No matter what we say or what brave face we put on as we go to do battle with the world beyond, the undeniable truth is reality is tough. Some days it is tougher than others and some days you are better equipped than others to deal with it, but we’ve all had that moment where retreating underneath the covers and shutting out the rest of the world seems like a really good idea.
And this is where we meet Rei Kiriyama, the protagonist of March Comes in Like a Lion. While not always literally, Rei begins season one by hiding away from the world and shutting himself away inside. I’ve said from the beginning, that one of the things that draws me into this show, actually the main draw for me, is how incredibly I connect with Rei as a character. The way his emotions are shown and conveyed really speaks to me and as a result it makes the viewing experience something far more than entertainment.
Watching the series is confronting and hard and it tackles major social issues of isolation, depression, mental health and bullying and it takes them head on without holding back. It is a stunning example of what stories can do (though I would point out that I personally believe that entertaining stories that let you sit back, relax and talk and laugh with friends have equal value and should not be dismissed just because they aren’t shattering your heart in two every other week).
I’ve already written quite a bit about this series so this post I want to focus specifically on the idea of stagnation and how this relates to the show, to life and to blogging. This is going to be quite a personal post because this show brings that out in me, so sorry for the ramble but I kind of felt it was needed.
Despite what outward appearances might suggest, Rei starts the series having achieved incredible success. He is one of the youngest to ever become a pro-shogi player and he is financially supporting himself (though probably not actually taking care of himself if his refrigerator is anything to go by). He’s climbed some incredibly high mountains and battled his way past so many obstacles. Losing his family, being socially awkward, his foster family situation and other issues have all given him baggage to haul as he continues to fight his way forward. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that he is faltering and finding it harder and harder to find a reason to move on.
This is perfectly visualised by the series (through one of its many incredibly apt visual metaphors) as Rei fighting his way through the ocean current and finally reaching the shore. It isn’t where he wants to go and he isn’t overly happy there, but it has got him out of the water. He realises that he won’t have to fight anymore, to keep trying to push through, if he just accepts stagnation. Essentially, never moving any higher in the shogi world, never moving on in his personal relationships, but just pausing right where he is. It isn’t the peak of the mountain and it wasn’t the goal he set out looking for, but after the long and arduous fight that his whole life has become, it seems good enough. A security not worth risking for the chance of something better later on.
For me, this image was incredibly relatable and powerful. It hit me hard because it is more or less where I was before I started blogging nearly two years ago. I’d fought hard to reach certain goals and points in my professional and personal life and I’d reached reasonable stability in both and part of me was starting to think that maybe right there was good enough. The long battle, the huge hours, the exhaustion of dealing with others was all becoming quite overwhelming and there was this nice little plateau just waiting for me to settle in and make myself at home in embracing stagnation.
The thing I came to realise is that stagnation is an illusion. There is no happy resting place. The world and other people continue to move on and what I began to realise is that the fight to hold on to my little piece of comfort was becoming more exhausting than the journey forward might have been. Of course, just knowing what the problem was didn’t mean I had any clue as to how to solve it. I was at that point lost. Any goal I may have had disappeared beyond a horizon I couldn’t see and looking around at what I might head towards was just plain disorientating to the point where I basically wanted to retreat again.
It took a long time for me to find my way again, and I won’t lie, starting the blog was probably one of the best things I did as it gave me something clear to focus on and channel my energy into. It wasn’t the only thing that started to change for me but it was a big thing. But as that started opening me back up to people and to the world, I started to dive back into my work and looked at what I could do there and slowly but surely I found myself going full steam and climbing back up the mountain to a goal I still really can’t see, but that’s okay. The destination isn’t really the point. And I know I’ll fall and stumble and some-days a storm will come and batter me or someone climbing a neighbouring peak might toss a rock at me or maybe I’ll find my road blocked and have to back-track and go around, but I’m moving again and I’m really determined not to go back into power-saver mode. Some days that conviction is stronger than others. It’s a work in progress but that is life.
What is fantastic about this show is it isn’t a show about watching Rei get beaten down. We meet him in that state and certainly we do see him face set-backs. Some more dramatic than others.
This is a show about the journey to find a way forward and the people who help or hinder us on that journey and the way that we can choose to see the world. There are times when Rei’s outlook on life is very bleak. But even in the darkest episodes there are shining moments that keep him from slipping over the edge.
For me this is a show that embodies what it means to live and to face the world. While the actual context (high-school pro-shogi player battling depression) might be far removed from our daily lives, the understanding of how people perceive the world and how our perceptions are changed and coloured by the smallest of things is something that connects the audience to the characters in the show.
While Rei might have considered embracing stagnation at one point, he did continue onward and season 2 has seen that journey progress far beyond what I could have imagined when first meeting Rei back at the start of season 1. The arc where we saw Rei dealing with his emotions as he observed the impact of bullying on Hina is something truly special to watch and something I cannot recommend enough if you haven’t had the chance.
As I said at the beginning of this post, March Comes in Like a Lion is a confronting watch. But it isn’t the subject matter it presents that makes it so confronting. It is the emotions it forces us to confront within ourselves as we watch that really makes the viewing so incredibly unforgettable. While I might watch a lot of anime over the next decade or two, this is a show that I will never forget because it has moved me so many times and so many of the words and images have carved themselves inside of my mind.
I do understand that not every viewer will have that same experience. It is a deeply personal one and it is odd sometimes what connects with one person over another. But for me, this idea of stagnation and moving forward are what will always make this series one I will recommend without reservation, though with the small caution that if you are in the midst of a low point in your life this might be a little too confronting and might be one to put on hold.
- Tuesday’s Top 5: Visually Interesting Anime in 2017
- Friday’s Feature: There Are Many Ways To Appreciate Anime
- Friday’s Feature: Do You Like To Look In The Mirror?
- Friday’s Feature: Constructing Characters Through Visuals in Anime
- Friday’s Feature: The Path Beyond Stagnation
- March Comes in Like a Lion Series Review
- March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2 Series Review