March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2 Series Review: An Emotional And Moving Experience

Most of my readers are already familiar with my deep love for this series so I probably don’t need to tell you that this anime review is not going to be objective. In fact, let’s just accept that this is my love letter to season 2 of March Comes in Like a Lion. It will save any need for a disclaimer later in the ‘review’.

Review:

The first season of March Comes in Like a Lion took awhile to grow on me. While from episode one I was interested in Rei’s emotional struggle, the slow pace and trickled introduction of the support cast meant it was not love at first sight. Still, some fantastic visual metaphors and ultimately a fairly powerful and emotional experience meant that it fast became one of my all time favourite series. And then season 2 came out.

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It isn’t often that a sequel comes along that manages to completely capture what made the original season so amazing while improving on practically everything and yet season 2 of March Comes In Like a Lion does exactly that. There isn’t a single wasted episode in this second season with each one building on the last or transitioning the audience from one emotionally charged arc to the next. Even what should have been a fairly mundane shogi match between two supporting characters ended up being an incredibly memorable viewing experience that had me on the edge of my seat and not knowing who I even wanted to win. While there are still flaws in this show to be found, and while a lot of the enjoyment from watching comes from whether or not you’ve connected with the cast in season one, for me this was a near perfect viewing experience from start to finish.

So what made it so amazing?

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Firstly, the visuals are well and truly still hitting their mark. Whether we are embroiled in someone’s emotional trauma or basking in the warmth of success, happiness or contentment, this anime consistently delivers visuals that capture the mood of the moment and perfectly convey it to the audience. The music isn’t quite as strong but it also does an excellent job of pairing with the visuals to carry these emotions and they leave their mark.

Whether it is Hina being bullied, the mood of the classroom, Rei reflecting on his actions or past, a desire to win, or even just experiencing the joy of eating food with others, this anime creates that mood and it really does invite the audience to experience it as well as watch what is happening. While the anime does not rely on the visuals alone to draw the audience along, every single image seems purposeful and well thought out making this a visual feast for the eyes.

When coupled with some incredibly strong narrative elements, the whole show moves from just being something you watch to something that seems to consume you. Part of what makes this narrative so striking is how real it becomes. They haven’t felt the need to use gross exaggeration for the bullying or anyone’s mental distress. It conveys a truth that is more powerful because it is so familiar. Even if you have not experienced the situation the characters find themselves in, you know someone who has or can very easily imagine it. The drama is in the delivery rather than hyperbole and that lifts this from being a slice of life drama to something that forces the audience to look long and hard at their own lives and choices. While the result isn’t always comfortable, there’s a genuine sense of catharsis while watching.

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That sense of catharsis is aided through the incredibly adept pacing of this second season. Season one suffered from some early pacing issues and just feeling slow paced. Season two has no such problems. Every arc goes exactly as long as it needs to. Every conversation makes its point but doesn’t linger past its welcome. More importantly, this anime knows exactly what it is doing to its audience and after dragging us through the wake of Hina’s despair it finds the perfect moment to drag us out of the mire into a more relaxed and happy moment before we move once again into a more tense viewing experience. No emotion lingers on for too long but each one is felt, experienced, and then gently ushered aside for the next wave. It isn’t abrupt or jarring except when necessary, and it all feels very natural.

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Still, the main reason I would recommend this anime a million times over is probably Rei and Hina themselves. The journey both of these characters have undertaken since season one has been intense and both characters have come out the other side showing growth and wisdom but no instant cures or fixes. They are carrying their scars but they are also carrying the strength they gained through facing their burdens.

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In this, Hina was the leader. It is no exaggeration when Rei declares that Hina is his hero or like the sun. She goes through a hellish experience with bullying at her school but despite the tears and her own anger at her weakness, Hina never runs. Not once. She continues to face each challenge as it comes. Certainly she is supported in this by Rei and her family, but it is her decision to keep going.

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The impact this has on Rei is enormous and while he experienced some character growth in season one, season two sees him blossom. His desire to help and protect Hina and to overcome his own weaknesses really propels him to new heights. One of the most rewarding sequences I watched last season was when Rei returned to the house he had grown up in and while it wasn’t a pleasant experience, it showed us exactly how far Rei had come in terms of overcoming the ghosts that have haunted him since the show began.

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When looking back at this season, there really isn’t a single thing I would change. Not one moment that we could have done without. Ultimately I am left with only one request and that is if they ever make a third season, I hope that the same love and attention to detail is used because the worst thing that could happen now is a continuation that does not do these characters justice.

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And I know that wasn’t really a review but I love this show so much. Really I’d love to look at each sequence and event again in detail but honestly, I think this is a show that is better experience individually as each person is going to take something a bit different from it. I really recommend giving it a go if you haven’t. If you have and it didn’t work for you, I understand that too. For me though, this was one of the most powerful viewing experiences I’ve had in a long time and it is not one I will soon forget.

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March Comes in Like a Lion Episodes 43 & 44: An End and a Beginning

I’m really going to keep this short despite covering both episodes, because I know the season review of this anime is going to be crazy long already. Despite how much I talk about this anime, there’s still endless things I want to say.

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What I will say is that this is a perfect send of to the second season, and to the anime as a whole if it doesn’t get another season. While there are still plenty of hurdles for the characters to overcome, this season gave each one of them a space to show how far they had come and where they were heading. So if another season never occurs, I won’t be left always slightly unsatisfied because this final gives me nothing to complain about.

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I also love the Rei and Hina’s relationship was such a large part of these final episodes. These two characters are individually impressive but together are unforgettable and watching them here just reminded me how much I love both of them and wish them the best (despite the fact that they are fictional characters).

Anyway, it was a glorious ending to an anime that has had a fairly big impact on me and I can’t wait to write my season review on this one.

Season 1 Review:

March Comes in Like a Lion Series Review


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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 42: Smiling Hina

We’re closing in on the end of the second season of March Comes in Like a Lion and part of me is going to be very sad to see it end. This episode brings us a whole lot of reasons why as we see Hina thinking about her future before we get a time-skip to right before high school entrance exams. While seeing Hina’s character continue to grow, and it is nice that she hasn’t just forgotten the unpleasantness of the bullying incident, it is truly a pleasure to see how the shared experience has brought Rei and Hina closer together.

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However, the show hasn’t forgotten it’s focus on Rei as Hina’s probing questions have him thinking back to his choices and how he became the Shogi player he is. For the first time, I think we see him acknowledge it was his choice even if at the time it felt like he was cornered or lacked other options. It is a subtle way of showing the growth he’s had since season 1.

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But before Hina can realise her new found objective, she needs to get into the high school and that means studying. For once we get a study sequence that is played out over montages but is more laid back and happy to take each moment of the process and the bonding between Rei and Hina, as well as the enjoyment of good food.

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These two characters have become so incredibly precious to me over this second season and I’m hoping they both find something they want in the final episodes.

Season 1 Review:

March Comes in Like a Lion Series Review


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Karandi James

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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 41: An Interlude

This anime continues to impress as it knows when to step back from the hard hitting emotions and give the audience a chance to breath. And yet, even those breaths are full of great character moments, moments that recall past events and remind us issues still unresolved.

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A lot of this episode focused on the sisters running a sweet stall and recruiting Rei to assist. This very much draws us back to season one where Rei was literally being dragged out of his apartment to now, where he voluntarily involves himself with this family and is finding himself more and more connected to the world through them. We also see how the sisters are growing and evolving over time and how Hina is bouncing back from her previous trauma. Hina’s growth is particularly highlighted through a visit to Chiho on the farm firmly reminding us how strong Hina has been to get through previous events.

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These two are too adorable together.

The second half of the episode turns to the middle school and the ongoing fall out from the bullying incident. the head teacher isn’t staying on as the homeroom teacher and the changing of the guard isn’t going smoothly, mostly because the lead bully (not the only bully but the one who became the face of the group responsible) still refuses to actually take any responsibility for her actions.

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And this is another reason why I love this show. Nothing is easily solved and then forgotten. There’s never a neat end point to a single story. Each event continues to send ripples through future events and the show doesn’t forget where these characters have come from or how their interactions will impact upon their futures. While this episode might have felt like a breath of relaxed air compared to some this season, it was packed full of points of note and maintained the narrative and character strength I’ve come to expect from this anime.

Season 1 Review:

March Comes in Like a Lion Series Review


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Karandi James

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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 40: Find Out What You Are Made Of

March Comes in Like a Lion is an anime that knows what it is about and episode 40 manages to combine amazing character moments with stunning visual metaphors and an epic shogi showdown all while taking the audience on an emotionally intense ride that doesn’t stop until the very end. It’s impressive as an individual episode and builds well on everything that this series has given us before hand.

Spoiler warning for the images if you don’t know who won the match.

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Last week I wasn’t sure if I wanted Shimada to win over Yanagihara by the end of the episode and I never did figure out who I wanted to win this match. Both characters gave everything they had and the end result was stunning, nail biting and thought provoking. It wasn’t just the characters who felt wrecked by the time we reached the bitter-sweet end of the match.

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Yet after two episodes of walking us through the fire, the story found its resting point and played it for what it was worth. This show knows how to move an audience from tears to smiles, from tension to release and it does it superbly time and again. While it might seem frivolous to some, that shifting tone is exactly what makes watching such a cathartic experience.

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Finally this match is done and I have to admit this is one arc that surprised me as I never really expected a match between these two characters to be all the important at all. Looking forward to where this show takes us next.

Season 1 Review:

March Comes in Like a Lion Series Review


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Karandi James

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Finally, you can use the affiliate link to shop at Play-Asia.com ifPlay-Asia.com - Play-Asia.com: Online Shopping for Digital Codes, Video Games, Toys, Music, Electronics & more you are interested in anime, soundtracks, figures or games. Should you use the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

 

March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 39: Not Wanting To Lose Takes Many Forms

Review:

March Comes in Like a Lion has returned at last after its three week break and they have plunged us straight into the title match between Shimada and Yanagihara. While a lot of this series has focused on Rei, it is nice to see him take a back seat for these older characters as they each bring a different perspective to the life of a professional who has their pride, reputation and life on the line when they sit at the table.

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Bonus point: Rei and Nikaido were adorable as the commentators and for once Rei didn’t seem nervous.

While we’ve been with Shimada before as he has contested a champion, this time he is going for his first title, and as he repeats throughout the build-up to the match, he is determined to take it. Shimada isn’t a flashy player or a natural genius. He’s a hard worker and has literally done the grinding over and over again to hone his skills and finally he has a title within reach if only he can overcome Yanagihara. And given we’ve spent time with Shimada and like him as the mentor character to Rei you would think that the show would set him up as the one the audience should want to win. Particularly when Shimada’s support committee rock up to wish him well.

But March Comes in Like a Lion is never about simple black and white scenarios where one person should win or lose at the table. This episode devotes a lot of time to building up Yanagihara and providing him with a real motive for wanting to hold onto that title with everything that he has. And in the process, making the audience want him to keep it leaving us in the very confused mental state of wanting Shimada’s hard work to pay off for him but also not leave an old man devastated by the loss of the one thing he really has left to hold on to (that he worked equally hard to obtain and to hold onto for this long).

Naturally the match doesn’t end this episode and in honesty, I don’t know how this will play out and who will win. I don’t know which would be better as I think either one of these characters losing will be a little devastating. And that is where this show has once again shown off how well it can write its characters and move its audience. The show may have gone on break for three weeks but it has not lost its edge.

Season 1 Review:

March Comes in Like a Lion Series Review


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Karandi James

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Another way you can support the content here is by buying a copy of ‘Thoughts on Anime 2017‘ as an ebook. It contains a selection of reviews, features and top 5 lists from 2017 and while the content is available free on the site, this is a great way to give a one off show of support for the blog. It is available for $3.99.

Finally, you can use the affiliate link to shop at Play-Asia.com ifPlay-Asia.com - Play-Asia.com: Online Shopping for Digital Codes, Video Games, Toys, Music, Electronics & more you are interested in anime, soundtracks, figures or games. Should you use the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

 

March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 31: Lessons Learned

Review:

I really loved this episode for so many reasons but I’m going to try to see if I can keep this post from getting out of control. However, other than being a fantastic continuation on Hina’s story and closing the newcomers tournament story, what episode 31 of March Comes in Like a Lion does beautifully is have Rei draw on all the things he’s learned since the start of season 1 and actually take on some of the advice. This whole season we have seen a more proactive Rei who wants to connect with others, but actually seeing him acknowledge a fault within himself and stopping himself from repeating a mistake was truly wonderful.

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Nikaido, for all that he only appears briefly in the episode outside of Rei’s memory, is definitely the most valuable player here for even though Rei has been given advice from others, it is Nikaido’s words that hold the most sway and forcibly bring Rei up short right before repeating the same mistake he made in a tournament back in season 1.

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Despite the success Rei has in the tournament, this episode doesn’t celebrate this moment. For Rei, winning the tournament was really important for his journey but his focus right now is definitely on Hina and having won, Rei immediately shifts his focus back to the girl who has saved him so many times from himself.

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Another seriously good episode from this show. As a side note, I recently started a rewatch of this series starting back at season 1 with a friend and while I knew Rei had grown and changed over the course of the 2 seasons, going back to season 1 it is astounding just how profound that change has been. It really kind of blew me away because it has always felt like such a slow development and yet the Rei we are watching now has come so far since those early episodes.


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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 30: Can I Read Subs Through Tears?

Review:

The answer to whether or not I can read subs while tearing up is clearly no because I had to rewatch the second half of this episode and subsequently had my heart crushed and trampled a second time in the space of an hour. Fortunately I was out of tears so the second time it just left me with a dull ache in my chest and a general feeling that as unfair as life is, true strength is moving forward in whatever way you can against whatever odds you may face. And then I found new tears. Sometimes, as much as I love this show I also hate that it hits my emotional buttons so incredibly well.

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Fortunately, this show isn’t just about breaking its audience into pieces. It starts with Rei’s teachers giving us what we needed after last week. A tirade against Hina’s homeroom teacher. A voice of anger in the face of such unreasonable unfairness. It is silly and over the top at it succeeds as a point of needed catharsis for an audience that has been dragged emotionally through the mud with Hina’s troubles for weeks. The situation still isn’t solved, but for once this acts as the lighter point of the episode with Nikaido’s story being the soul crushing one for the week.

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It is really, really affective. For weeks the school and Hina have been the darker points in the story with the shogi hall being a place where things have been going well for Rei and the place where some needed comedy has been injected into the story. This week, we leave the school and the comedy behind as we find out that Rei has made it into the final of the newcomers tournament (a triumph in itself) but Nikaido has not achieved the same. We also learn that Nikaido’s always poor health has taken a turn for the worse.

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Shimada is the one who Rei confronts and demands to know what has happened to Nikaido and so we see young Nikaido through Shimada’s eyes. It is a tear jerking story and it nails the tone perfectly. Nikaido is adorable throughout and his determination not just to be strong himself, but to see his rival, Rei, be strong is incredibly touching.

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However, it is Rei’s response to being told this that really hits home as once again the show is reinforcing the changes Rei has undergone over the course of a season and a half. I’m really worried about Rei next episode because I feel at the moment while he is looking much stronger than he was, he might very well be broken soon. He has realised his complete helplessness with Hina, including the fact that even earning more money isn’t going to solve the issue, and now he is facing an inability to help Nikaido. While at the moment he has the goal of winning the tournament, if that doesn’t happen, I’m really not sure if he’s emotionally able to deal with it at the moment.

All things considered though, I loved this show. I love the imagery that has been used all throughout the episode, particularly that image of Nikaido leading Rei across the bridge with the birds all flying ahead of them. I love how the character really feel like nuanced human beings and I love that they continue to change in response to events around them. I might be a broken, teary mess after most episodes this season, but what comes after that is the feeling that I’m watching something quite special that I will remember well after it is done.


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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 11.5

Review:

Well, you should know I hate recap episodes by now so 11.5 isn’t exactly going to do much for me. That said, at least the timing on this makes sense. If you didn’t pick up this show in Autumn but are considering it (given it is continuing on in the Winter season), 11.5 does an excellent job of catching you upon the pertinent plot points and characters so you would be right to just continue on from this point. What it also does, however, is point out how much this show relies on atmosphere over substance given this one 25 minute recap actually did cover all of the major plot points. There isn’t very much happening in this show in terms of plot. The recap fails at capturing the spirit of any of the characters though, and that is perhaps the more charming part of the show. Pretty much watch it if you are wanting to start this show and haven’t or skip it if you’ve been watching the show.

March Comes in Like a Lion is available on Crunchyroll.

Friday’s Feature: Constructing Characters Through Visuals in Anime

A while back I made the point that I don’t really like comparing anime when I review them but there are times when a comparison can help to clarify meaning (Comparing Apples and Oranges). This week I am going to be comparing two current anime and their use of visuals to construct meaning. I am not going to be discussing which of these is a better anime. If you’ve been reading my weekly overviews you already know which I am enjoying more and my reasons.

The two anime I’d like to look at are March Comes in Like a Lion and Flip Flappers. Now I’m not going to get to cover much in this article because both of these shows are absolutely full of visual metaphors so after a brief overview I am going to look at how the central characters of each show have been constructed (in part – there’s too much in either show to fully cover without writing way too much for anyone to bother reading on my blog) so far and the impact of the story so far on the character (up to episode 6). I may do a follow up feature later on some of the other visuals in the shows, though that will probably be after they are finished airing.

Starting with Flip Flappers, it is not difficult to see why it is enthralling some people. It is a high energy anime with two adorable central characters and a sense of whimsy to the plot that calls you back to a children’s fairy tale (only one that has incredibly dark undertones and a sense of impending danger). There’s a lot to like about it even as it confuses or deliberately withholds information from the audience. It’s a visual feast for the eyes filled with dazzling colours and sharp contrasts.

March Comes in Like a Lion couldn’t be more different in terms of what it is trying to do. It’s an incredibly slow paced character piece with a fairly dark outlook on life only occasionally punctuated by moments of brightness. It is compelling viewing even as you wonder if there is in fact a plot other than seeing the character on his journey. Again, there is a lot to like about it but what really keeps the audience enthralled are how emotions are being presented visually.

Both shows initially set up a protagonist who is isolated and suffering from feelings of emptiness or at the very least a general dissatisfaction with their current existence. We see both Cocona and Rei as being isolated from others and continually looking away and toward something else. In Cocona’s case she stares out of the classroom window where she initially sees Papika (though she doesn’t know what she is seeing). In Rei’s case he regularly looks out the window toward the water and even when he is walking he regularly stops to stare off into the distance, particularly when crossing a bridge so that he can look at the water. It’s effective characterisation because we get a sense that both of these characters are wanting something more but don’t know what it is or how to get it. We also clearly get a sense of their isolation.

One thing both shows have done which I find somewhat off putting is the way they have made the characters’ eyes seem glassy. Not just these two characters. All of the characters. We see these glistening globes of colour and shading and while anime eyes are never exactly what you would call realistic, the eyes in both Flip Flappers and March Comes in Like a Lion are particularly interesting. However, this choice has allowed for an absolute freedom of expression because the eyes aren’t realistic in the first place they can clearly become the window to the characters’ emotions and change to reflect the current emotional state without anyone calling them out on being off-model.

Where the two shows diverge is in where these characters have gone. For Cocona, Papika is an unwanted intrusion in her life and yet the energy and chaos she brings is a welcome break from the stuffiness of her usual existence. The show is never subtle about the contrast between these characters and their inverted natures became clear after their first transformation experience where their colouring was entirely inverted.

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This has of course led to speculation that perhaps Cocona and Papika are actually one person and merely opposite sides of the same coin and there is certainly merit in such an interpretation but at this stage it is speculation. It will be interesting to see what becomes of that idea as the show draws to a conclusion.

Flip Flappers takes us away from Cocona’s everyday life to a fantasy world literally known as ‘Pure Illusion’. While elements from the real world have a presence there, it is clearly a world that defies normal logic and the contrast between the real world and Pure Illusion is visually clear.

While at first resisting the lure of Pure Illusion and the bright world Papika has opened up for Cocona, the change on Cocona as a character is made clear. She’s moved from being alone, to grudgingly accepting Papika’s presence, to acknowledging the emotions Papika helps her to experience.

It is clear that colour is playing a significant role in creating meaning and character throughout Flip Flappers and the composition of the shots continues to layer meaning into each scene as well. When we start looking at the number of visual symbols and references packed into most episodes this article could go on forever but I’m going to leave Flip Flappers here and go back to March Comes in Like  a Lion.

In direct contrast to Cocona’s progressive character development, Rei Kiriyama is still very much stuck in his own head after 6 episodes. The vast majority of his dialogue is an internal monologue and his interactions with other characters are few and far between and even then they are usually scarce in terms of actual interaction.

For Rei, everyday is a struggle against apathy and disillusionment and we see him facing the world and finding moments of calm in amongst a sense that he is drowning (sometimes quite literally). Dark and light again play a crucial role in constructing this conflict.

In episode 6 we are treated to an extended metaphor of Rei swimming on and on in an ocean until he became a professional shogi player (illustrated by him finding his place on an island but then collapsing on the sand). He had no will to return to the ocean to advance any further.

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The visual and the internal monologue perfectly express his feelings about the journey he has been on and where he is currently sitting. It also perfectly expresses the inner conflict he is facing because in order to stay there he has to accept stagnation but as he has said earlier in the episode he wants to go somewhere. It leaves us wondering where Rei intends to go. We know he doesn’t know yet and that until he decides he is stuck on this island and completely isolated (metaphorically of course) but we also know that through his encounters with the three sisters his carefully constructed world where he is on an isolated island is beginning to fall apart on him. Almost every scene where Rei encounters the sisters (or at least one of the sisters) is punctuated visually by the dark visuals being literally swept away by a sea of light, sparkles, or colours.

In that respect it is similar to Flip Flappers in that the sisters are acting as a catalyst of change on the main character and that the visuals are reflective of these changes. However, Papika is a force of nature that sweeps Cocona along in her wake and the sisters are more of a healing balm that gently push back some of the darkness for a moment.

Like with Flip Flappers, I could go on about the symbolism in the show (particularly the use of water and wind and the way shots have been constructed) but I’m going to leave it here because this article already got a bit longer than I kind of planned.

I think it is great we have such two highly visual shows this season (which is funny to say given anime is a visual medium and yet so often the visuals simply get the story across). Both of these are so laden with imagery that it is hard to look away and even background details take on significance. Plus, rewatching an episode is still fun because there are aspects that were missed or overlooked on the first watch through.

If you are watching either of these series I’d love to know your thoughts on the visuals and how they are constructing meaning for you. If you aren’t watching these, what are some shows you’ve watched that have used visuals in an interesting way to create character?