rei playing a tournament match. The framing is quite effective as it notably shows the results of his childhood but also the seemingly endless series of games and tournaments he has subjected himself into. It’s accentuated further that the match Rei plays is with an extra and not much attention is given to how Rei wins. It’s essentially a very typical match for Rei which matches his narration repeating that he would play a game over and over again. Said narration reflects Rei’s fear that he would do nothing but play shogi for the rest of his life.
Right as Rei stops narrating, he receives the usual dinner invitation from Akari. Immediately, I find myself thinking back to how the series first began. In the very first episode, Rei hesitates a bit before giving in. Here, Rei turns to the other side of the bridge, fully intending on paying the Kawamotos a visit. I really love this detail. It’s a perfect reminder of the positive influence Akari, Hina, and Momo has on Rei. While Rei sees something monotonous and obligatory in his shogi career, his fear that it is all his life would be is assuaged by the fact that he now has something to look forward to after a match.
The Kawamoto sisters themselves get a fair amount of screentime this episode. It’s all good fun at first, especially with seeing more of Someji go along Momo’s silly ideas for the bakery (what a great grandfather). As the scene progresses though, you notice that Hina isn’t really participating with all the antics. Instead, she just silently draws by herself. That alone is a telling sign that something’s not right and it’s even out of character given how outwardly Hina expresses herself. It’s not at all like Rei who can generally keep things to himself and avoid worrying his friends. Akari certainly picks up on it and judging from the post credit scene, it seems like she was correct that Hina’s behavior must be related to something going on at school…