First Impression – 3-gatsu no Lion

3-gatsu - beat your adopted father

3-gatsu no Lion deals with some complicated emotions,
like besting your father at the game he taught you

winter15-highw Well, I’ve put this off about as long as I should. Someone’s gotta be the last person to do an FI for the season, so maybe it’ll be me.

Putting Aside the Comparisons
(or Just Getting Them Out of the Way)

3-gatsu - close and homey

This show has a wonderful homey feel at times

This is a tough one for this show, because I want to keep comparing 3-gatsu no Lion to Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. And there are a lot of things that are similar. You have a child prodigy main character, who for some reason doesn’t have any parents. You have said characters being fairly similar in look and personality, with a mop of hair, glasses, and brooding ennui. You have a month in the title (and they’re just one month apart). You’ve got two cours of show to look forward to. And you’ve got the promise of significant emotional drama. But there are some big differences also.

3-gatsu - barren

And other times the barren emptiness

And maybe the first and biggest difference that you have to point out is that where with Shigatsu you had A-1 Pictures producing and Kyohei Ishiguro directing, for 3-gatsu you have Shaft producing and Akiyuki Shinbou directing. That’s a huge difference, and even if I’m not the biggest fan of Shinbou’s predilection for certain visuals (and I’ll get to that more later), even I’ll say that the man has a great touch with directing (unlike Ishiguro, whose thin directing chops feature Lance n’ Masques, which quickly earned the alternative title -at least in my circle- “Rancid Masques”). And indeed, these first three episodes of 3-gatsu no Lion have been very well done, with a compelling story told in a tense but measured pace. There’s a sense that there’s a lot of the past that’s going to blow up on our characters, but the show is not beating you over the head with it, blasting you with foreshadowing and then elbowing you in the ribs saying “Hey, hey, did you see that? I bet that’s foreshadowing something, isn’t it, don’t ya think?”

Making Your Way Through Life

3-gatsu - people happy to see him

The Kawamoto sisters welcome Rei to ‘home’

So now that that’s done, what is 3-gatsu no Lion actually about? The main character is Rei Kiriyama, a high school student who has gone pro at Shogi, a game I know nothing about except that it’s probably not really as much like chess as people would want to make it out to be. As such, he’s in that rare world of teenagers who are not really in the high school scene, but are still successful, leading to his general alienation from the rest of the world. On top of that, he’s living by himself, and taking care of himself about as well as a kid who is a professional shogi player main character in a story would be. That’s where the other main characters come in, the Kawamoto sisters. Brought home by the eldest, Akari, after Rei was dumped in front of the hostess club where she works, this family of three sisters and their grandfather feels like it’s adopted Rei, although there’s a bit of obvious romantic crushing going on with the middle-school sister, Hinata.

3-gatsu - in charge

Akari is certainly in charge of Rei, but what are her feelings?

3-gatsu - Akari's night job

Or is it more the way she just takes care of people?

But the other feelings aren’t as easy to figure out. Akari clearly cares for Rei, and their relationship has a dynamic of her taking the lead much like an older sister, just like she is for Hina and Momo. But it also seems like there’s something more there. Perhaps it’s just her interest in someone who is obviously not a bad kid, but who, much like themselves, is trying to navigate the world without a parent’s support. Perhaps it’s as Rei says: She saw from the beginning who he truly is, vulnerable, drunk, and weak, and he had no chance to put up a front, to project any image. But at the moment he’s completely welcomed into their house as often as he’ll go, which isn’t as often as he should. And episodes 2 and 3 go right for the heart of the matter, as it’s Obon, a time to commemorate those loved ones who have passed away. I liked that the show gave more of an explanation of what Obon is, with the cucumber horses and eggplant oxen, and how it was able to move from that into the real meaning of the season, with Hina trying hard to hold in her feelings until she wasn’t with the others, but not completely embarrassed when Rei saw her crying. And bringing that back to Rei, reconsidering his lack of emotion about the loss of his parents.

3-gatsu - the town

The shiny parts of the city…

3-gatsu - a warm night

or maybe a bit more grimy

So I mentioned Shinbou, and I have to say that I was happily surprised to see that there’s very little of the obvious “Shinbou-isms” in this Shaft production. I think what mostly bugs me about the things that end up in their shows is the gratuitous nature of them, the “I like to put these head tilts and ridiculous towers with megaphones and power lines and signs in, so more is better!” So far in 3-gatsu, that hasn’t happened. The visual style is quite a bit different from most recent Shaft shows, with a very soft, rough look that doesn’t have the sharp geometry we’re used to. And the setting design is excellent, with the clean, open barren world of Rei’s apartment giving way to the kinda shabby, homey, cramped, lived-in feeling of the Kawamoto household. And when those elements do creep in, such as the power lines in the third episode, they’re actually in place, showing the older section that the girls live in, highlighting the night. The show has a really good look, and is excellent at conveying the current season of the show, the hot summertime, with its haze and relentless sun. And the character designs work in as well, helping the melancholy feel of the show with resting downturned corners of the mouth, showing the effort needed to smile in such a situation.

3-gatsu - In the shop

And there are some happy times

3-gatsu - melancholy

and some more melancholy times


So far I’m really enjoying this show, and like that it’s not taking us on a ‘here’s how you play Shogi” tour, but focusing on the family aspect of these broken-up, but not broken, families. I like that it’s not beating us over the head with message, but getting it in on the sly. Watching these people just move through their life is interesting and evocative, and we feel the way we’re supposed to feel seeing them. I do worry that the story may end up leaning too much on the setup, since it felt like it needed to, basically, give itself a handicap right from the beginning. Dead parents, child prodigy, unlikely meeting, thinking about all these things makes me a little worried that the characters themselves might not be able to carry the entire story and keep us interested, but that we’ll have to see as we move through these 23 episodes.


Proving that you don't have to be young to love anime, I enjoy all genres and styles of shows. If it's not hurting anyone else, you should never be ashamed of what you like!
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5 Responses to “First Impression – 3-gatsu no Lion”

  1. skylion says:

    It’s a good story about coping mechanisms. The Kawamoto family needs someone to help them keep the “stiff-upper-lip”, and Rei is giving them that; while at the same time realizing that there is enough loss to go around and it’s better to share and find happiness there.

    Rei is another story, and one that, as you say, is emerging.

    As far as Shinbu is concerned, it looks like he’s back to basics? The “study in contrasts” approach from the first episode seems to have calmed down, but only just. To go from this empty, almost cliched adolescent angst tone poem loneliness, to the busy and bustling house; one that has more than it’s far share of a departed mother and grandmother stuff and feelings in it still…Plus dem cats…was almost eye-poking in how sharp it was.

  2. Overcooled says:

    I’m pretty happy they didn’t sit us down and explain all the intricacies of shogi too. That doesn’t feel like the main point of the show. Besides, you can tell who’s winning or losing just based on facial expression. In fact, it seems like it’s more about emotional matters than “YAAA GOTTA BE THE BEST AT SHOGI”. Which is nice.

    Shinbou usually goes craaaazy with architecture, but I’m glad he reigned himself in here. No giant piles of chairs or ladders in the corner of rooms for no reason. It just makes more sense with the show.

    I guess none of us are blogging this one? Ah well, I’ll bug you guys on twitter about it lol

  3. Kyokai says:

    This is one of my favourite shows of the season. I agree that it doesn’t have the usual Shinbo signature of head tilts but then there are some really nice colourful scenes where some a feeling is expressed and it’s still a very Shaft/Shinbo signature (case in point, the first time Momo saw Harunobu and same for Akari).

    On another note, Shigatsu aired when I was quite busy so if it was similar, I would check that out too.

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