Following professional Shogi player Rei Kiriyama through the ups and downs of his young career, personal life and internal struggles, March Comes Like a Lion promises to be a story rich in character development and heart-plucking drama.
17 year-old Rei Kiriyama moves out from his foster family and leads the intense life of constant competitions and isolation from all social aspects of life. Trying to keep considerable distance from bonding with anyone, he finds himself being included into the kindhearted Kawamoto residence, which provides a homely connection he lacked from the recently departed foster home. Success comes and goes as it does, and the pro player comes to the crossroads that accompany the trials and tribulations of life.
This is where our impressions of episodes 7-9 in the series will go. Before reading on, be sure to check out our impressions of the previous episodes first!
Episode 7 Impressions:
Chapter 13-Child of God (Part 3)/ Chapter 14- Important Things. Important Matters./ Chapter 15- Teach Me How to Play Shogi
This was the first time I had to really take a minute to go back and digest each part of the episode independently, as there were huge strides this week. Without anyone else’s help, Rei finally reached out and expressed himself to a stranger in a very triumphant fashion. This stranger he had a breakthrough with was by chance Hina’s crush and classmate, Takahashi. The spectacular visuals accompanying his satisfaction of interaction really celebrated the milestone exactly how it should be cheered. Something as trivial as giving an answer to a personal question that he couldn’t answer last week is managed to look artistic and moving thanks to the top notch animation taking point.
“I say I have no reason to win, but why is it so painful when I lose?” - Rei Kiriyama
The second third of the episode (odd, especially given the typical two-chapter-per fashion) started drinking a bit from the crazy potion with a peculiar VHS recorded match between Rei and a competitor, narrated by none other than Harunobu. Seeing as the situation came about from Takahashi coming for dinner with Rei and Hina, the tape can be overlooked by the development there. It is also established here that despite knowing he is a professional, Rei’s celebrity status was not known in the Kawamoto household. Whatever the case, this sparks an interest from Hina to learn Shogi- something very interesting to me in how much Rei was moved by her request to be taught. After all, he said rather hollow words about the craft and expressed no desire for expression. The one-on-one conversation really must have turned the emotional gears (something I am hopeful will spice up the plot now).
Also, the last third to the episode was a pure comedy move and nothing else. It probably is a hit with most audiences, but it was lost on me. The strange educational song and 3D graphic cats showing the rules of Shogi felt like some bizarre subliminal brainwashing scene in a classic psychological thriller. The scene wasn’t awful by any means (I’m not that much of a grump!), but it can be forgiven after the feeling was thrown on the “high” setting the last hour of showtime before this week.
In One Line: Rei has a pair of emotional breakthroughs due to making a new friend, Hina and Momo are taught how to play Shogi by Harunobu.
Episode 8 Impressions:
Chapter 15- Teach Me How to Play Shogi (cont.)/ Chapter 16- Image/ Chapter 17- Distant Thunder (part 1)
The odd cat 3D video makes a second appearance as the audience is told that Harunobu had a fit of anemia after getting so worked up in the video the girls saw the other day. I thought this complemented the off the wall fun for a pretty smart blend of a lighthearted moment with very mature subtext. Seeing how involved of friend he is (even going as far as getting new furniture for Rei’s scarce apartment) solidifies who Harunobu is as a not only a competitor but also a genuine being. Admittedly, I was really off-put by his nature early in the show, but it is refreshing to see someone besides the Kawamoto family who has the best interest in mind for ol’ Rei.
Playing devil’s advocate in every sense of the term, Kyouko turns up one evening and really throws a curveball into the fray. There’s such an unease about the atmosphere of a scene when she is involved, and how sporadic her mental attacks can be made for one long held breath throughout the episode. The massive stomach turning moment had to be from the flashback to when her boyfriend beat Rei senseless, all recollected while there was nothing but a sound of concern for his step-sister coming from the Shogi prodigy. Kyouko’s rotten plot unfolds the morning of Rei’s next match, with her blitz of a guilt trip over who Rei must face next.
“That one moment captivated my heart...even if that brilliance...did bring on driving rain afterward“- Rei Kiriyama
I loved the foreshadowing throughout this piece of the episode, as the “Distant Thunder” title and bit about when he was a child seeing lightning in the day. You get a really sneaking suspicion that Rei is about to lose this match coming up, or that the guilt from winning is going to derail the progress he has made with the depression. For one of the first times since starting the show, the audience is hooked for a “what is going on right now” moment rather than a “what is to come” slow build. I knew things would pick up after that week break, and thankfully it isn’t just the animation that took a boost!
In One Line: The lessons in Shogi conclude, Rei recounts a fond memory of his father and the heinous Kyouko invites herself over to see her adopted brother.
Episode 9 Impressions:
Chapter 18- Distant Thunder (part 2) / Chapter 19- Distant Thunder (part 3)
There’s a certain odd way that March likes to deliver drama paced with comedy throughout- it is calculated and makes for terrific theater. A really good example can be found in this week’s episode showcasing the match between Rei and dwindling Shogi player Mr. Matsunaga. At first glance, this entire matchup between someone who just doesn’t win and a prodigy is either a complete joke in its own right or a textbook situation for some humbling upset to occur (something I was anticipating). While there certainly are flavors of the former, I was impressed with the direction the show took the match. From Rei’s perspective, his opponent was being unprofessional and scrambling wildly. It isn’t until in the last legs of the episode the audience learns of why such an elder player was acting this way.
After a long winded comedy segment in the middle to break up things, the gloomy situation Kyouko rattled Rei’s cage over is at hand: With a loss, Mr. Matsunaga was going to retire. Facing opposite of one another, the shot couldn’t have been any more perfect for a full exposure of the heart and soul of a competitor. He cries out how all he wanted to do was “look cool losing” but something in him made him struggle until the end. What I find to be one of the most important things to happen yet in the series shows some real beauty- Rei reaches out to the man and talks him out of retiring. It seems like such a small gesture to ask someone if they enjoy what they do, or to keep competing, but it is another thing entirely to see it from someone who only made his first real friends on his own a few episodes ago. In picking the opposition off the ground and dusting off their moral losses, Rei not only grows as a professional and a person, but he defies the chip on his shoulder that Kyouko constantly likes to put weight on. Moments like these make March comes in like a Lion worth watching and experiencing.
In One Line: Rei dismantles the elderly Mr. Matsunaga and spends the evening with him in reflection and thought.
Episode 10 Impressions:
Something Given (part 1)/ Something Given (part 2)
I had to walk away from this one after the credits rolled. Every week I go into this series, I admit there is an expectation that things are going to make tiny hops towards completion with signs of improvement. What felt like a fraction of the viewers departing the weekly commute through March town has all but turned into a desolate island once lively with people who had real estate. Last week gave a ripple in the water to create a little buzz for the slow show, even if it was only just enough to get mentioned in most of the community circles. Opening up this week, things took a whole new nature masked by the calm cadence the audience has been accustomed to- one of aggression.
At surface level, it looks like a repeat hit of last week’s affairs- Kyouko crowbars her way into meeting Rei again, to gossip about how awful his opponent’s life is and how awful of a burden losing must be on his family. I found the fiery foster sister even more disturbing with the choice of visuals and dialogue between the siblings- using a callback to a gut turning visual we saw back in episode one (one that all but spells something simply deplorable). Doing his usual top tier play, Rei makes short work of his match, a loud troubled man. Pouting his way to what is assumed to be the bar/liquor store to drink away his loss, the man leaves behind his daughter’s Christmas present. Sprinting to hand off the gift, Rei thinks to Kyouko teasing how the man’s daughter just wanted to spend one last Christmas with her father before his sore losing driven divorce separates her family. Filled with hatred for losing, he dismisses the Christmas present, until Rei’s presence annoys the man into taking the gift with one alarming swoop.
Long form, slow anime like this are defined by the few moments that are executed from the building blocks so carefully assembled in tiny bits. Twelve episode series might fire the three or four moments it has in far higher frequency, but one that spans two seasons gets a pass as long as there are ingredients in the bowl for it. Right on the turn of the double digits, March runs away with the most emphatic moment of the season. Staring at his hand in silence and shock, the outburst makes Rei crack. Frantically, he sprints and screams through town as he runs himself to exhaustion in a park. Clenching his fists and bawling his eyes out, he professes the frustration for always getting guilt pinned on him for the shortcomings of his various foes. In his own moment of clarity, he flips blame on his opposition, challenging them to fight and practice through their own problems. Finding his reason for playing Shogi not only as an act but a hunger in him, Rei awakens his competitive drive to the very first feeling explosion by the protagonist. I could go on for another 500 words how beautiful this scene is, but there is a breathtaking aura between the visuals, voice acting and raw emotion of the scene so perfectly directed. It will never be the anime of the season, or maybe even next season, but this show is going to be remembered as special. I’m no gambling man, but I believe in that so much that I would bet my bottom dollar we haven’t seen the last of these moving moments. This is prime Shaft, and a quintessential emotional haymaker that would leave even the biggest skeptics of March hard pressed to not appreciate it.
In One Line: Kyouko stirs up Rei’s guilt again, a disgruntled foe lashes out against the Shogi prodigy, and Rei has an emotional outburst.
Episode 11 Impressions:
Chapter 22- Old Year/ Chapter 23- New Year
Who knew that having a breakdown in the cold of winter would get you sick? Rei’s bed ridden time in this episode was actually a really touching go, with plentiful amounts of reflection on things of value in family and company. The comedy in this episode really felt genuine and wasn’t forced one bit. There can be a lot learned by how well that aspect of the show works when it is firing off the right cylinders. With far more dull ways to show someone being sick and sleeping days away, there is merit in how well March executes the illness. Such maturity will go as an overlooked element the series did so much better than the field, but it is an underdog for it.
There was a lot of Kawamoto drama glanced at (only makes sense since Rei spent a majority of the time in their home) that hasn’t been touched on just yet. I liked the bit on the lack of mention by anyone as to the whereabouts of the father of the family, setting up a potentially heavy swing later on. Akari unloads some of the burden she carries holding the household and just how lonely that life truly is, complemented perfectly by her aunt arguing with the grandfather for why she needs to get out of the house more. To wrap, Rei’s reflection on a dream touches the heart (shown in the normal SHAFT beauty).
In One Line: Rei falls violently ill, the girls come to the rescue, and Akari shares the final moments of the year with the recovering introvert.
March Comes Like a Lion is produced by Aniplex and NHK. In addition, the series is made by Studio SHAFT and is directed by Shinbou Akiyuki (The Monogatari series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica) and has art direction from Asano Naoyuki (Osomatsu-san, Saint Oniisan)