Following professional Shogi player Rei Kiriyama through the ups and downs of his young career, personal life and internal struggles, March Comes in 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.
Episode 12 Impressions:
Chapter 24- What Lies on the Opposite Shore / Chapter 25- Black River
There is a lot to love in the first new episode we’ve seen this season, right from the brand new OP to the eerily beautiful ED accompanying the turn of the year. The production value is noticeably higher, and the character models are animated even smoother than ever before. Most shows make that kind of jump between seasons of a multi-season show being aired, but it is still really nice to see something that wasn’t really lacking in artistic flare arriving to the party with even more of it.
With the introduction of Gotou, the match to the kerosene spilling mess of a stepsister Rei has in Kyouko, there is such a raw layer that is added to the series. Our stoic protagonist is enraged by cold words unlike any other brutal thrashing another has given him to date (speaking of thrashing, there is a pretty unbearable one taken physically by the same people as well) as his senpai Smith has to hold him back. You can feel the rage quelling over the confusing love he still has for a woman that despite being an absolute heathen to him, he still views as family. Such subtext is all over the place after the dispute and hypes up the inevitable showdown up immensely.
The episode sprinted triumphantly towards the end with one tear-jerking interaction between the youngest Kawamoto, Momo, and Rei- Rei breaks the news that he won’t be able to visit his “kotatsu” until he wins his big match and she innocently wishes him luck. Rather than the usual somber walk down the the same bridge taking back to his apartment, there is a spark of competitive fire in the resilient Kiriyama.
In One Line: March began the Winter season off on the right foot with upped production value and a terrific antagonist in Gotou.
Episode 13 Impressions:
Chapter 26- Black River (Part 2) / Chapter 27- Beyond the Door
Be it by the show’s actual design or just a creative liberty taken, isolating Smith’s character from the louder upperclassman has really paid off, and it is on a brilliant display in this episode. I could be mistaken, but this is the first time in the series that an entire half is devoid of Kiriyama, leaving for a fascinating peek into the mind and heart of a competitor previously unknown to the audience. What is more is that without the rage Rei has for Gotou fogging things, we see just how crooked the man really is through the eyes of a stranger in Smith.
The old rule of “if you look ahead you’re going to get socked right under your nose” has full marks in the second half as Rei is rocked mid-match by being outsmarted. While it doesn’t have any clear indication that he has lost, getting checked might go quite the distance in calming down the rampaging prodigy. With only this and potentially the final to go, there is a steadily increasing pace that is incredibly easy to miss otherwise. If you recall, I threw down the gauntlet in my case for this series late November saying that this show would be worth it all come episode fourteen-sixteen. I might be off a tad, but it is hard to argue that it won’t be binge worthy after that point with this late stride it is hitting.
In One Line: Smith goes through his pre-match rituals only to be crushed by Gotou as Rei’s boiling anger blinds him from a critical mistake in his own match.
Episode 14 Impressions:
Chapter 28- Blinding Darkness / Chapter 29- Just a Little Water
Really fascinating to see someone second guessing themselves and falling apart in the middle of a Shogi game, let alone to see it from the protagonist of the series centered around the tactical pastime. The confusion and emotions flurrying across make for spectacular commentary on an otherwise quiet game, really shaking up the expectation for the rest of the way from here. Rei kicking himself all the way until the bitter end. The most interesting angle to Rei losing his first match is that it was built up so perfectly for a big showdown with the person he hated the most, only to be brutally crushed.
Such a young star typically quiet and robotic just sprinting off crying after a loss speaks mountains to the amount of professional and personal pride he has in a game that he originally despised for what it did to him. Sulking around his apartment in defeat to the visuals of various water-rich shots eases the message of depression in a subtle way that is on par with the rest of the excellent direction to date in the series. The age old question of What am I doing? echoes through an empty stairway occupied for lunch as lifestyle choices are weighed in a very organic way. Indeed, there is a genuine realistic feeling to the characters and events of March that mirror the ordinary life coupled with the beautiful aesthetics.
In One Line: Rei tumbles from his first massive loss and licks his wounds.
Episode 15 Impressions:
Chapter 30- Moonlight/ Chapter 31- Lump of Ego
With Rei down right now, there has been a lot of character development for the various Shogi players introduced so far. Most notably, Kyouko’s unstable nature is expanded on with a really visually stunning segment in the first half this week. The visuals amplifying the comparisons being made to characters (and furthermore, how well it is done) is something to be marveled at. Even though it is really hard to sympathize with Kyouko, her jaded attempts for stability keep her from being downright despicable. Despite the alarming history they had, it is obvious there is a lot of love for her family that is expressed in a complicated matter- it is the source of her pain and fire all at once.
It is really enjoyable to see even the minor characters have their moments for the time out of the light Rei has had. Compared to the stoic main, the others are very involved in their commentary of the matches going on and offer up quite a bit of information as to what the situation is. While it obviously can’t continue much longer, a break from the normal introspection is really nice.
In One Line: Kyouko desperately tries to win the affection of Gotou in the midst of the finals, Rei discovers maintaining a normal school life might actually be more difficult than anticipated.
Episode 16 Impressions:
Chapter 32- Running Through the Night / Chapter 33- Middle of the Slope
With only eight episodes left in the series, I have started to wonder where things might be going for Rei and his introspective journey with an inherited talent. One week momentum feels prime for a slugfest, and the very next we are in for a long haul. With the main tournament of the series so far wrapped up and the conclusion far more anticlimactic than forecasted, the messages being conveyed are becoming far more complicated. Trying to define the series as an archetype really is off the table when the biggest “goal” for the main character is downplayed and life goes on in the series without a hitch.
Perhaps that is where March has hit a bridge into a new area of character development for Rei: accepting his shortcomings and growing as a person. It feels so basic to see a character eat their pride, yet fits into the unique storytelling seamlessly to see it done in a fashion like this. Defeating his sister’s dangerous boyfriend and winning the day never felt very becoming of him, and instead of sulking into eternity, he opens his doors to learn under others- a spark that speaks volumes to how far he has come. It is hard to predict where March will take things (no matter how tame it might be felt as) in the last act of the series, but this has been a visual and reflective treat.
In One Line: Rei swallows his pride, admires the support system he has in friends and rivals, and takes the next step in his career.
Episode 17 Impressions:
Chapter 34- Silver Thread / Chapter 35- Water’s Surface / Chapter 36- Base of the Blue Night
The number of episodes that could be counted that contended for “most beautiful looking thing of the season” easily requires two hands to count by finger, but this week easily shouted into the top three or four with its magnificent shots and solemn use of lighting. Something so basic in a room being lit by a cellphone transformed into a haunting backdrop on a pretty heavy familial issue. With every stagnant encounter between his family, things get further and further away from Shogi for Rei. Maybe an undervalued element in a visually jarring session is just how aware it is made to him by seeing his opposition blossoming whilst regaining his composure. Also, the unexpected crossed paths of the Kawamoto girls and Kyouko led to a relentless assault on Rei that ended in a confusing meltdown by the sister in regards to what the youngest, Momo said to her.
If you were to ask ten people what March is, you’d get ten vastly different answers with the sample we have now. As a single product, it is a roller coaster of character development and subtle messages of overcoming life’s hardships. Slice that up into seventeen pieces, and the answer might become an extravagant art project. Surely the adjectives of choice range from “introspective” and “methodical” to “whiny” and “boring”. Shaft has been showing a few new plays in their book with the later acts of this series, intriguing me to see how these experiments will pay off in their other works. It is the kind of creative boundary pushing that can take drama and art to whole new levels and is a great crusade for the arts of anime.
In One Line: Rei attends the media session for the finals, Kyouko comes to her step-brother at the end of her line, and the new year’s Shogi rankings are announced.
Episode 18 Impressions:
Chapter 37- Torrent / Chapter 38- Passing Time
The third round of the tournament has come to an end, and it would really appear that Rei has dedicated to the workshop. Letting himself get destroyed in practice against much better talent than him as a learning experience is a big departure from his old stance of being unable to take one blow before the house of cards fell over. Each hit makes him a little stronger, and with the right support, he has finally learned to cut some slack on himself.
Maybe one of the biggest revelations for the girls in close to ten episodes is that Akari finally figured out something wasn’t right with Rei’s prior house life. With the dots connecting, I am really fascinated to see if she confronts Rei about it or if it is one of those things she just keeps in her back pocket (because obviously the other two girls didn’t think twice about it). It would definitely break the mold of the show, so don’t anticipate anything heart plucking from a one on one like that anytime soon. Regardless, it is a development worth noting and worth seeing play out.
In One Line: The third round of the tournament ends, Rei gets spring break off, and Akari makes a discovery about her frequent guest’s past.
Episode 19 Impressions:
Chapter 39- Passing the Night/ Chapter 40- Kyoto (Part 1)
Kai Shimada’s backstory really did well this episode in making him one of the more interesting layers to the story. The worn road of a once cocky kid turned patient fighter bouting stomach pains felt like a genuine character development. For every outrageous support character they sometimes slip by in March, there is a Shimada there to blow you away with depth and passion. The pain and determination he has for the game whilst enduring a massive stomach issue was downright inspiring.
The second half was SHAFT destroying everyone with their outstanding background art. It would be faster to name the number of times they didn’t flash a brilliant shot through the classic Japan setting. It isn’t for everybody, but the stretch the series has been going on is essential to anyone appreciative of good background art or how to properly pace a steady story. It has been a long journey, but the artistry is oh so worth it all.
In One Line: Rei assists Shimada with health issues as the latter’s backstory is explained.
Episode 20 Impressions:
Chapter 41- Kyoto (Part 2) / Chapter 42- Kyoto (Part 3)
One of the more striking analogies created early in this series was how Rei felt he was swimming in stormy waters, struggling to stay afloat. There was a dark green and black aesthetic that chaotically illustrated the depth in a young man’s struggle. Very similarly, a pair of effective shots of Shimada walking in the snow, facing a blizzard and one of him dreaming of a life without the professional competition weighing him down. These are truly unique moments to the struggles of one character personified, rather than Rei. There were bits from other people but it was always spoken in third person, and not from the horse’s mouth. I like how the visual storytelling method is not exclusive to the main character.
At the end of the day, I’m going to remember this show for how well it captures the whirlwind of emotion that accompanies taking the path less traveled. The challenges of success and overwhelming will to fight that keeps struggling people from surrendering. It is a beautiful, tortured portrait of the human spirit.
In One Line: Shimada’s fight reaches a wall as Rei fights his own expectations of his new mentor.
Episode 21 Impressions:
Chapter 43- When the Cherry Blossoms Bloom / Chapter 44- Small Murmur
The Shimada story comes to a really satisfying end as the local champion reflects on the unconditional support of his hometown people and how their love is his motivation for enduring what he does. I felt like the festival bits were a more lighthearted end to the crushing end of Rei’s mentor. The entire show has taken such a leap from where we started with it- what felt like out of place comedy in pretty serious drama blends well with the rest of the agenda in a very satisfying fashion.
For the definition of “lighthearted” though, look no further than the return of the Kawamoto sisters. Headlined by Hinata and Akari test tasting other desserts to spark some inspiration, there really was something simple yet effective with their little adventure. One of the best moments of the series was had in this episode with Hinata thinking about Rei and calling him, only for his cell phone to be going off right outside her door (as seen above). Her asking him to come over for dinner with him there struggling to figure out how to ask to come over was so sweet that it was impossible not to resist.
In One Line: The Shogi players host events at a local event as Shimada reflects on his town, the girls experiment with new dessert ideas and Rei finally comes over for dinner after a long journey.
Episode 22 Impressions:
Chapter 45- New School Term/Fighter
So this is it.
While last week could have easily given enough closure for a finale on its own, it was fascinating that they decided to give a small taste of the upcoming season in Rei’s repeated year of school. Lots of subtle building blocks like his Shogi tournament bracket setting up for a finale with his closest friends and making a Shogi (and science) club will more than likely go a long distance in the grand scheme of things. Undoubtedly, with the timing of the second series being announced, a chapter like this is as perplexing as it is exciting. It would be interesting to see more shows tease what would essentially be a pilot for the second season in the last episode of the previous season like this.
The half of the episode titled Fighter (based off of the OP of the first cour) was a satisfying end to the beautiful half year go the series had. A little bit of backstory, character development, and foresight really go a long way here. The growth of Rei’s character is astonishing once you take a step back and think about it all. He was so stoic and taken by the world before, and now he is this survivor who will scratch and claw through hardship in as big of a way as he can muster up. The build to that was slow and methodical, but it was absolutely worth it in reflection. This is the kind of series aspiring artists need to add to their “To Watch” list for sure, and a sure fire recommendation for anyone looking for an accurate depiction of depression and silver linings of the world.
In One Line: Rei begins the new school year after being held back for attendance as he reflects on what has gotten him to the point he is at now.
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)