3-Gatsu no Lion
Now that Shaft has run out of source material to adapt from the Monogatari series, which has been their primary focus over the past half-decade, we may be safe in expecting to see them broaden their portfolio over the following seasons. This is a damn good start.
I’ve watched three episodes as of now, and so far I’ve loved almost everything about it, but what immediately pulled me into 3-Gatsu above all else was the breathtakingly visual quality. I had relatively high expectations considering the immense talent behind the production, but this unique design style and brilliant utilization of color, paired with great directing honestly blew me away. The animation mixes styles of fluid motion accompanied by a vibrant and appealing color palette, to a jarring contrast of erratically flickering black and white. The aesthetics alone would be sufficient to tell an engaging narrative; early into the first episode we are shown a scene where our protagonist is playing a game of Shōji, and without a word of dialog, or a hint of explanation, the atmosphere of the scene is turned dour and depressing. We can feel the emotional tension of the scene through the exceptional visual directing, and the expressive art style; it conveys a vague context of the situation almost entirely without the use of conventional exposition. The style pulls the viewer into the characters world through evocative design work.
The character design’s are abnormal in a refreshing way, the exaggeration of facial expressions really leaves an impact as both a unique stylistic choice, and as a tool for establishing the emotional tone of a scene. When the characters wear their hearts on their sleeves like this, atmosphere becomes really easy to read.
The landscapes are as beautiful as everything else in the anime, but what stands out the most is how the world feels perfectly grounded by its varied and realistic set designs, each location feels like its own unique space, yet never far removed from what you would expect to see in a real city. Everything fits the tone of the scene; Akari, Hinata, and Momo, live together in a modest home shared with their grandfather. The small space packed with the energetic children and a number of pet cats make the location feel kinetic and bustling, while at the same time being cozy and inviting. Even in the sentimental scenes of the family as they mourn their deceased mother, light subtly radiates from inside the house as symbolism of the happiness in familial bonds.
The representation of lighting in 3-Gatsu is a motif in itself. The blog ‘For me, In Full Bloom‘ has an article which expands of this element of the aesthetic in far more detail than I ever could, I recommend giving it a read.
The sound design enhances everything I’ve talked about previous. Composed by Yukari Hashimoto, known for her work creating the soundtrack and insert songs for ‘Mawaru Penguindrum‘ as well as the soundtrack from ‘Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun‘. From what I’ve heard of the soundtrack so far, It’s her work with the piano that stands out the most; highly complex pieces, each tailored perfectly to fit the mood of the scene. In addition to Hashimoto’s work, the first episode featured a yet to be named french insert song, and it was absolutely astounding. Both the opening and ending songs are preformed by Bump of Chicken, responsible for one of my favorite openings from last year ‘Hello World’ from Kekkai Sensen. Their involvement in the production is fitting, considering that previously a portion of 3-Gatsu had been loosely adapted to a music video of Bump of Chicken’s 2014 single ‘Fighter’. All that included, 3-gatsu’s soundtrack so far has been a great contribution to the aesthetic.
As of now the directing has been handled by Akiyuki Shinbo alongside fellow directors Kenjirou Okada, Midori Yoshizawa, Asano Naoyuki and Takaaki Kidokoro (so far). It’s hard to say how much Shinbo is involved in any given scene, but the staff working under him are all competent in their own right. The art director has worked on a large variety of anime adaptions that have either become cemented as classics over the years, or have at least garnered some popularity; including Lucky Star, K-on, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Akatsuki no Yona, etc. Needless to say, Seiki Tamura has extensive experience with stylistic works.
The thematic progression of 3-Gatsu is closely intertwined with the strong cast of characters, tackling many different ideas simultaneously as Rei learns through his interactions throughout the narrative. The third episode has left me thoroughly stunned by both its nuanced approach to atmosphere, and the emotional impact of its character’s motivations. I’ve mentioned atmosphere a lot by this point, but the third episode needs praise beyond what I’ve given. Through flashback we are setup to watch a game of Shōji between the talented children Harunobu and Rei, playing in a junior competition set atop the roof of a department store. The shade of the tarp they play under offers minimal protection from the heat, The hellish temperature is conveyed so well that the scene almost feels uncomfortable to watch. The altered saturation of color makes the roof look sweltering; heat radiates around the children, both in discomfort but neither are viably losing ground in their match, but eventually Rei remarks to himself in monologue that the game is slowly but surely moving to end with him the victor. It’s Harunobu who is suffering the most in the heat, shown to be drenched in sweat as he moves uncomfortably in his seat, but Harunobu continues to struggle for an unattainable victory. Only wanting to get the kid next to him into an air conditioned room, Rei searches for the quickest way to bring him to checkmate, but as the game drags on for hours, slowly turning in his favor, Harunobu refuses to accept defeat until his last possible move. Throughout this experience Rei slowly realizes the immense arrogance of his thoughts; wanting to end the game for the sake of someone who wants to win so desperately, not taking him seriously despite giving the game literally everything he has. This flashback is paralleled perfectly through their rematch in the present, the nuanced growth in their characters becoming noticeable through the professional yet passionate game, contrasting to the heavy and depression atmosphere constructed in the previous scene. Details about Harunobu’s condition revealed in private after the match serve to deepen the already profound respect I developed for his determination in rivalry.
The third episode’s final scene adds a lot of meaning to the title, and presents the main theme of the work. The translated title of the anime is ‘March Comes In Like A Lion’, in Japanese the title is written as ‘3-Gatsu no Lion’. The ‘3-Gatsu’ part is a play on the word ‘shigatsu‘ which means ‘march‘ in English, and the ‘3’ is representative of the three sisters. After the sisters and their grandfather finish a ceremony to mourn the loss of their mother and grandmother, Rei has a hard time understanding why they would open themselves to pain like this, from his perspective they are opening their hearts to torn apart by a Lion of emotional pain.
Rei has been hunted down his entire life; he’s scared of facing his own Lion and has always run away from his emotions, because of this he has never been able to move beyond his past. Rei’s way of escapism since childhood has always been through Shōji, but even that has had the ironic effect of inflicting emotional pain. Every time that Rei wins a game, he is simultaneously and inevitably crushing the ambitions of the opponent sitting across from him. Being the cause of that pain is unpleasant for Rei, and as a young prodigy working his way through the ranks he rarely, if ever, loses a match.
3-Gatsu no Lion has been a triumph of aesthetic quality, and has pushed the envelope of emotional expression through animation. Rei as a character has been given a sturdy foundation for development that intertwines with an endearing thematic message of self betterment. My expectations have not only been met, but increased, with each passing episode, and if this level of improvement continues at its current rate it may end up as my favorite anime of 2016.