Having reached professional status in middle school, Rei Kiriyama is one of the few elite in the world of shogi. Due to this, he faces an enormous amount of pressure, both from the shogi community and his adoptive family. Seeking independence from his tense home life, he moves into an apartment in Tokyo. As a 17-year-old living on his own, Rei tends to take poor care of himself, and his reclusive personality ostracizes him from his peers in school and at the shogi hall.
However, not long after his arrival in Tokyo, Rei meets Akari, Hinata, and Momo Kawamoto, a trio of sisters living with their grandfather who owns a traditional wagashi shop. Akari, the oldest of the three girls, is determined to combat Rei's loneliness and poorly sustained lifestyle with motherly hospitality. The Kawamoto sisters, coping with past tragedies, also share with Rei a unique familial bond that he has lacked for most of his life. As he struggles to maintain himself physically and mentally through his shogi career, Rei must learn how to interact with others and understand his own complex emotions.
Sangatsu no Lion's first five minutes contains a scene I might characterise as one of the best in animation. He listlessly wakens, drinking out of necessity, dressing out of obligation, and leaving his sterile apartment out of confusion, an existence so fragile it could perish with the wind. He doesn't say anything. He doesn't tell people about his problems. He just moves on with his life.
At first I did not understand why this scene had such an impact on me. I thought it could have been the beautiful music, or perhaps the captivating artwork so characteristic of Shaft. That wasn't it. What overwhelmed me
was how illustrative it was of human life.
People often describe their favourite pieces of fiction with vague terms such as "brilliant" or "life-changing". Sangatsu no Lion is not life-changing, least not in the sense of it developing for me a different personality, or in creating new passions. What it did, rather, is give me the tools to better understand myself and, more importantly, why I am here. And that is the greatest answer of all.
To say that Sangatsu no Lion is powerful would be an understatement. There are numerous moments, much like the opening scene, that do much with little. Most things are left implicit and unsaid. A simple, everyday conversation between family, about what their plans could be for the next day, or a brief conversation about one's quiet hometown can contain more weight and characterisation than a series might in its entire duration. Sangatsu no Lion is as well masterfully-produced, a technical triumph, Shaft's greatest accomplishment.
Sangatsu no Lion is at its surface an anime about shogi, but at its core a coming-of-age story of overcoming depression. Rei, the series' protagonist, is a deeply and inherently flawed being. He is timid - incapable of speaking his mind or getting his feelings across - and unhappy with his role in life. Many characters do not understand why he is this way, and indeed, for someone so gifted at shogi-- enough as to turn it into a career from a young age-- and blessed by such having such a kind family care for him, it is easy to be envious and to question why someone in his position could ever feel unsatisfied. He is still in his teens, after all, so it could merely be an irrational fit of teenage angst. And so they think, and so they patronise him.
There is more to Rei than the people around him give credit for. He never had a real family, nor even a youth, hence why he goes to school in an aimless search of one. He has nothing he can relate to but shogi. Even shogi brings him pain, as his thirst for victory ends only with him driving the loser to disappointment and despair. He needs to feed on other people's happiness to give meaning to his own existence, as without shogi, he will have nothing.
This isn't meant to instil feelings of pity in the viewer. Rei's problems, while significant and real, aren't much different from what everyone else in his world is dealing with. His eventual mentor, Shimada, struggles with a fear of disappointing others and with a chronic sickness that disrupts his ability to play shogi. Even Hinata, the carefree, younger-sister figure to Rei is dealing with issues of love and an anxiety of growing up. Rei's journey is not just about recognising and facing his own problems, but also in understanding that pain is a normal part of life, and something that everyone deals with. All one can do is to take it with stride.
Rei's eventual breakdown is one of the story's most notable moments. I have read complaints of the scene being too dramatic, or that it took too long for Rei to get there. I feel that was the point. Simply being told "no, you are wrong" does not do anything to help fix a person's issues. Rei has already been told his entire life that he is wrong. It is through being kicked down, made a fool of, and, yes, breaking down completely that humans are able to grow the most. We are resilient creatures, and respond to failure with success. Rei is not meant to be entirely likeable to the viewer. He's just a dude and he has his limits, much like anyone else. He is meant to be human rather than an embodiment of all things cool and attractive, and I suppose it is this distinction that is bothersome to certain viewers.
The scene where Shimada chats with Rei about Yamagata, his hometown, represents a lot of what makes the anime so special. The conversation is only 90 seconds long, and yet it encapsulates Rei's growth as a person. It culminates in his one simple quip back to Shimada, that even something dull is still "something". Rei has by this point become capable of standing his ground and arguing back, and of framing the world more positively. It is easy to not notice these things because Rei's evolution is not sudden or obvious. That is precisely what makes it great, and is why it feels so real. It is only in the small details do we notice change.
Many aspects of Shaft's production are experimental in nature, and that definitely shows through in this case. While some of their other works, such as the Monogatari series, got a bit too focused on style rather than content (to the extent of being pompous or even pretentious, I would argue), the direction and artwork of Sangatsu no Lion is artful and stylish while still managing to keep genuine. The tenth episode's shogi match is one of the more prominent examples of this, where a thunderous orchestral piece plays as the two furiously and silently challenge one another. It doesn't require dialogue, as the visual and audio cues do more than enough to demonstrate who is winning and losing, and how much stress they are undergoing. There is even a scene that more closely resembles theatre, with jazzy beats playing while Smith slowly (very, very slowly) eats breakfast. Some may feel this is unnecessary, but I am of the opinion that it provided a wealth of character to someone who we really had not seen or understood much of by that point in the story.
It's a bit remarkable just how reminiscent the anime is of life in Tokyo. I feel that those who have never been here are missing quite a bit, as its depiction does well to make the world the characters live in feel real and relateable. It was actually a bit surreal in my case, as Rei goes to train stations, bridges and other areas that I have personally been to, and visits Sendagi at one point in the series: the quiet little neighbourhood in which I live. He even wears the exact same black coat that I bought at a local Uniqlo some months ago. So, understandably, I think, the anime has been a fairly personal experience for me. It's nothing short of stunning how much effort Shaft has put into making the setting feel like a real place where real people live. It is not a portrayal of Tokyo - it is Tokyo.
The music in Sangatsu no Lion is without doubt some of the best that has been in anime. Most of the more heavy-hitting tracks are used sparingly, often only in one specific scene for a specific purpose, and accomplish said purpose with power and with triumph. In some scenes, such as the Yamagata talk, the first time "Sayonara Bystander" began playing, or the end of the twelfth episode when Rei promises to Momo to win, the music was effective enough to make my eyes water a bit. That isn't a reaction I normally have towards music.
One could argue that there is a bit too much comedy in the anime. And, certainly, if you are looking only for serious storytelling from start to finish, you may end up feeling somewhat alienated by the end. I might have preferred a bit less comedy, too, as the light-hearted scenes, while enjoyable (especially with how adorable Hinata is), are not quite as exciting as all the other pieces. But I can still appreciate its existence, as it would be disingenuous to remove it altogether and to pretend as if there are no happy moments in the characters' lives. Seeing Rei grow to accept the Kawamoto sisters is quite heartwarming, too. They care about him, even if he may not always care about himself, and by the end, they help him to find more meaning in life than shogi.
It's true that Sangatsu no Lion does not have much conclusion. Most of the problems the characters are dealing with are still an ongoing struggle by the end, and Rei is far from becoming a master of shogi as most anime protagonists typically would. Part of this can be attributed to logistical issues, such as a limited production budget and the fact that the manga is still ongoing. I don't think this creates an inherent flaw with the anime, however, as Sangatsu no Lion isn't really in need of an ending. There's no plot with a specific starting point and ending point-- it is rather a moment in time, a piece of Rei's life and those of the people around him. His depression persists, and he remains an imperfect and flawed person, even if he now has friends and family by his side. He's still searching. He's still running. Perhaps that will change by the end of the second season or the manga. Maybe it won't. And that would be completely fine. I don't believe there is anyone, even on their deathbed, who has ever been complete as a person. We start imperfect, and we end imperfect, gradually, yet surely, evolving, unchanging.
With most reviews, I feel compelled to discuss the anime in a mechanical way. "The animation was nice", "the characters were developed well", "the plot was inconsistent". It is because most anime feel crafted, like a specimen of sorts to be examined. How is this piece? How is that piece? Sangatsu no Lion never felt that way for me. It's bigger. It feels more real. And so I can't help but write something more personal, too.
Is Sangatsu no Lion better than Honey & Clover? Maybe. Is it the best anime of the past decade? Perhaps. More than that? Could be. It is difficult right now to answer with complete certainty these questions I have been posing myself. Time is the best judgement, I feel. But I can say, without question or hesitation, that Sangatsu no Lion is the only anime since Touch that has had such a profound and visceral impact on me. And Touch was the best anime I had ever seen.
Sangatsu no Lion is a statement that unhappiness is OK. Being depressed, unsatisfied or stressed does not make you weak - it makes you human. And so I find it appropriate to close with a quote from Hinata:
To be honest, I’ve always found reviewing slice of life series to be difficult and unpleasant, doing it is just tedious.
In recent years the anime production standards have steadily dropped culminating with the winter 2017 season which is filled with generic otaku-targeted shows, and thus 3-gatsu no Lion distinguished itself by having a more “serious” tone and being better, compared to the vast number of shitty series that aired at the same time.
I usually avoid watching slice of life because, in most cases, the story is nothing special and the pacing is slow, leaving me unsatisfied and on the brink of falling asleep in
front of the screen. Unfortunately that perfectly applies to 3-gatsu no Lion’s case.
3-gatsu no Lion revolves around Rei Kiriyama and his everyday life, portraying Rei’s struggles with his past as well as the difficulties he encounters as a professional Shogi player.
With the show being part of the SoL genre, one can anticipate the story being dull with a fundamentally slow pacing that gradually tests your patience for the duration of the 22 episodes, and that it does.
The story is simple, not original or engaging in any particular way, it holds no hidden messages or deep meanings and develops at a pace so slow that sometimes makes you doze-off in front of the screen. Well, to be honest, the show does hold a few "hidden messages" about family, life and such.
The show’s plot just plods along, inducing a comatose state that is very difficult to recover from.
To my pleasant surprise, 3-gatsu no Lion contains some drama as well as comedy having a few entertaining and gripping moments, covering and merging multiple tones, alternating introspective and dark scenes with lively and funny moments, features which helped progress the story in a more fluid way while the show did a fairly decent job explaining the Shogi game in a way that anyone can understand.
The short flashbacks to Rei’s past were some of the very few things I liked about the execution of this show, execution that was tedious except for a few exceptions to the rule.
Although 3-gatsu no Lion is a character-focused show I was not impressed with its performance in this category, not even in the slightest.
The characters are decently built also being decently developed but at the same time they are stagnant and ultimately feel bland. I personally did not find the characters to be likeable or relatable to nor particularly deep or intriguing.
Rei Kiriyama is a 17-year-old boy who had a harsh childhood during which he faced many difficulties and sad moments. The difficulties he experienced as a child traumatized him and drove him to become an introvert who spends most of his time alone, studying Shogi, game which is his “passion”.
By meeting the Kawamoto family, the changes in Rei’s behavior and personality are put into motion, he slowly meets and starts to interact with more people while exploring his own emotions and getting to better know himself.
Rei’s parents passed away due to a car accident when he was just a child, leaving him alone in a world he did not know or fully understand. After the loss of his family, Rei secluded himself in the Shogi game, considering he had nothing left aside from that game. No relatives were willing to care for him but fortunately, one of his father’s close friends was kind enough to welcome Rei in his home and treat him like part of the family, but in that man’s home Rei will continue to face difficulties and sadness, being resented by the other two children.
While trying to escape from that pressure, Rei decides to live alone in Tokyo and work as a professional Shogi player in order to pay for his expenses.
As the story develops so does Rei's character.
Kyouko Kouda, Rei’s older adoptive sister, is a self-centered and egoistic young woman who has no real worries other than her relationship with Gotou (the bad guy), a married older man who also happens to be a professional Shogi player.
Kyouko has no issues standing and watching Rei getting beaten by Gotou and when in need of help she has no issues going to Rei’s house looking for help like nothing ever happened. She is described as a “witch” by Momo, the youngest of the 3 Kawamoto sisters.
The animation and art are beautiful as well as the color palette which is very nice, featuring colors according to the tone each scene employs and clearly conveying the feelings and emotions the moment carries.
The character design could have been done better and there are some minor flaws in the animation but other than that I have nothing to complain about.
Both opening and ending themes are great, arousing and inducing a certain mindset for the viewer to have as well as setting the mood for the show.
The OST is very good, working in tandem with the animation and perfectly conveying the emotions each scene carries.
The voice actors did a great job interpreting the characters, I particularly liked the 3 sisters’ voices and also the voice of the pets.
I’ve always said “Why watch slice of life when you can go out and do the real thing?”.
Watching 3-gatsu no Lion was a fairly bad watching experience, the show being very dull but having some entertaining moments to maybe remember.
3-gatsu no Lion is a show that I found difficult to finish and that made me constantly feel like I was wasting my time. I would not recommend watching this show unless you are a fan of the slice of life genre or you want to fall asleep.
3-Gatsu no Lion is a work with an unrivaled artistic direction.
In terms of animation and staging, Shaft has always succeeded in surpassing, innovating and surprising us with each of its new creations/adaptations. The evolution of Shaft studio animation is progressive and always looking for originality, so you can see that 3-Gatsu no Lion is a dynamic slice of life. Due to the ingenuity of its director Akiyuki Shinbou (which it is useless to present to you so much he is present in all Shaft projects) and his staff, you will probably always be surprised by how each feeling, every moment comic or dramatic will be
represented to you. You will sometimes be trained in a flood of emotions thanks to the exceptional and original staging of the series. Sometimes plunged into the bitterness of Rei Kiriyama, sometimes captivated by the tension resulting from a game of shogi, or simply in the warm moments by sharing a pleasant dinner with the Kawamoto sisters.
I think if you want to have an idea of the animation level of the series, you can watch the opening 2, which contains no spoil.
Add to this animation a high quality soundtrack. From the first episode, I was pleasantly surprised by an OST sung in French. The OST is titled "Closing the Eyes" and if you listen to the lyrics or read the translation once you have watched the entire series you will see that his words will touch you completely so they fully describe the feelings of the main character , Rei Kiriyama. The other OSTs also merge in the atmosphere and are made up mostly of music played with a piano.
The openings and endings are all excellent and personally am taken with the OP2 "Sayonara Bystander" by Yuki.
For the seiyuus, we find the well-known Ai Kayano and Kana Hanazawa respectively, for Akari and Hinata Kawamoto, whose vocal performance is as awesome as usual. For Rei, we have a seiyuu that I knew briefly and whose performance I salute especially in the dramatic moments.
Concerning the story, we follow Rei Kiriyama, a 17 years young man, orphan and professional player in the shogi game. He lost his parents and her little sister in a car accident and was then adopted by his father's friend, Kouda Masachika. In this foster family, his adopted father will continue teaching the shogi (which Rei had begun to learn with his real father) to the detriment of his other two children. Today, at 17, Rei lives alone in an apartment in Tokyo. He left his host family because Rei felt like destroying the relationship between the children and their father. Wishing to show that he can be independent and unwilling to cause trouble to his former host family, he earns his living as a professional at the shogi game.
Rei has always been an individual away from others. Already child, we can see that he plays the shogi unlike all his chums who run and do sports. Therefore, he is not very sociable and has difficulty opening up to others. He doesn't want to disturb anyone, so he expresses his feelings very rarely and never asks for help. Besides, Rei doesn't come often to high school and doesn't know any of his colleagues. Only Hayashida sensei catches up on Rei's news and eats lunch with him. This character has an astonishing wisdom.
He will meet the Kawamoto sisters. It is a family consisting of 3 sisters, Akari, Hinata, Momo and their grandfather. The three sisters lost their mother and grandmother, live in a small house and have some financial difficulties. Rei compares this house to a "kotatsu".
Indeed the warm and relaxed atmosphere of this house reminds Kiriyama the time when he lived with his real parents and his little sister. Personally, the slice of life moments spent in the house are the ones I enjoy the most. Whether with the little and cute Momo who, despite her age shows an incredible capacity of discernment for a 4-year-old girl and you can notice it in a subtle way and not in a cliché way. Or Hinata's 14-year-old sister is full of vitality and in love with her fellow baseball player. She still lacks rigor in the work she undertakes, yet she shows an incredible mental state and doesn't dare to show her sisters that she is suffering from having lost family members that were very precious to her. She is also very understanding, and she is very close to Rei, without any notion of love relationships.
Finally, the kindly Akari, the eldest, is an adult and is responsible for his 2 sisters and his grandfather. She sometimes looks like a housewife and very often people think she is the Momo and Hinata's mother, probably because of her appearance. She also works part time in a bar and therefore has some freedom and spends time out of her home. Akari is mature, she takes care of her two sisters like a mother, she cooks, takes charge of the house and the family store.
These 3 girls are concerned about Rei (even little Momo) when he doesn't give news for several days. Each one takes care of him in his own way. Momo will rather play with him, Hinata will offer to come to her house to discuss and Akari will prepare delicious dishes and help her as moral support. They don't know Rei and the latter remains very mysterious. For example, Akari and Hinata don't know that Rei is a professional player and will only learn it after a few episodes.
Regarding the shogi, do you think it may be annoying to watch shogi matches in anime? First of all, if you don't know anything about shogi like me at the beginning, you will learn with the series the different pawns and how to play with them using a nice song, sung by our 3 sisters. (The 3 seiyuus so) The song will be taken from the book on the shogi written by a childhood friend of Rei. A book with lots of pictures to please the children too. Thank you Nikaidou for your work!
Then during matches, several techniques will be revealed and thus you will understand better and better the shogi. I honestly didn't think that I would like this game (anime version), not being a big fan of Hikaru no Go, I was afraid it would be boring and... in the end I bought a shogi set.
During his games in order to participate in the Grand Lion tournament, Rei will get to know great and experienced players. Some are better and others less good than Rei.
I think this is the highest quality of 3-Gatsu no Lion. Players aren't just players. They are fully-fledged characters who each have a real development. We have a lot of characters, four main and the rest of the cast is secondary. But most secondary characters aren't unidimensional. You will be surprised at the importance that some characters will take during the series.
We can imagine that since Kiriyama is the narrator of the series then we will not be able to access the point of view of the other characters. However, this is not the case. We have access to the inner thoughts of the characters if need be and sometimes the narrator also changes.
Unfortunately, I often see in many series that the characters are forgotten or serve only as support for the main character without real development or impact in the overall scenario. They are secondary characters who act as NPCs. But Sangatsu no Lion doesn't follow this path, why?
I think the secondary characters like Nikaidou, Shimada or Kyouko are (good or bad) examples for Rei. We saw earlier that Rei is a bit asocial and doesn't feel very comfortable with people. Rei will thus be able to know people with personalities very different from his who will help him to socialize and also to find his path in life. Why does he really play shogi? Does play help to feel useful?
For the secondary characters, I don't prefer to detail because I don't wish to spoil.
Personally, at first sight, the series didn't really interest me, especially as many people had presented it to me as a simple slice of life with shogi. But I don't think it's just that.
It is a very realistic series that depicts the daily life of normal people, I mean without supernatural powers, people like you and me. They have qualities and flaws, like you and me. They have their dreams, their fears and each of them has developed a personality from their experience, from their environment or from the education they have received... like you and me. I think each of the characters can teach us something and you should watch this show with this point of view.
I know the series has a slow start, but look at the first five episodes before deciding if you want to continue. In addition, the shogi competition begins seriously only from the second half of the series.
In conclusion, this season of Sangatsu no Lion was excellent and I will read the next manga straightaway or... maybe wait for season 2.
Thanks to the animation staff and the mangaka, Chika Umino.
3-Gatsu was originally an anime I started watching because I love Shaft's other animes, but a few episodes in I started watching to follow along on Rei's journey.
The story resonates with me a lot. It's like a combination of figuring out life in the present and how to deal with your past at the same time. The story is more than just about shogi, it's more about the player. How he decides what pieces to use, what pieces to move, and try and overcome his next opponent/obstacle. It also applies to his life. He has his new family which currently guards him and
his past (pieces he lost) which keep coming back to attack him.
This is pretty self explanatory. The art is unique and defines each situation perfectly. You can properly see how everyone is feeling in each scene. It's powerful and really makes you think back when you were hurt but then got through it thanks to a loved one.
The opening/endings always seemed to tell Rei's story just by listening to it. Everything was made well to fit the mood. It wasn't forced like laugh tracks from 90s comedies but I knew when to smile, be sad, and root for them thanks to the sound.
As far from how much I like their characters, It's pretty much 10/10. The only reason it's an 8 is because some of the characters got underdeveloped in comparison to the main few. I love them all as characters from their realism, supportiveness, and silliness. Even the characters we know little about, I wanna know more about them cus they seem interesting. Rei's sister, Rei's future opponents, and pretty much everyones past.
3-Gatsu was that one anime I kept coming back to weekly. It was at times heartbreaking, heartrelieving, and at times very intense. I enjoyed the characters and the story that came with them, but at some points it was a little slow. I enjoyed it overall, and was happy as fk when they announced season 2 coming soon.
Another one of Shaft's animes that I actually liked. Hope you give this anime a chance because everything about it is relatable and enjoyable at the same time.