After the last bit of Nikaido in Episode 2, I had almost completely dismissed him as a potentially likable character. Episode 3 was a bit slow, taking its time to delve into the relationship between Nikaido and Rei. And I must admit, I was completely wrong about Nikaido. There are far more layers to him than I gave him credit for. He’s more than just an arrogant, smug rival — he’s a determined and ambitious person with something to prove, despite suffering from what could potentially be a life-threatening illness. The fact he hides this illness from Rei for all these years shows the characters resolve to win. He doesn’t want pity. No, he wants nothing more than to beat Rei under fair circumstances; the only person he has deemed worthy of being his life-long rival. I enjoyed that Nikaido is more than just the stereotypical Shounen rival who’s gung-ho attitude and ego knows no bounds.
When Rei reminisces of the first time he encounters Nikaido during a middle school tournament, we get a glimpse of what Rei really thinks of Nikaido. It’s easy to dismiss Nikaido as pitiable and weak since the first impression we get of him through Rei is someone who could barely breathe. He literally looks like he’s about to keel over and die at any moment during their match. That’s funny, I seem to recall a similar moment between Akari and Rei where Akari had to walk Rei home. Rei literally wanted to end Nikaido’s misery as fast as possible. What he didn’t account for was Nikaido’s strength of character and drive to win; a pleasant surprise compared to all the one-sided sweeps Rei has shown. It’s during this match Rei realizes Nikaido is someone he respects enough to say they’ll be facing each other for a long time.
A similar game between the two is mirrored in the present. It becomes apparent that Nikaido is still, after all this time, hiding his illness from Rei. The fact he has hidden it for so long speaks dimensions about his character. He wants to be an equal to Rei at all costs. And this is how Rei sees him. After all, it is seemingly only Nikaido that has pushed Rei to long games into the evenings.
Yes, he realizes. This is the face of someone who he will see across that board for many decades to come. Just like the grandfather mentioned in the past, “This is how it is. This is how it should be.”
What I gathered from these moments is that ritual, for them and everyone else, becomes the anchor that holds them together in their turbulent lives. Nikaido’s servant can’t help but be by his side. Even to the point where he comes back from his vacation to make sure Nikaido is okay. Nikaido can’t help but come at Rei with everything that he has. He wants to prove to himself he’s Rei’s equal when he has already been acknowledged by Rei. Rei has come to expect their lives will always be like this as pro Shogi players. It makes me angry to see that he can’t take the hints and realize Nikaido is sick (the car ride back home from the match hints at just how bad things might be). But then again, what would that change if Rei knew about the situation?
Perhaps all our lives are like this; slaves to Rituals that help us keep moving forward.
The rest of the episode is back at the sister’s place as Rei had promised the sisters to tell them about how his match went. They treat him to a lavish dinner where Hinata’s sweet side comes out yet again — she split his meal into small portions because she knows he doesn’t eat much. Hinata’s consideration for Rei is beyond cute. Part of me really wants some romance to bloom here, but then I remember Akari and I just can’t decide.
Again, we see how rituals come into play for the sister’s family. They light the fire again after dinner. We then learn that it’s something they do daily; once in the morning to welcome the spirits of their family in and once in the evening to tell them to stay as long as possible. Even the cucumbers Momo was holding in episode 2 were mentioned. They put these cucumber horses out so their spirits can get home faster. Ahhhh! My heart can’t take all this sadness. These scenes really tear at me.
I love how Shaft captures these moments in time. The combination of light colors, bloom, and that little hint of sadness in their smiles… I’m truly engrossed by all of it.
What follows the dinner is a hint at Hinata’s grief — something that she has yet to show much to others. As the emotions inside her overwhelm her, she runs off after dinner with Rei chasing after her. It’s here that we get to see just how much pain she has been keeping in. She screams for her deceased mother at the top of her lungs as the tears just stream down from her face. I think the fact that Shaft keeps the scream silent when we first see her crying adds a certain depth to the scene. It’s almost as if to signal the pain inside her reaches the point where she can’t take anymore, finally capsizing into roaring emotion. I’m so glad Rei is there for her, but jeez can he be dense about people’s emotions sometimes. He just sits there and watches Hinata cry for a while before he actually goes next to her. Then he just looks on as she’s crying. Rei you dummy, hug her!
Everything from the mood and character’s acting only enhances these bittersweet moments, giving my heart a pang or two. It’s the sign that I’m already super invested in these characters. I just want to hug them all.