All too often, Sangatsu no Lion’s shogi players have been treated as disposable. Nameless, faceless players hyped up for an episode or two before being swiftly defeated and forgotten. This finally changed in episode ten – Yamazaki, the so-called “Eternal Newcomer King”, was given an entire chapter to himself.
He’s a surprisingly complex character.
Yamazaki is older than Rei and Nikaido but doesn’t have the same level of skill. As a result, he finds himself frequently trying to prolong matches in the hopes of forcing a tie. There are similarities between himself and Rei – both are obsessive fans of the game and neither can really relate to the people around them. Yamazaki could be a hint as to what could happen when Rei reaches his limit and can’t reliably progress anymore.
Yamazaki doesn’t have many friends, instead choosing to focus on his racing pigeons. It’s not unthinkable to imagine that Rei may have ended up in a similar situation if Akari and her family hadn’t taken him in. In many ways, Yamazaki was beaten by a younger version of himself – one yet to be worn down by the harsh realities of competitive shogi, one with the spark and passion for the game that has yet to be extinguished.
We’ve seen somewhat relatable antagonists before.
Gotou, for example, had some redeeming qualities but it’d be unfair to compare the two since Yamazaki seems to be a genuinely nice guy, driven only by the fear of losing one of the two things that are important to him. Even Nikaido isn’t angry at him, despite being hospitalized during their intentionally drawn-out game.
The second half of this episode was spent with Akari’s family. This seemed to be designed to break the tension of the preceding chapter, and really had no bearing on the overall plot. That said, the audience was explicitly reminded of just how good Rei’s memory is; this may prove to be a vital skill in the near future. After all, we already know he’s a prodigy, so there’s really no other reason to bring it up.
Hina was noticeably more cheerful this episode. Her field trip seemed to go better than expected and she now knows that she won’t have any regrets about it moving forward. Her subplot still has to be properly resolved, however. We can expect to see some progression on this in the coming episodes – perhaps her teacher will be disciplined, causing her to take action against the bullies once and for all.
This isn’t the end of the road for Rei. Despite being the Newcomer King, he still has a long way to go before he can hope to beat Soya. Nikaido is sure to help him on his journey, but first, he has to recover. Simply put, Sangatsu no Lion gets more exciting with each passing episode.