There’s a growing consensus (of one) in my mind that Nana Maru San Batsu is the sleeper of the season – unless you count Made in Abyss, though I fully expected that to be good, just not a potential masterpiece. In fact these two were my two sleeper picks of the season, and I will assume no false modestly in stating that I’m pretty fecking good at picking out sleepers, even if I say so myself (which I just did). It’s always nice when the pre-season favorites live up to expectations, but having a sleeper pick pay off is a distinct pleasure in its own right.
As I stated last week, I may have a bias in favor of 7O3X because I have a history with organized quizzing and an unabashed love of trivia. But I truly believe there’s plenty here to keep even viewers who aren’t enamored of the subject matter engaged (just as there was with Chihayfuru, Kabukibu!, et al). The characters here are genuinely likeable, the execution is excellent, and at least from my perspective the series is doing an excellent job of making quiz bowl a compelling subject even if one isn’t especially familiar with it.
Fact is, Nana Maru San Batsu is teaching me a lot about quiz bowl I never knew – which is probably because though I made it all the way to TV (“Win Ben Stein’s Money”) I’m pretty much self-taught. I never belonged to any school quiz teams or such, and while my love of trivia was for its own sake, anything I learned about the tricks of the quiz trade was through trial and error. You do pick up certain things about when to buzz and when not to, question patterns and the like – but I can’t help but think if I’d watched this series before I started quizzing competitively it would have done me a lot of good.
There’s a bunch of really good stuff this week, but I especially liked the scene where Sasajima-sempai took Shiki aside to explain the nature of the game to him. Shiki was clearly disillusioned because he had a view of quiz bowl as a kind of romantic ideal, a test of pure knowledge, but came to see that it was more of a memory and reflexes contest. Sasakima in fact compared it to Karuta (funnily enough), and I totally get that – the emphasis being on figuring out what the reader is going to say before he actually says it. But it does go much deeper than that – as the kaichou points out, there are literally thousands of even “classic” questions – no one could memorize all of them. And in fact, the real art is in “reading” the reader (another similarity with Karuta) – they give you clues as to what sort of question it is through emphasis and inflection.
The contest itself is again rather exciting, with the format for the second round changing completely – now, answers are written on a board and everyone gets a chance to answer. But only the buzzer can win three points, and only they can lose them if incorrect – which brings in a new layer of strategy. Shiki is in over his head here, but his learning curve is impressive. Mikuriya-kun is the clear class of the field, but not especially gracious – even when he’s clinched his place in the finals, he still buzzes in for the final question despite there being two players who needed three points to advance.
A lot of the fun here is in watching Shiki try and figure out the game – he’s a very smart kid and excellent at spotting patterns. Mikuriya can certainly spot a potential rival here, even as Shiki is coming up last in the semi-finals – in fact it’s the little 7th-grader Sasaki and Mari’s friend Kouzuki who move on to the “Five and Two” finals. There’s not much doubt as to who’s going to win here, but the real drama comes from the audience – from Shiki, who blurts out the answer to a question when he’s unraveled it even before Mikuriya can. Even without having the etiquette explained to him Shiki knows this is a major faux pas, but Mikuriya has definitely taken notice.
The essence of a story like 7O3X is a kid like Shiki finding something he can be passionate about and discovering himself in the process, and we’re certainly seeing that well-executed here. But I also like the fact that rather than be threatened by him, Mikuriya sees the potential fun in having Shiki grow into a true rival. There’s a lot to build on here besides Shiki’s bildungsroman journey – maybe a hint of spark between Shiki and Mari, a “fated rivalry”, the quest to build up the Buzou High Quiz Circle, a large cast of quiz kids, the intricacies of quiz bowl itself. Nana Maru San Batsu has definitely won me over . I’m ready to buzz in now – no need to hear any more of the question…