Never did I think that someday I would be watching an anime about a board game, but then again, I have already watched anime about card games so maybe it wasn't all that much more of a stretch. Still, it was even more surprising to me that such an anime would get to me so much. I am of course speaking of 3-gatsu no Lion, an anime that follows the life of a young shōgi player as he struggles with making a game his career choice, the relationships he makes, and the emotional toll of losing his entire family. If you couldn't guess, this anime gets a bit dark at points.
That young player's name is Rei Kiriyama by the way, a five dan in high school who lives alone after he moved out of his adoptive father's home. Rei is a very complex character, often times analyzing situations in his head, and mostly keeping to himself emotionally. He does have a relationships with a family of three sisters though, who look after him like part of their own after the eldest sister, Akari, found a dejected and sick Rei on the street. The other two sisters are Hinata, the middle child, and Momo, the youngest of the bunch.
Like Rei, the sisters too lost family with the death of their mother. However unlike Rei, the three bonded and had relatives who helped to look after them. Akari began working for her aunt as a Hostess, and helping her grandfather run his confectionary shop. She's quite the woman, but her focus is on keeping her family fed so she has no romantic relationships. However Hinata seems to have a thing for Rei, although it's difficult to tell if it's just a sisterly kind of love or more of a romantic type; personally I feel it leans to the latter more with the stuff she says. Yeah, it's not just Rei who is complex I guess.
Now when you heard me mention that he lives on his own, you might have groaned and said "ugh, not this trope again!" But before you leave, hear me out. After Rei's parents and little sister died in a car accident, he was taken in by a close friend of his father named Masachika who recognized his skill at shōgi. However Rei was too good, and put both of the man's children to shame. The daughter, Kyōko, reacting the most violently. As Rei puts it she is beautiful and hot tempered, having hit Rei on more then one occasion after losing to him in a shōgi match. It's also alluded to that she may have sexually abused him too, there's no confirmation on this yet, but even the sisters don't like Kyōko with Akari realizing it's a bad situation. Needless to say all this tension got to Rei, and seeing how his presence was tearing the family apart he moved out. Rei actually pays for his apartment by himself with his shōgi winnings, only taking out a small portion to feed himself while the rest he has the adoptive father collect and save up until he is out of high school.
Kyōko isn't entirely evil though, and Rei cares for her as a sister and is worried about her. See, after he moved out Kyōko got involved with a man by the name of Masamune. This man is married, though his wife has been hospitalized for quite some time, and he, at least according to Rei, takes advantage of Kyōko. Masamune is also a powerful shōgi player, and it's Rei's goal to defeat him in an official match to prove he is the better player. Not sure if this will get Kyōko to leave Masamune, but from what I can tell Masamune doesn't like Kyōko as a person. He probably just uses her for her body or something, but for now the only leg up Rei gets on Masamune is when Kai defeats Masamune in a very big match to determine who goes on to compete for the world class title.
Before you think Rei does extremely well however, as if he were some kind of prodigy, think again. He's a good player, really good, with a play style that is often compared to that of the current world shōgi champion, but he still loses. In fact he loses enough to worry about losing a rank, something he can't afford to do. Not out of some kind of need to be the best, but because he wouldn't be able to afford his apartment if he did. Rei's not alone in this struggle though, as he realizes that many of the players he squares off against are fighting to keep their ranks for similar reasons. Yeah, there's another emotional checkmark for ya, are you getting why I said this anime gets dark at times yet?
After we get through character introduction, smaller plot lines, and some background information, we finally reach the main story. Sadly it's just as this story begins that the anime comes to an end, as Rei begins to attend a shōgi club and accompany the club leader, a man by the name of Kai, to a couple matches against the current world champion. It's here we start to see those similarities between Rei and the world champion, as Rei is even able to successfully find a way to beat the champion, a way that Kai doesn't find, and a way that the champion was disappointed no one saw. But Rei did! I'm sitting there thinking, oh man, is he going to see the example of what Rei did? Then this eventually leads the two of them to have an unofficial match, where the champion defeats Rei but says he played beautifully and wants to play against him again. I was excited! Unfortunately, this never happens. Rei just returns home and goes back to school, but this time attending a shōgi club and opening his heart a little more.
Genres: Sports, Drama, Comedy
Animation: Ok, so, above all the animation in this anime was astounding! Oh my god, it was so good. As I like to describe it, it was atmospheric as fuck. The backgrounds and these environmental scenes they cut to are beautiful, and the designs on the people are very interesting. At first I was put off by the mouths, but came to enjoy the way they look. Shaft are the ones behind the animation, same studio responsible for animating Sayonara Zetsubō Sensei, the Monogatari series, and Nisekoi. They do good work, but I'm glad they moved away from "shafting" the animation like they loved to do in the Monogatari series.
Voice Acting: Stellar acting, perfectly paired voices to characters, and combine with the dramatic visuals it all just hits home. Kengo Kawanishi, who voices Rei, is almost unknown in lead roles. His resume is mostly background and filler characters, and I love it when a new voice does so well in such a large role. Though the anime itself saw a good mix of long time professionals and new voices, so the whole experience was refreshing to the ears.
Favorite Character: To be honest, it has to be Rei. This is a guy who has been dealt a pretty tough hand by life, but he still manages to scrape by. He works hard and you want to root for him, but at the same time you are forced to see him lose time and time again. I feel like had the anime continued, it probably would have been a turning point in his life, one that would see him grow more as a person and become not only a top shōgi player but also a really likable guy.
3-gatsu no Lion gets a 9.0 out of 10