The answer to whether or not I can read subs while tearing up is clearly no because I had to rewatch the second half of this episode and subsequently had my heart crushed and trampled a second time in the space of an hour. Fortunately I was out of tears so the second time it just left me with a dull ache in my chest and a general feeling that as unfair as life is, true strength is moving forward in whatever way you can against whatever odds you may face. And then I found new tears. Sometimes, as much as I love this show I also hate that it hits my emotional buttons so incredibly well.
Fortunately, this show isn’t just about breaking its audience into pieces. It starts with Rei’s teachers giving us what we needed after last week. A tirade against Hina’s homeroom teacher. A voice of anger in the face of such unreasonable unfairness. It is silly and over the top at it succeeds as a point of needed catharsis for an audience that has been dragged emotionally through the mud with Hina’s troubles for weeks. The situation still isn’t solved, but for once this acts as the lighter point of the episode with Nikaido’s story being the soul crushing one for the week.
It is really, really affective. For weeks the school and Hina have been the darker points in the story with the shogi hall being a place where things have been going well for Rei and the place where some needed comedy has been injected into the story. This week, we leave the school and the comedy behind as we find out that Rei has made it into the final of the newcomers tournament (a triumph in itself) but Nikaido has not achieved the same. We also learn that Nikaido’s always poor health has taken a turn for the worse.
Shimada is the one who Rei confronts and demands to know what has happened to Nikaido and so we see young Nikaido through Shimada’s eyes. It is a tear jerking story and it nails the tone perfectly. Nikaido is adorable throughout and his determination not just to be strong himself, but to see his rival, Rei, be strong is incredibly touching.
However, it is Rei’s response to being told this that really hits home as once again the show is reinforcing the changes Rei has undergone over the course of a season and a half. I’m really worried about Rei next episode because I feel at the moment while he is looking much stronger than he was, he might very well be broken soon. He has realised his complete helplessness with Hina, including the fact that even earning more money isn’t going to solve the issue, and now he is facing an inability to help Nikaido. While at the moment he has the goal of winning the tournament, if that doesn’t happen, I’m really not sure if he’s emotionally able to deal with it at the moment.
All things considered though, I loved this show. I love the imagery that has been used all throughout the episode, particularly that image of Nikaido leading Rei across the bridge with the birds all flying ahead of them. I love how the character really feel like nuanced human beings and I love that they continue to change in response to events around them. I might be a broken, teary mess after most episodes this season, but what comes after that is the feeling that I’m watching something quite special that I will remember well after it is done.
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