No question about it, Nana Maru San Batsu is genuinely strange and interesting. I don’t know if the real world of quiz bowl in Japan is as quirky as the one depicted in this series, but if it is, I guess it’s a testament to that very particular Japanese inclination (especially among kids) to put strange twists on conventional things – something I’ve always speculated was a compensation for a generally straight-laced culture where conformity is strongly encouraged. I’d be tempted to give credit for this show’s originality and freshness to excellent writer Kaikihara Yuuko (who just wrote the best original series of the year in Tsuki ga Kirei) but presumably most of it goes to the mangaka, Sugimoto Igura.
While most of this excellent episode is given over to the “action” half of the series (the quiz bowl is some of the best so far), there is a really nice moment set aside for the other half. Shiki muses on the fact that the world provided by books (as we discover later, his late father’s books) has always provided a refuge for him – fascinating and exciting, but ultimately lonely. But now the world he came to know through those books is connecting him to a world he can share with other people – the quiz bowl world. That’s a very powerful message when you consider it, and a fantastic building block for a series like this one.
This is quiz bowl as we haven’t seen it before (and we’ve seen it a lot of ways in this show), as Asagaoka Girls High School plays host to the “regular meet”. And what a meet it is, starting with the hosts in full nun’s habits (who knew it was a Catholic school?) welcoming the guests with a sermon from Sonohara Chiaki. And in the beginning, there was the word – the written test, the winnowing of the wheat from the chaff. It’s the first opportunity for us to see Sasajima-kaichou show his prowess in battle – and no one is happier to see that than Kaijou club president Ookura Kunimitsu (Maeno Tomoaki). And it’s those two who dominate the test – each scoring 47/50, with Sasajima winning on the tiebreaker (the square footage of the host school, which – quite contrary to Ookura’s imaginings – he looked up beforehand).
Fortunately for the likes of the other Buzou kids, not placing in the top 10 (to illustrate the toughness of the competition, even Mikuriya barely scrapes by) doesn’t mean elimination – it just means you have to advance to the third rough through a “five right, two wrong” fastest finger round. But the twists keep on coming – the round will be fought in pairs, and each question will have two possible correct answers. Pairs either advance as a team (only one pair per heat), or fail as a team – and it’s Mari who’s the first to be put to the test.
I confess I never played under rules like this, and the convoluted permutations it imparts to the contest are really delicious. If, say, there are three possible “correct” answers and you buzz early – how do you figure out which one is “wrong” and avoid it? If both you and your partner both buzz in first (giving you the possibility of an extra “maru” point), what happens if the first to buzz steals the only answer their partner knew? What if you buzz in because you know one answer, only to be the second to buzz – and are left with that answer already taken? If there’s ever been an illustration of how quiz bowl is about strategy at least as much as general knowledge, it’s this format.
Mari does survive (without much help from her partner, who she bails out with her understanding of the rules), though Daisuke is less fortunate – he gets shut out (though as a consolation prize, he may be getting a new girlfriend). The final heat sees Shiki-kun finally getting his shot, and here’s where things promise to get really interesting – because the other Sonohara sibling, Akira, is in this heat as well. He still seems determined to be as much of a disruptive force in Shiki’s life as he can (including messing with the heads of the other Buzou members), so whether he ends up as Shiki’s partner or his opponent (I’m guessing the former) the fur should really start flying now.