March Comes in Like a Lion follows Rei Kiriyama a professional Shogi player despite being in highschool. Rei struggles with social interactions and sometimes just facing the day is an overwhelming challenge, however an encounter with three sisters will see some small changes in his life. You can find my episode reviews here.
There is no denying that I have absolutely loved watching March Comes in Like a Lion. For me there was an instant connection with Rei (not that I’ve gone through the same challenges or anything but I think we’ve all had those moments where we’ve wanted to run away from everything and hide). Rei’s really at the centre of everything in this show and whether you love it or not will depend entirely on how you take to him. Whether you enjoy watching him struggle and want to get behind him, whether you feel it cuts too close to home and feel uncomfortable, or whether you just don’t connect and find the proceedings fairly dull, it all comes down to that central character.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some other very strong points to the show but with a plot that is almost non-existent this show heavily relies on the character journey to carry the story forward. Outside of Rei’s emotional journey you really just have boy drifting through life and encountering others, occasionally getting caught up in their drama, and then drifting on to the next thing. Some of those encounters are amazing, but it doesn’t make for much of a plot.
So what do I like about Rei?
He is at times represented quite pathetically, which isn’t the same as being a pathetic character. There are times when he gives up, when he loses his temper, when he surrenders a battle before he begins fighting. At all of those moments, everything about the show paints Rei as being pathetic. However, as a character he is magnificent to watch. This show gave me one of the best representations of a character going through depression and dealing with social anxieties that I have ever seen. Early in the series I worried that the sisters were going to be like some mystic fairy godmother and wave a wand and ‘cure’ Rei (a feat we’ve seen in so many other shows where getting a friend or a girlfriend/boyfriend suddenly changes everything). However, while they certainly give Rei an anchor to the world at times and a bright point within the darkness that surrounds him, they alone are not enough to transform him. They merely provide a catalyst for Rei realising he wants to change.
And that is probably the strongest part of his character. Rei remains the agent of change regardless of the other characters who may support that change, provide a means for that change, or provide guidance on how to change. Rei is the one who chooses to move from where he is. Because of that his journey is not linear. He moves forward and back, stepping into more positive spaces before falling back down. Each time he learns and gains from the experience but it feels incredibly genuine and more importantly, if you’ve connected with him, it is heart wrenching watching him fall. You just want to reach out to him and grab his hand but you know you can’t fight the battle for him anymore than his teacher at school can or the sisters.
The sisters themselves remain fairly nebulous to me. While they are that shining ray of hope that Rei needs, and at times they certainly kick things into gear (dragging Rei out when he’s sick to nurse him, running into him in town and bringing Nikaido over) as characters they get very little time and almost no development. The middle sister probably has the best moments when going through her first love and again when mourning her parents, but really the sisters seem more like a plot device than characters at times. That doesn’t really detract from the show but given their impact on the main character it would be nice to know more about them other than that they are nice. The cats are a nice touch though.
Later in the series an older shogi player becomes fairly significant in Rei’s life. Shimada is probably the best developed character outside of Rei and his influence on Rei is enormous in the second half of the series. Shimada is a great character to watch and his story plays out very well and is thoroughly engaging. At first it seemed odd that he was getting so much focus, particularly as it seemed like Rei, the main character, was being sidelined, however the choice was well made and when the focus shifts back to Rei you realise just how essential seeing Shimada’s story was.
The only other character I want to address in detail is Kyouko, Rei’s sister in the family that adopted him. She is set up as an antagonist and to be honest she is quite antagonistic, however that doesn’t appear to be her main role. Her relationship with Rei is more complicated than it first appeared and while at no point do I actually feel sorry for her, she is a horrible person, you begin to understand her actions a bit more when you realise that the father essentially forced his children to turn against each other in order to be the best. Losing out to Rei, and in so doing losing her father’s affection, seems to be the cornerstone of Kyouko’s entire character so her actions are understandable. What is less clear are Rei’s feelings for her given he clearly hates and fears her, but also seems drawn to her like a moth straight to a flame. If there was any relationship I’d like to see more of, it would be this one, because there’s a lot of unanswered questions about how Rei feels about the situation.
Outside of the characters what makes this show an amazing watch are the visuals and the music. Both have been chosen very well throughout to really convey the emotions on screen. While at times the visuals get a little over crowded as they hit you with a plethora of colours and symbols, for the most part they perfectly convey the feeling of the moment and really give a concrete substance to the emotions of the character.
Okay, a few criticisms because I can’t leave this all shiny and happy. This show is slow. At times in the first half it is really, really slow. And the shogi cat song needs to disappear from existence and never be heard again. Plus, the first opening theme is significantly stronger than the second in terms of matching the tone of the show (though both ending themes are brilliant). And that’s really all I’ve got as overall criticisms.
All and all though, if you didn’t watch this or try it while it was airing I am definitely recommending it. It won’t grab everyone but it is worth trying as if you can get into it the character journey is well worth watching. I know it is only the Winter season that has aired so far in 2017, but I know it is going to be hard for another anime to have as much impact on me this year as this one did so this is definitely a contender for my anime of the year.
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