Oh man, this was quite the episode. What on Earth have I been missing out this past month and half?
To start things off, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Rei this adamant about winning a game of shogi. Yes, it is the final match of the Newcomers Tournaments but there’s a couple of personal stakes here. Having learned about Nikaidou’s collapse, Rei hopes to beat the former’s opponent, Yamazaki, as a form of payback. Additionally, he makes his victory a promise to Hina as something to look forward to after she endures a long and presumably suffocating school field trip at Kyoto. It’s quite the test of resolve and I really love that it’s tied to two of the most important people in Rei’s life. I think it’s safe to say Hina has become Rei’s #1 reason to play shogi now, both based on past events as well as their relationship in general. I’d dare say that it feels like there’s a ship between these two that’s just ready to sail. And that isn’t to downplay Nikaidou however. That guy’s been a conscious for Rei, reminding him that his shogi career does play a part in other people’s lives and that he has a bigger reason to win than he realizes.
While we are supposed to side with Rei in this match, it did seem like our protagonist was acting very irrationally at first. Understandably, he’s pissed at Yamazaki as it did look as though the latter deliberately dragged out his match with Nikaidou to secure a cheap victory. In actuality, Yamazaki played a war of attrition because that was actually his play-style and Nikaidou legitimately did force him to a corner. As imposing as Yamazaki does look, I don’t think he really had anything devious in mind during his pre-final match.
Even if you’re not an expert at shogi (like I am…), you can tell from how the match is directed, animated, and acted that Rei was on the offensive. As any good shogi player should, Rei keeps the poker face up but his moves were seemingly seething with anger, almost as if he’s trying to provoke or taunt his opponent. That key move Rei was pining for was clearly a double-edged sword, potentially putting him at risk for checkmate but also a possible gateway to a quick victory. In the end though, it’s Rei’s memories of Nikaidou that compel him to change course and play things more defensively. Had this been Season 1 Rei, I think he would’ve pulled that tactic without a second thought but things are different now. He simply has too many people in his life that root for him and so taking such a risk shouldn’t be worth it. Rei also seems to have learned his lesson from his first match with Shimada back in Season 1. Resolve is a good thing to have but also important is staying level-headed against your opponent.
What strikes to me the most about the end of the episode is how little Rei thinks about his victory. Obviously, Nikaidou is ecstatic that his best friend took his advice to heart and no dobut, there’ll be plenty of more katsudons at the Kawamoto residence. But as soon as Rei gets some medicine from his colleagues, he immediately rushes to Kyoto in the hopes of delivering them to Hina. How Rei manages to find Hina though is ingenious on his part. Recalling from his own experiences of being a loner in a school field trip, Rei correctly guesses that he’d find Hina in a secluded part of town. It’s a great way to tying Rei and Hina’s experiences with bullying together and Hina’s shock that Rei found her and is even right in front of her feels incredibly genuine. One look at Hina’s face and you can tell that the trip did not go well. Possibly fueling her misery even more is the fact that she’ll have to share about her experiences with her family once the trip is over and possibly sour Rei’s achievement. But instead Rei shows up, saving the news of his victory for another time, helping Hina in her time of need, and ready to help put an end to her suffering.