3-gatsu no Lion revolves around Kiriyama Rei, a 17-year-old professional shogi player who lives alone in Tokyo. Rei’s introverted personality and troubled past cause him to lead a reclusive and unhealthy lifestyle however his encounters with his energetic shogi peers as well as the endearing Kawamoto sisters disrupt his bleak isolation. Through both shogi and his developing relationships with other people, Rei grows as a person and gradually comes to understand himself and the others around him.
In many ways, to understand 3-gatsu no Lion is to understand Kiriyama Rei. The story itself revolves primarily around him and so in this way he is integral to the show’s presentation and subject matter however the degree to which 3-gatsu concerns his story and mentality extends beyond this. In the same way that Rei himself is introspective and observant, the atmosphere of 3-gatsu is one of contemplation and tonal resonance. The show is an emotional reflection of Rei’s mental state and the way in which each aspect of its presentation shifts in correspondence to the character story being told is emblematic of this relationship. Each episode is a distillation of his depression and anxiety – of his happiness and uncertainty, though they all feed seamlessly into the overarching narrative.
This is a pretty romantic sentiment and a rather vague one at that however the underlying point is that 3-gatsu’s presentation is intrinsically linked to Rei’s character. This gives the show’s exploration of him and his story a striking depth and meaning. Putting the show’s means of investigation aside for a minute, Rei is a fascinating character. His traumatic childhood and strained relationship with his foster family as well as his introspective nature have each contributed to his meek disposition and withdrawn lifestyle. He’s alone in the world and in his isolation Rei has turned to the one thing that he feels gives his life some abstract meaning – shogi.
Between his contemplative behavior and bouts of intense depression, Rei is a very emotionally complicated character. He’s the kind of person who feels bad for his opponent when he presses his in-game advantage. He’s always thinking about the effects his actions have on himself and others. Though he possesses this keen sense of existential guilt and constantly reflects upon his own actions and decisions, he’s also explicitly disconnected from himself. He doesn’t understand many of the things he does. He’s divorced from himself. While each episode of 3-gatsu serves as an investigation into his mentality, Rei’s experiences and developing relationships with others are as much an exploration for the viewer as they are for Rei himself as he comes to terms with his place in life. He’s complex, muddled, shy, lonely, frustrated, caring, and a remarkably human character.
What then brings this all together is the show’s fantastic presentation. Rei’s story is one of introspective loneliness and 3-gatsu’s visuals impress this atmospheric quality upon the viewer at every turn. The frequent use of visual themes and metaphors such as the show’s ubiquitous water and wind imagery really give the scenes in which they appear a sense of drowning, suffocation, and emotional turbulence. The countless shots which juxtapose Rei against his empty surroundings further accentuate this aspect of the show while contributing to 3-gatsu’s contemplative tone. In their reverence for Rei’s outlook on the world, the visuals possess an incredibly profound sense of solitude and introspection. Between the subtle character animation and gorgeous backgrounds, the entire show is breathtakingly beautiful and emotionally charged to an almost unrivaled degree.
However, 3-gatsu no Lion is by no means all doom and gloom. Though its dramatic focus revolves around Rei and a handful of other characters’ emotional states the show itself is just as warm and lighthearted as it is intensely solemn and reflective. It’s never far from breaking into a comedic sequence or playing up the levity of the situation. In most cases this lightning-fast shifting between tones would threaten to disrupt the integrity of the show’s emotion and the effectiveness of its comedy however 3-gatsu no Lion handles its dual tones expertly, granting it excellent emotional flexibility. It creates a distinct place for its warmth and playfulness through more cartoonish visuals and music and uses these lighthearted scenes to undercut the tension of the show’s overarching mood yet it never disrupts the message or the character development at hand.
Though I’ve spoken at length about Rei and how instrumental he is to the show’s presentation, the other characters such as Akari, Hinata, Momo, Nikaidou, and Rei’s other shogi peers are equally as important to the show and serve as a major source of 3-gatsu’s endearing affection and compassion. Rei exhibits a great deal of subtle character development and the vast majority of it stems from his interactions with these other characters and the way in which they affect his life. Though 3-gatsu does chiefly focus upon Rei, the Kawamoto sisters, and his shogi matches, the later episodes feature one or two characters who steal the show for entire episodes at a time. It’s a fantastic cast of people full of meaning and their own complexities and situations.
The last thing I’ll touch upon is the fantastic soundtrack of the show which, in a similar way to the visuals, really effectively conveys the atmosphere and emotion of each scene. Though it’s rather predictably bouncy and uncomplicated during the lighthearted scenes, its dramatic presence is exceedingly melancholy, powerful, and even uplifting in the way that is plods along with passion and poignancy. It’s as striking and memorable as the show is beautiful.
3-gatsu no Lion was a fantastic story of character growth and emotional complexity. It’s one of the loneliest shows I have ever seen and 3-gatsu’s ability to impress this upon the viewer through its pervasive atmosphere, character introspection, and visual design was incredible. It’s touching, dramatic, heartfelt, and full of powerful themes which influence the characters and give their interactions and developments a captivating significance.