Thank goodness for shows like Nana Maru San Batsu, really. If you’re a viewer who isn’t buying the overwhelming bulk of what anime is selling these days, it’s series like this that do the heavy lifting for any decent season (and this one just barely qualifies, I would say) but get very little attention for it. Sure you might get a classic like Made in Abyss once in a season, twice in a great one – and a couple of highly-anticipated sequels or adaptations of big-selling manga. But shows that just deliver straightforward entertainment each week, easy to enjoy without being simplistic, are the meat on the bones of the schedule.
The thing about 7O3X is that as straightforward as it is, there’s a deceptive amount of sophistication to it. Not only does it treat its subject of competitive quiz bowl very studiously indeed, it’s steadfastly on-point with its characters too. Shiki is the focus and has the most complex arc of course, but this is a big cast and there’s never a sense that any of them are being forced to act out-of-character in service to the plot. For a full-length TV series, in looking back this one has astonishingly few missteps of any kind.
The main driver of events in this arc is Sonohara Akira, of course, who’s sort of a human tsunami of mischievousness. But it’s Mikuriya who Koshiyama-kun is laser-focused on – he’s his fated shounen rival, after all. But this competition is about more than their budding rivalry – as Mikuriya points out there are four guys ahead of him in the written test scoring, including of course Ookura-san – the only one who equaled Gakuto-sempai’s perfect 50. There’s an obvious danger on focusing too much on one opponent in a match like this (especially given Sonohara-Onee-san’s devious scoring system).
Shiki proves his mettle straight off, acing the initial written question by getting all 11 “Zang-fu organs” (this is related to Chinese medicine and Qi – and like most of the questions on 7O3X, I’d have largely fluffed it). Where it’s a simple question of knowledge and his competitive inexperience can’t hurt him Shiki is an elite. As for Mikuriya he gets one of the answers wrong, and thus is stuck with zero points to start (Ookura gets a perfect score as well, of course – as for Akira-kun-chan, he gets 5).
I can see Akira being a divisive character with the audience, but honestly I think he’s awesome – he’s massively entertaining. From his grand entrance and the impact it has on his sister to calling Ookura “Gorilla-san”, he just never lets up. The thing is, he’s a genius in his own way – a genius at mind games, but also exceptional at deconstructing a situation and figuring out how to work it to his advantage. His strategy of “killing” questions in this round – buzzing in so quickly everyone gets a wrong answer – is truly devious. But he’s also very smart about quiz bowl too, when it suits him – he gets plenty of questions right, and spends most of his 3-point answers on strategically deducting from others (relying on his 1-point correct answers to stay in the game). With the freedom of not caring whether he advances or not, Akira can fully devote himself to trolling the others.
Ookura is eventually the first to advance (despite having Akira dock six points from him), after resisting the urge to spend his own points getting Akira eliminated. Ashiya-kun from Miyaura is right behind, leaving Mikuriya and Shiki to battle for that final spot. Ashiya’s decision to use his extra point to deduct from teammate Mikuriya-kun is rightly seen by Shiki as a gesture of respect, and that eats at him, but his obsession with Mikuriya seems dangerous – there are still other players here, and Kaijou’s Shinbata-kun is soon only a point behind him.
While he perpetually lingers near the elimination zone, it’s hard to imagine clever little Akira isn’t going to have one last mischief card to play as we see this round out with a fascinating question about days of the week. And even more fascinating than the question itself is the way Shiki and Mikuriya both turn to their respective strengths to find the answer – Mikuriya to math, and Shiki to the books that have been his only companion for much of his lonely childhood. It’s a great narrative coup de grâce that Nana Maru doesn’t feel the need to call attention to, because the cleverness of it speaks for itself.