Heavy is the head that wears the crown. It’s easy to forget the real stress and struggles that professionals go through in order to remain at the top of their game. Sometimes, it’s about making sure they know the best moves for every outcome. Other times, such as in this episode of Sangatsu no Lion, the real issue isn’t the game itself but the media circus that surrounds it.
This episode got off to a slow start but by the end, it was clear what purpose the first half served. The older, more prestigious shogi players were upset that the younger generation had higher profile matches and a higher marketing budget. In the second half, however, it was shown that neither Souya nor Rei enjoys this. Instead, it’s all intended to get the audience excited.
“Has he been standing alone in this world all this time?”
Understandably, Rei isn’t used to public speaking or acting in a way that looks good on camera. However, although Souya answers most of his questions flawlessly, cracks begin to show when he responds with an answer that doesn’t fit the question. In fact, he doesn’t even know how to react when someone spills wine on his suit. Here, Sangatsu is trying to highlight the many ways in which Rei and Souya are similar, despite the gap in their skill levels.
Souya is a particularly interesting character.
He stands above everyone else Rei has competed against in terms of skill. While the shogi hall is filled with elderly men desperately clinging to their titles, Souya breezes through his opponents seemingly effortlessly. He’s prodigious, but so too, is Rei.
No one seems to be in any doubt that Souya will win the upcoming game. It’s framed as a way for Rei to realize how far he still has to go. Still, though, in previous games where a meijin has played an up-and-comer, the meijin has lost consistently. The problem is that the public take it for granted that Souya will win, while expecting Rei to win as well, simply because of games that took place long ago.
Both characters are stuck in an untenable situation. Ultimately, the game doesn’t matter – no one will lose their title, rank, or status as a result of it, yet it’s being hyped up as a money fight. Worse, because it’s the first time the two have played one another, they’ll have to work out strategies as they go rather than coming up with them beforehand.
Whatever happens, one player has to lose this match. Narratively speaking, it makes sense that Rei would lose. That said, Sangatsu no Lion is nothing if not an underdog story. With this in mind, it’s possible he could do the unthinkable: beat Souya, the masterful, analytical shogi player that never loses.