#139 – 3gatsu no Lion: Okamoto Nobuhiko x Takahashi Michio


Here is a translation of an interview with Okamoto Nobuhiko, CV of Nikaido Harunobu and a shogi maniac himself. Some speculated that Okamoto might be cast as Kiriyama because of his love for the game and the manga series but alas, he ended up being cast as Nikaido instead! Veteran pro shogi player Takahashi Michio tags along for the interview.

Note: I have done my best with the shogi terminology as I know virtually nothing about the game. To be honest, I was totally useless at both chess and Chinese chess that I played when I was growing up, hah! http://www.shogi.net/shogivocab/vocabhtml.html was a great help on some of the common words, and the shogi-related wiki entries were good for explaining the strategies and notation. If you find any mistakes, please do point them out and I will rectify ASAP. Cheers!

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I am 9-dan shogi player Takahashi Michio.

The manga 3gatsu no Lion is very popular in the shogi world as well. At long last, we have an anime adaptation.

This time, I get to hear plenty of stories from Okamoto Nobuhiko-san, who voices Nikaido Harunobu, the rival and good friend of protagonist Kiriyama Rei.

As a seiyuu, he would choose each of his words carefully and with much sincerity; when he spoke about his beloved shogi, his eyes shone like those of a boy. It impressed me.

Okamoto-san is a 3-dan ranked shogi amateur. He is also well-known as a seiyuu who is very strong at shogi.

During the second half of the interview, we had a very enjoyable and exciting time going deep into the topic of shogi, in a way that only Okamoto-san and I could relate.

Profile
Takahashi Michio (56 years)
He became a professional shogi player in 1980 and is currently 9-dan. His skills have brought him 5 overall titles and more, and he is also well-versed in anime culture. He cites K-ON! as a work that changed his life. Writing under the name ‘Takamicchi’, he runs the very popular blog Micchi the World.

[note: Shortly following the publication of this article, Takahashi deleted his blog after being flooded by negative comments following a post he made on the scandal regarding the Japan Shogi Association’s mishandling of cheating allegations against 9-dan Miura Hiroyuki, explaining his decision to abstain from attending and voting in the EGM held to determine the culpability of the Association board of directors]

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3gatsu no Lion is a ‘gentle’ story

Q: Thank you for your time today.

Okamoto: Takahashi-san, it has been a while. During a live broadcast of shogi on Niconico video, Takahashi-san, when questioned ‘Which seiyuu would you like to have a chat with?’ by interviewer Fujita Aya (ladies 1-dan), answered ‘Accelerator, the one in Index that Okamoto-san voiced – Accelerator’. I went ‘ehhhhh’ in shock while watching that broadcast. That was already 2 years ago.

Takahashi: We haven’t had many chances to meet since. Thank you for today.

Q: Let’s start off by looking at the overall picture. How do you feel about the series, from working on recordings up until now?

Okamoto: The worldview created by Umino-san within her stories is very delicate, with its monologues written in words that will pierce your heart. I’d thought that it would be nice for me to be able to express them using my voice….but in retrospect, Nikaido has few such monologues (laughs).

But thanks to the reservedness and sensitivity of Kawanishi Kengo-kun (voice of Kiriyama Rei), you would often feel such an aura transmitted by Rei-kun. When I heard Kawanishi-kun’s voice in the 1st episode, I could somehow feel a sense of sorrow and pain. The overall atmosphere of the worldview combined with the voice of Kawanishi-kun, creates something that is akin to emptiness flowing. That is the image that this series has. What is interesting however, is that even though the air may feel empty, the heart will somehow become warmer by the end.

Q: Ah, that is true.

Okamoto: That is wonderful to me. I think it’s also the reason why 3gatsu no Lion is said to be ‘a gentle story’. Although it begins with emptiness and the thinking appears to be negative, there is common ground to be found at every turn. I thought it was very important to have a blissful depiction of the little things in our daily lives.

Q: That’s why the depiction of mealtimes stands out so much.

Okamoto: That’s right. The joy of everyone living harmoniously, the joy of watching someone sleeping, without saying a word, ‘times where nothing special happens; they are what leads to peace and happiness’ – I think this is what those scenes are trying to convey.

Having fun won’t necessarily bring happiness, something like that. What it is trying to tell you is that happiness can be found in daily life.

I like shogi, and I think it’s really important that people who do not know shogi are able to enjoy this show. If you’re thinking, ‘this series is (only) about shogi, isn’t it?’, I hope that you would please try out the original manga or anime.

Takahashi: I see. Now, let me ask you a few questions, including some related to shogi. How did you feel when your participation in 3gatsu no Lion, a series about your beloved game of shogi, was confirmed?

Okamoto: I was happy, and this is gonna sound clichéd, but accordingly, I also felt huge pressure. I would always think about the reasons why I passed the audition. To be honest, Nikaido is to me, a character that could have been done by just about anyone.

One major reason I can think of for my selection, is because ‘I like shogi’. As a seiyuu, my job is to act but there are of course, parts of playing a role that do not require ‘acting’. I do somewhat believe that this feeling of ‘being passionate about a certain subject’ which is at the root of an actor’s heart, will show through in the character. That is my guess regarding why I was chosen – because I love shogi.

As an example – accents and intonations will always stand out. People familiar with this know that they just come naturally. They aren’t things that actors consciously set out to express; instead, they are rooted in the actor and he or she won’t think about whether or not they should allow it to show. In my case, I think that it is what is required of me – to speak about shogi without being conscious of it.

Takahashi: Leaving that point to one side, I think it would be impossible to make an anime adaptation of 3gatsu no Lion without Okamoto-san.

Okamoto: Really! I appreciate hearing that from you?

To Nikaido, Rei-kun is an important presence

Takahashi: I was wondering what role you would play. Was there any specific character whom you wanted to voice?

Okamoto: No, there wasn’t any role in particular. People might say ‘Wouldn’t you want to be the hero though?’, but I don’t think it’s quite like that.

I really wanted to be in the show, but I did have this fear that I wasn’t able to be objective due to my love for the series. That’s why I said at the start, ‘It’s OK even if I just appear as a voice in the crowd’.

Takahashi: Just a voice in the crowd!?

Okamoto: I would’ve been satisfied with being able to observe recording sessions; I even said it’d be alright to voice something like ‘Male student A’. Thus, I was happy enough just to be called to go for auditions.

Takahashi: Once you were confirmed for the part of Nikaido Harunobu, how did you deepen your understanding of the character’s personality and his role in the story?

Okamoto: I had heard that the character was based on a real person (the genius shogi player Murayama Satoshi*), but I tried to put that to one side first while thinking about [Nikaido]. I started off with the question ‘what kind of personality does he have?’ and I came up with ‘he’s a super bright & positive character, isn’t he?’. I followed that up by considering ‘why is he so positive?’ and that’s where I got stuck.

*Murayama, who became a pro shogi player at the age of 17, died of bladder cancer at the tender age of 29. A movie based on Murayama’s life, titled Satoshi no Seishun & starring Matsuyama Kenichi, was released late 2016

Takahashi: You got stuck?

Okamoto: I had to think about why he has always been so positive. And the image I saw in my mind was that of Nikaido as a child, happily playing a game of shogi. It’s not that Nikaido is a naturally positive person; it’s more that he is ‘trying to be positive’ – that’s my opinion anyway. And as for why he is trying to be positive, it is because he ‘has a rival (ie Kiriyama Rei)’.

So I’m thinking that Kiriyama is an important existence for Nikaido. The strong words he uses on Rei-kun are also words that have a strong effect on Nikaido himself and that helps him to grow – he’s a masculine, hot-blooded character who ‘inspires’ others. He dares to say strong words that wouldn’t normally be said in given situations out of fear, and that makes me think – ‘what a cool character he is’.

Q: So that is what you, Okamoto-san, see as the appeal of the character Nikaido, right?

Okamoto: That’s right. Nikaido says things that people wouldn’t normally say and with great aplomb – that’s what makes him charming.

Despite knowing that their opponents are strong, he said to Rei-kun “Let’s go all the way to the finals” – is he stupid? Or did he say it out of bitterness? I could only think of these two options. But he isn’t dumb. That’s why he dared to say that, I think. And that is why he’s able to show that he will do things that normal people wouldn’t do – what a great guy he is.

Q: In the series, he repeatedly talks about having courage.

Okamoto: The courage he has is not the reckless type but rather, it is a courageous spirit that forms the foundation of who Nikaido is, and is visible because of his diligent approach towards playing shogi. That’s the belief I hold as I am acting [out the role].

Q: Listening to [Nikaido’s] voice gives the impression that he’s quite highly-strung.

Okamoto: Oh, I do that on purpose (laughs). He already has a bright personality but I took the decision to raise his tension levels in order to make him seem inspiring. Regardless, the reason he appears so bright is because he is indeed inspiring. To the cool and strong Rei-kun, he’ll overwhelm him by saying things like ‘Ya gotta get to where I am! Let’s get high together! Let’s talk the same way!’. I really like the relationship between these 2, precisely because they’re polar opposites.

Takahashi: That’s good.

Okamoto: They’re a bit like yin and yang.

Takahashi: That is how I felt as well, reading the manga and watching the anime. I saw Nikaido as being from the ‘light’ side.

Okamoto: That’s right. When someone starts getting negative, it is tough to say the words ‘don’t worry about it!’ and perhaps, it is only something that can be pulled off if you have a certain amount of fighting spirit. In 3gatsu no Lion, the only person who could do that would be Nikaido, wouldn’t it?

Takahashi: That is so true.

Q: Throughout all that, I still get the impression that Nikaido is the kind of person who does things at his own pace. Acting as Nikaido, do you find yourself empathizing with him in any way?

Okamoto: I think I’m similar to him in the way he tries not to think about anything negative. I also auditioned for the role of Rei, but it was clear that what I lacked was ‘darkness’.

Q: I see.

Okamoto: For manga and anime I really like ‘dark’ attributes as well..maybe I’m asking for too much sometimes though. Still, I wouldn’t exactly say that I belong to the ‘light’ side (laughs). I think that it’s natural for humans to yearn for what they don’t have. Just like when I heard Kawanishi-kun’s voice and thought, ‘Ah, there’s that darkness to it~’.

Due to my personality, I find it hard to be gloomy. That’s why I think I’m similar to Nikaido in terms of things like his cheerfulness and positivity.

There’s an ‘Okamoto System’?

Okamoto: Speaking of similarities to Nikaido – when I was a child, I wanted a [shogi] move set named after me too (laughs)

Takahashi: Really?

Okamoto: It’s true.

Takahashi: The Okamoto Special or something?

Okamoto: Yeah yeah. I’d play a ‘Bishop in the Hole* strategy etc. with my friends. When you’re young you’ll try reckless tactics (laughs). There’s another strategy called ‘Climbing Silver’** which I developed further, utilizing the gold general and king pieces – this was when I was in third grade (laughs). When I won the match I just felt, ‘wow, this is the best!’

*Bishop in the hole (穴角, anakaku) – a strategy where the bishop is only allowed to move freely in directions diagonal to your own team’s corners. Because the movement of the bishop is restricted, you limit your own usage of the corners – this strategy is mostly used for training.

**Climbing silver (棒銀, bōgin) – involves advancing a silver upward along with an advanced or dropped pawn supported by the rook aiming to break through the opponent’s camp on their bishop’s side.

Takahashi: Children would do silly things like that, wouldn’t they (laughs)

Okamoto: Yeah you’d do things like that when you’re a kid. It was fun, but I gave up using such strategies in the end ‘cos I couldn’t win with them. It was fun trying them out with friends though.

When I see Nikaido and Rei-kun having so much fun discussing shogi, it reminds me of my childhood.

Takahashi: I know this from having played a match against you, but Okamoto-san – you already have one, don’t you? A strategy with your name on it.

Okamoto: Are you sure?

Takahashi: Yes. It’s the Okamoto System.

Okamoto: No no. I’m pretty bad at the middle game and tend to rush, trying to bring it to the endgame as soon as I can. ‘Cos it’s easier to set up a plan that way.

Okamoto-san is a reliable presence in the recording studio

Q: Since you are knowledgeable about shogi, do your co-stars ask you about shogi during recordings?

Okamoto: People had already asked a lot about it at the audition stage. In shogi, the notation looks something like 1-1 King (1一玉, ichiichigyoku), representing where you move the pieces. There are various methods of expressing the numbers and pieces as well as different ways to pronounce the words.

Even when I’m watching broadcasts or streams of matches, it can be tough to make out the words because of the accents; they could be flat* or they could start with a high-pitch*. Do you say ‘gyoku’ with a flat accent, or start it off with a high pitch? And so on. I was worried about that. But in 3gatsu no Lion, we chose to go with the latter.

*heiban (平板) – flat, accentless
**tōkō (頭高) – accent is on the first mora, with the pitch starting high before dropping on the second mora & then levelling out [refer to Japanese pitch accents]

Takahashi: Hmmmmm I see. You were so careful, down to the finest details. On the other hand, shogi players don’t talk in any specific way. I speak very ordinarily.

Okamoto: It’s a mish-mash. When you’re speaking, it’s fine as long as the meaning gets through but the same can’t be said of a voice actor. I think it’s tough for any actor who is coming into contact with shogi for the first time. Why do they keep talking about eggs*? I think people have the hardest time with the word for King. The instinct is to read it with a flat accent after all.

*玉 can be read tama (ball etc) or gyoku (jade, egg etc), both with multiple meanings depending on usage & context. In this case, the 玉 is read gyoku and signifies the King piece of the lower ranked player

Q: It is difficult to tell by sound alone.

Okamoto: Yeah. That’s why we laid down the rules for 3gatsu no Lion.

Q: Line recital comes down to such fine details?

Okamoto: That’s right. I was asked several other questions. What I was asked by Okawa Toru-san, who voices Koda Masachika, was regarding Soya Toji (cv: Ishida Akira)’s line to Shimada Kai (cv: Miki Shinichiro): ‘You trust me too much’*. He asked me ‘What does this mean?’. It was difficult to answer that. I had an answer in my mind, but it was hard for me express it…

*a line from a scene of a match between A-rank 8-dan Shimada Kai and Meijin Soya Toji, where despite having a great move on hand, Shimada overestimated Soya’s ability and played a bad move instead [episode 20]

Takahashi: The unique language of shogi shows up sometimes, especially in situations like that. I always wonder if the other actors would understand such things.

Okamoto: If they ever asked me, I would answer them. Still, everyone seems to be finding it difficult.

Takahashi: They would, wouldn’t they?

Okamoto: There were a lot of difficult parts, but I think the hardest of them would be trying to deal with a subject matter that one isn’t familiar with.

Takahashi: After all, ordinary people wouldn’t be able to easily grasp the language that shogi players use on a daily basis.

Okamoto: That’s right. It’s kind of a sensory problem. Not just a matter of speech, and that is what makes it difficult.

Kawanishi vs Okamoto match-up!

Q: For the recordings up until now, you have mostly been involved in scenes with Kawanishi-san. Please tell us about any episodes from the studio that left an impression upon you.

Okamoto: What made me really happy was when Kawanishi-kun said to me ‘Let’s play animal shogi’*. Kawanishi-kun was someone who hadn’t ever really played shogi, so I’d thought that it would’ve been a little bit tough to jump straight into a proper match.

*simplified version of shogi, played as an introduction to the game. Volume 9 of the manga comes with an ‘Odekake Nya Shogi’ animal shogi supplement.

In the recording studio, shogi and animal shogi boards were provided and at first, I played around with tsumeshogi (checkmate) problems. I really enjoyed the fact that there was something both for myself and for the beginners as well.

At one point, Kawanishi-kun asked me to ‘play for a bit’ and I was really happy, thinking ‘This is my chance!’. Kawanishi-kun is quite the sore loser as well (laughs). He was particularly interested in getting a taste of the game by the time Rei-kun was facing off against Shimada. In the match between Rei-kun and Shimada, there’s a scene* with the line ‘it feels like the water is flooding in’. I think it’s a feeling similar to what you’d feel when playing animal shogi.

*a scene from episode 14 of the anime. The expression ‘feels like the water is flooding in’ was used by Rei to represent his feelings when tackling the A-ranked Shimada’s outlook head on.

Grinning deliberately, I tried hard to make it seem like I didn’t know what I was thinking, but while I was playing the match I had ‘I wish I could make him hate me’ or ‘I wish I could make him suffer’ going through my mind.

Different actors feel things in different ways so I wanted him to have a taste of that sense of being unable to know what move one should make. I think it was good to have been able to do that.

What I also feel when I’m playing with Takahashi-san or other pros is this – the sensation of not knowing what to do, right from the moment the pieces hit the board. When you’re facing a person who has amateur-level skills you’re able to gradually play your own game but when your opponent is a pro, you just can’t compete. You’re in awe, and you can’t make sense of it all. But as an actor, it’s important to appreciate such feelings.

Q: Up until now, were there any scenes that you found memorable or anyt that have left a deep impression on you?

Okamoto: This hasn’t appeared in the anime yet, but I like the scene that was in the manga where Shimada sleeps on the bullet train after his match with Soya. I think you normally wouldn’t be able to sleep like that right after a match that went all the way. Even an amateur like me often has trouble sleeping, thinking about the game while filled with regrets.

The moment I thought, ‘This guy is returning home thoroughly exhausted, as if he is completely empty’, it made me tear up. Shimada’s words showed that he was ‘alive’. Words that are said because it’s so tough, because you feel like you’re dying – I felt there was a real sense of rawness to it all.

Perhaps I feel more empathy since I voice Nikaido, who greatly admires Shimada as a brotherly figure, but the scene left a remarkable impression on my mind.

Takahashi: I like the scene where Nikaido, acting as a commentator on TV, turns to the camera and screams ‘Kiriyama!’ at it. Such passionate shouting, which made me wonder whether Nikaido’s physical condition would get worse from behaving like that.

Okamoto: I think Nikaido showed how cool he was right there. That shout – it was the product of his sense of responsibility that spurred him on to say such words, or I should say, the burden he shouldered. It was a scream that I wouldn’t mind getting sick for – that was what I was thinking when I was acting the part out. I do believe that Nikaido would be screaming with that much zeal anyhow.

Takahashi: There aren’t any actual shogi players who would concern themselves with others so much. Basically, everyone else around you is an enemy. That’s why I always think how amazing it is to see anyone striving to help others out. How do you act out such scenes?

Okamoto: First of all, it came from the feeling of ‘wanting to inspire’ – to Rei-kun, Nikaido is an ‘irreplaceable existence’. Because of Rei-kun, Nikaido can grow. I believe it is because of the relationship between them. And this is why a strong phrase like fatherly friend* is used.

*the phrase here is 親心友, split into two parts: 親心 (oyagokoro) which means parental love and 友 (tomo) meaning friend.

Q: You shout that much and though it may only be in a couple of scenes, you probably burned a lot of calories doing that.

Okamoto: That’s right. It seemed like I’d lose weight (laughs). That scene certainly made me feel like blood was rushing to my head, or that I was going to have a nosebleed.

Q: How do you prepare yourself mentally for such a scene?

Okamoto: I do have ways of preparing myself mentally for recordings. For example, whatever you do normally during the tests, don’t try to reproduce it during the actual recording.

Attempting to replicate a voice you’ve produced in the past – that’s not acting. While being conscious of what you did the first time around; consider ‘Why is Nikaido shouting?’, reaffirm that, and scream once more.

Q: So you’re not redoing it or brushing it up, but remaking it?

Okamoto: That’s right. It’s about reaffirmation. I’ll reconfirm the character’s feelings first. If you try to reproduce what you did before, the voice might become too refined or get too polluted, which might cause a feeling of unease.

If you start to think, ‘I did part A ‘desperately’ so I’ll do the next segment in the same way’, then that is wrong. It’s different in form and quality, isn’t it – acting ‘desperately’ and acting with the desire to convey a message to Rei-kun, to give him a nudge in the back – the words may not reach him, but I’m shouting in hopes that the message will be delivered anyhow.

The result is that it does end up sounding like desperate words, but if you’re just shouting aimlessly from the start, the purpose is obscured. Lines that are said without purpose are as good as dead.

Does Soya resemble Habu-san?

Takahashi: Is there anything you’re hoping to see in terms of future developments for 3gatsu no Lion?

Okamoto: There’s an anime as well as a live-action movie, but I do have the hope that the series will expand more and more. I would like people who have never played shogi before to be inspired to try it out. Right now, there are still many people, even shogi fans, who are not aware of this series. I want all of these people to know that ‘there is such an interesting work out there’. If you play shogi, you will find this series even more interesting and enjoyable.

As a seiyuu I hope that there is something that I can do, perhaps a collaboration project between the shogi world and 3gatsu no Lion.

Takahashi: One thing – can I dig a little bit of info on future events of the manga? Who’s the one who beats Soya Toji – is it Kiriyama? Or Nikaido? Or so on.

Okamoto: Ah, Nikaido would be a bit~…

Takahashi: Surprising, I guess?

Okamoto: Would it happen? This is my own opinion, but I have this image of Soya as resembling the incredibly strong, 7-title holder Habu Yoshiharu-san*. I’d say that it’s likely that Soya will run away with all the titles.

*Habu Yoshiharu is the first person to hold all 7 major shogi titles at the same time. He’s a living legend who also holds 7 lifetime titles [titles you qualify for after winning the same tournament a certain number of times. Habu holds Lifetime Meijin, Lifetime Kisei, Lifetime Oi, Lifetime Oza, Lifetime Kioh & Lifetime Osho titles]

There is a reason why Soya is so strong; I feel like he is slicing through his soul as he is fighting. It’s as if he is engaging in mortal combat, prepared to die if he wins….that is the kind of image I have.

Takahashi: That would mean he gets to keep his seven crowns.

Okamoto: That’s right. When that happened (Habu completing the 7 crowns) I think I was still either in elementary or junior high, and I was surprised that there was someone like that in this world.

I myself would like to ask Takahashi-san – how do you view Habu-san’s image?

Takahashi: When he was young he would glare [at others].

Okamoto: Oh yeah he did. His eyes would move around, glaringly.

Takahashi: Yeah yeah. We called it the ‘Habu Stare’ but it wasn’t as if he was intending to glare at his opponent. It was just that his eyes have a sharp look to them, or so they say.

Okamoto: He’s probably looking at a bunch of things, like the allotted time, simultaneously.

Takahashi: I think Habu is similar to Soya Toji in the way that they are both disappointed when their opponent makes a mistake. Normally you’d be pleased if the other guy made a mistake wouldn’t you?

Okamoto: He’s in a different dimension, isn’t he?

Takahashi: Oh yeah he is.

Okamoto: A dimension where there’s no winning or losing, isn’t it?

Takahashi: That’s right. I thought that that part was well portrayed in Soya.

Okamoto: I see. Habu’s matches feel otherworldly, as if they’re born at a moment in time or like a scene chosen by the gods.

Takahashi: On the other hand, it’s a bit painful for other players. What I mean by ‘painful’ is that I can give all I have, yet I will never reach a certain point. And you watch other people go on to reach that point. It’s a really painful position to be in…

Soya is as dramatic as Habu-san is and what’s more, he is a cruel character. Especially in the early days, you would say that he’s a demon, a demon.

Soya is a demon. He’s too strong. A genuine demon would never show his true face, wouldn’t he?

Talking about the match against Takahashi-san!

Takahashi: Moving onto something else – we did that Niconico live broadcast together before; after that ended, what was the response like to you having gone all out in a match with 9-dan Takahashi?

Okamoto: I’m still regretting it even now. I think I should have charged in with the Horse after promoting my bishop. I’m still thinking that I should’ve done that.

Q: How did it come about – the two of you facing each other?

Takahashi: During the programme, I faced off against the Kawanishi/Okamoto combo with a tremendous 8-piece handicap (where the rook, bishop, 2 lances, 2 knights, 2 silvers & 2 golds are omitted). However, I still won. It was a great opportunity and since I didn’t have many chances to meet Okamoto-san, I approached him after the end of the programme and asked ‘If it’s okay, would you like to play a match?’.

Okamoto: That’s right. I was grateful.

Takahashi: (As it wasn’t being broadcast) we weren’t pressed for time so we could play in a relaxed manner, and I was able to see Okamoto-san’s shogi style.

Okamoto: I belong to the Ranging Rook* faction. Especially the Central Rook*.

*Ranging Rook is a type of shogi opening – a sequence of initial moves of a shogi game – where the rook moves to the centre or left of the board to support an attack there. Central Rook is a variation on the strategy, where the rook is positioned on the fifth central tile.

Takahashi: I’m not referring to shogi here, but in the world of Go there is a phrase called ‘shudan’ [手談, literally: hand talk] which describes how, instead of exchanging words, two people should implicitly ‘talk’ by taking the other person on through the game of Go.

Playing that match, I was able to understand a bit of Okamoto-san’s personality.

Okamoto: Did you!

Takahashi: Yes I did. I thought that you were a person who who firmly ‘owns his world’.

Okamoto: Thank you so much!

Takahashi: Your shogi style is ‘offense’ and your specialty is Ranging Rook – a firmly established ‘Okamoto system’, is what I thought.

Okamoto: Bear in the Hole* uses that kind of offensive tactic, isn’t it? The reason I didn’t go with a ▲9-1 Bishop Promote (▲9-ichikakunari) move then was because I hesitated. In retrospect, I think I could’ve made a game of it yet if only I’d made that move.

*Bear in the hole (Anaguma, 穴熊) is a tactic used to defend and is known for its solid resistance.

Takahashi: You’re right. But who knows what would’ve happened if you went with that. At the very least it would balance things out, or it might’ve been a good chance to play a Static Rook there.

As it is, Okamoto-san is of the Ranging Rook faction but Nikaido is the opposite, firmly in the Static Rook camp.

Okamoto: That’s right.

Takakashi: You can feel a ‘Destroy the Ranging Rook! Static Rook is the way to go!’ kind of vibe coming from Nikaido – how do you voice him in such a context?

Okamoto: When I was an elementary school student I used to think the same way as Nikaido. The reason I came to like Central Rook was because there were many others around me who swore by Static Rook. I guess I just wanted to be in the minority.

Perhaps Nikaido might think that it’s unmanly to do so.

Takahashi: By that, you mean playing Ranging Rook?

Okamoto: Yeah. To me, masculinity means setting up your rook properly and going on from there, fighting the game with dignity. ‘Ranging Rook’ is rather tricky, isn’t it?

Takahashi: Nikaido has completely disavowed the Okamoto system hasn’t he?

Okamoto: Yeah he has.

Takahashi: Ah, even though you’re giving your best to breathing life into this character, Okamoto-san has to recite lines that contradict your own style…

Okamoto: I’d like for Nikaido to consider that. How manly it is to take the Rook up the middle! I’d really like to tell him that in person (laughs)

Takahashi: I’d definitely love to see a matchup between Nikaido and Okamoto-san.

Okamoto: I’d probably get beat up real bad but still, I’d love to have a shot at it. Obviously I’d go flying in with Central Rook!

From his shogi style, what of Okamoto-san’s personality can be seen?

Q: Okamoto-san, at this point, is there anything you’d like to ask Takahashi-san?

Okamoto: Thank you very much. I wanted to ask something about AI players but let’s leave that aside for a bit…I’d like to ask this – when you play a move at any one point, how far ahead (in terms of the development of the match) can you see?

Takahashi: It’s a case-by-case thing; for example, when I played Okamoto-san there was a flow to the overall play right from the beginning, as opposed to picturing the situation move-by-move.

Okamoto: Yeah. Pro players have this amazing ability to plan ahead.

Takahashi: I had a bit of spare time and though I hadn’t thought about it that much, I knew I had been sort of manipulating the game to flow in that direction, so as I was playing I was thinking, ‘If it goes like this I’ll play it like that’. ‘And if I do that, I can win’.

Okamoto: I see.

Takahashi: It’s an instinctive thing. It takes time for you to be able to read moves. I said this to Kawanishi-san as well – ‘it is important to visualize (in shogi)’. From those images you can see the flow, and you won’t be able to stop halfway through.

With other pro players, your opponent often thinks ahead of you so it doesn’t always work out so well.

Okamoto: That power to visualize is what stumps me the most. Most of the time, when things go well it is because your opponent messed up somewhere. You may be thinking, ‘I’d hate it if he were to make that move’ and when he comes up with something different, you’d be thinking ‘Er? You sure you want to make that move?’ and so on.

If my opponent is loose with his play, makes a weak move, or when it’s my turn, I’d be able to foresee what I should do. But how would I be able to do that when the match is proceeding evenly with nothing out of the ordinary happening?

Takahashi: It might be better for you to keep playing against players of a higher level than yourself.

Okamoto: I hope you’d be able to teach in such a way. Another thing I’m concerned about is the middle game in a shogi match. Even if I manage to ride the middle stage out, I would often be in a bad position without having noticed it and I’d spend most of the endgame trying to dig myself out – a lot of my matches have gone that way.

Because of that, I’ve been trying to develop a system that skips the middle game. The middle game is really tough, isn’t it? I have absolutely no idea how to strengthen my middle game play.

Takahashi: On the other hand, I think the fact that you’re actually aware of its difficulty makes you a level higher than most others.

Okamoto: No way~!

Takahashi: Most people say the toughest part of shogi is when you’re approaching checkmate but in truth, it is the run up to that point that is really difficult.

Okamoto: Right now, I think you can find the solutions easily during the endgame stage. Even when you’re watching pro shogi players, you can observe that there are a lot of pieces being taken during the endgame, but that rarely ever happens during the middle game. I do think they’re very different. It’s only much later on that you manage to connect the dots from earlier and realize ‘I could’ve done that instead’.

Takahashi: On the contrary, it is because Okamoto-san is strong that you can say something like that. I think there’s no problem with that at all.

Okamoto: No~ no no! Also, with regards to attack and defence – when you want to be on the offensive you simply go ahead and attack. How do you adopt a defensive stance?

Takahashi: That would depend on the inherent nature of the individual.

Okamoto: Ah, that’s right.

Takahashi: People who want to attack essentially aren’t good at defending. Or there is a part of them that is scared of having to defend.

Okamoto: That’s true. When you become passive, gaps in your play are formed. At that moment, you’d think that the one playing offense would win after all.

Takahashi: On the other hand there’s Kawanishi-san, who’s just learned to play shogi and is at a stage where he has yet to attach himself to any faction. He wants to play from a defensive stance – I could feel that coming from him.

Okamoto: Ah~, I see. You even noticed that! That’s amazing.

Takahashi: If the two of you could compete against each other equally, with Okamoto-san’s aggression and Kawanishi-san’s defensives, I think you could be good rivals.

Q: I suppose one’s personality does show after all?

Takahashi: Yeah that does happen.

Okamoto: Takahashi-san’s defence was too strong and he showed no gaps at all. It’s natural that there would be a huge difference between our playing levels but I was still taken aback by just how easy it was to destroy my defence. Anyhow, there was nothing at all I could do by the middle game.

Takahashi: At the time I’d already acknowledged Okamoto-san’s playing ability and had decided to play a shogi match where ‘I couldn’t possibly lose’.

Okamoto: Ah~! That’s right. You left absolutely no gaps.

Q: That’s a little bit childish, isn’t it? (laughs)

Takahashi: Nah. It’s because I know he’s good. I would’ve been attacked to a certain extent otherwise and may have had to make some adjustments. By the way I can relate to Nikaido a bit. We’re both part of the Static Rook faction after all.

Okamoto: I see. So Takahashi-san, do you too, think ‘Heresy!’ when you see an opponent playing Ranging Rook?

Takahashi: No, not to that extent. When I think about the kind of shogi I want to play, I tend to empathize with Nikaido more than with Kiriyama. That’s probably because Kiriyama is the genius type. He does work very hard but basically, he is the kind of shogi player who is naturally talented.

Nikaido is on the other hand, the type who has to put in the effort. That’s why I feel closer to him in that respect.

Q: We could go on about shogi all day long but it’s about time to wrap it up. Okamoto-san, what’s the secret to increasing one’s enjoyment of 3gatsu no Lion?

Okamoto: I think the best thing would be to try playing shogi. As Takahashi-san mentioned; when he played against me he could see my true nature. Even as an amateur, you can partially see [your opponent’s] feelings in each move they make.

In 3gatsu no Lion, some of the flow of the games are reproduced as is from actual pro matches – if you are able to feel the flow of the emotions then you will be able to understand the reasoning behind the selection of that particular set of moves. There are definitely reasons why they were chosen for that specific match. I think that knowing that too, is really fun in itself.

Anyhow, please try playing a bit of shogi. The more you learn about shogi and the world of its players, the more you will enjoy this series.

It is like a monologue that you are able to see. So first of all, I would be happy if you could start to play shogi.

Takahashi: Personally, I would truly be happy as well if that happened. Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you.

———————————————————————————
Season 2 announcement already! Yay!

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One thought on “#139 – 3gatsu no Lion: Okamoto Nobuhiko x Takahashi Michio

  1. Ikan Mas

    Okamoto is really great as Nikaidou. So hot-blooded!
    Shogi seems to be a lot more complicated than chess. More pieces than chess, 9×9 arena, and looks like you can also use the captured enemy pieces as your own from what I see on the anime. Don’t know how the whole game works, but I really enjoy the anime haha. Will gladly wait for season 2.

    P.S. How did exactly K-On! change Takahashi Michio’s life? lol

    Reply

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