The Lion Cub Can Grow Again: Season One Episode Eleven
Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations
To be completely honest with you all, going through some of the re-watch has been kind of hard, not because the show is bad, but because some of the moments are gut-wrenching in their sadness. I would be lying if I said there were not at least a couple of those moments in this episode in particular, and believe it when I say they hit hard. With that being said though, lets jump into it.
The show opens with a Rei explaining that after his regular season matches, around the end of December, he gets sick, so sick that he is resigned to his bed for days on end, with barely any water and medicine left. Because of this he decides unwisely that the best things to do is just to fall asleep.
For this episode, the show steps back, taking a look at Rei’s internal conflicts rather than his external ones, as it gives a great example of in the next scene. After Rei begins his cycle of sleeping, waking up, and sleeping, he starts to have a recurring dream that he says he has been having since childhood. The dream involves him ridding peacefully up a large escalator. However, when he gets to the top, he arrives in an empty room with no way of getting himself down.
Now, as is present in plenty other forms of media, if a character has a recurring dream, it probably means something important, and in this case, Rei’s dream actually has roughly two meanings. The first is that Rei’s actually skill level in Shogi has been going up ever since he was a kid and began learning the game at professional level. However, even if Rei continues on his journey and becomes the best player in the world, that title will likely bring with it a feeling of not being able to give it up, and being at risk of seeing himself as a failure.
The second has to do with other people’s expectation of him. As he climbs the mountain, or rather the escalator, that is professional Shogi, people’s expectation of him will also go up, until they expect him to always be at the top, which reinforces the first meaning and how Rei might not be able to get down both literally from his title as best in the world, but also figuratively as the version of himself that people see in their heads.
One last thing I think is also worth pointing out is that when talking about the dream, Rei specifically denotes the pleasantness of the escalator ride, symbolic of his status as a child prodigy and how easily he ascended to that status.
However, after a few days of being in a perpetual daze, Hina, Momo, and Akari all come to his apartment to see what is going on, and take him to the doctor. Afterwards the three go home and Akari gives him some medicine and food to try and quell his fever. The four of them, along with grandpa, proceed to enjoy their New Year’s Eve.
After a while though, Momo and Grandpa, along with their three cats pass out, and Hina goes to clean the kitchen. While Akari begins to clean the kitchen, she reminisces about when she, her mother and grandmother would clean by themselves after everyone else fell asleep. She then makes more food for Rei, and tells him that mixing in pickled plums with his food with making it taste fresher, and remembers not only that she said that earlier, but also that it was something her mother used to say when she was sick.
Soon, the two begin wallowing in memories of the past, letting out a healthy cry as they desperately search for tissues. This is probably one of the more powerful moments of the first season, as it is a reminder of both Rei and Akari’s painful past, and how each of them have struggled to get where they are. It not only allows them to understand one another better, but allows them to feel comfortable in each other, and as I have learned recently, that is an invaluable experience for anyone.
The second half of the episode begins as Rei wakes up in the Kawamoto’s sisters house, having had a dream about his family and the time he and his sister put stickers on their mother’s dresser. He is woken by Momo and Hina, similar to the beginning of the episode, only this time he now more calm and relaxed. When the four have breakfast together, Akari checks his temperature and finds he is still a little sick and keeps him at their house.
Something worth pointing out that I forgot to mention up to this point is that in the first half of the episode, Akari plugs in Rei’s phone and lets it charge, then opens his phone to show him all the missed calls he’s had since getting sick. She does this as a way to remind him that acting like no one cares for him is not only untrue, but also harmful. As the show continues, it will become much more apparent that Akari has become Rei’s new maternal figure, whether he understands that or not, which it is revealed near the end of the episode that he kind of does.
Late on in the day, the Kawamoto sister’s Aunt Misaki comes over to visit, bringing new years money for everyone, including Rei, which he tries to nicely decline, but fails when Misaki insists. Grandpa later talks to her about Akari working at her bar, and how he feels it is dangerous for her. Aunt Misaki tells him that he has nothing to worry about, letting him know that she will protect her, but also that she use her as a way to strip men of their money.
Later on, after everyone has eaten dinner and Aunt misaki has gone home for the night, the four of them get ready for bed, with Rei awkwardly making his way upstairs after it is revealed that the bath is actually right next to the living room, due to them adding it on later.
Rei prepares for bed, but in doing so questions why everything feels so cozy, and why he feels at home in place owned by people he barely knows. The questions bother him for a second, until he notices stickers on the dresser next to him, much like the ones he put on his mother’s when he was young. He then falls asleep, saying that the sleep he got that night was some of the most peaceful he had gotten in a long time.
The last scene here at the end of the episode was another heavy hitter emotionally. It brings Rei closer to a conclusion that he has yet to reach: That family is the people who make you feel at home, and home is a place where you always feel welcome. Rei’s improved state of mind near the end is a result of him subconsciously understanding that dynamic.
Overall, this was a turbulent yet deeply satisfying episode. The show brings to Rei a moment of clarity after a violent storm, one filled with abuse, stagnation, and confusion. Still, there is much for him to explore moving forward, and this episode is only the beginning in the journey of Rei finding himself.