Continuing with the 12 Days of Anime I am moving on from Siluca Meletes in Record of Grancrest War, to a character who takes a lot longer to really show his strength. However, once he does, he becomes quite the force to be reckoned with.
It is amazing that a character introduced like Shimada ended up having quite the impact that he has had. The one thing I must put it down to is the incredibly solid writing that is consistently delivered in March Comes in Like a Lion. Originally, Shimada is a character Rei is facing off against in a Shogi match and Rei utterly underestimates him, expecting to advance to the next round and take on the next opponent. What we see during the match is that Shimada, though he is quiet, unassuming, and has an undramatic approach to the game, is every bit as hungry for victory and with far more experience and patience, he’s able to more or less crush Rei under-heel with almost no effort.
It is quite the humbling experience for the protagonist and promotes some very real growth in him. However, in and of itself, this moment doesn’t really help Shimada register. He’s just another opponent Rei has faced and someone we assume he’ll play again and maybe beat once he is stronger.
How wrong this assumption is. Shimada is not so simple a character and the relationship he ends up forming with Rei really defies a single classification.
And that is because, it is a dynamic relationship. It is one that evolves naturally over time. At first he is the guy who beat Rei, who seems ordinary but is strong, and then you realise he’s incredibly physically weak as stress takes a more or less continuous toll on him. The more you learn about Shimada and how ill he gets with the stress of matches, the more I admire him for continuing to throw himself into the game again and again and never walking away and taking an easier path.
But what really helps is that Shimada becomes something of a teacher and mentor to Rei. Rei joins the workshop Shimada runs and over time we see that Shimada relies on Rei to a point as he prepares for a crucial match. Rei’s insight and talent is valued even if he’s still forming as a player. Rei also accompanies Shimada and helps him before and after the match, building a strong friendship and respect between the pair. So while Shimada remains the mentor figure, there’s a lot of give and take in the relationship.
Season two though gives Shimada the moments he deserves. Shimada’s story is one of the quiet hard-worker who can’t compete with those who have flair, the gift of gab, powerful presence or the like. He isn’t a draw card to the Shogi world and is seen as an ordinary man. But he is an ordinary man who never learned how to quit, who carries the weight and expectations of those he treasures with him (even if they do not wish him to feel burdened), and who has also learned how to reach out to others in need.
Shimada is a powerful character who’s journey was almost as moving as Hina’s and yet he is an almost unsung hero.
Here is to Shimada.
A character who is essential to Rei’s progress both in Shogi and as a person, and a character who has real goals and ambitions all of his own and will work to achieve them.
It’s another OWLS post and this time I am exploring the theme of Mentors. OWLS are a group of otaku bloggers who promotes acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. OWLS emphasise the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being. Each month, OWLS will look at a specific theme. If you want to know more, please do click on the logo in the side bar. And if you missed any of the great posts in July, the links to all the contributors this month are below.
The theme for July: Mentors
Throughout our lives, we might have encountered someone that we admired as a role model or has guided us in some life dilemma. This mentor could be a teacher at school, a coach, a boss or team leader at work, or a family friend. Whoever it is that person impacted your life in a positive manner. For this month’s OWLS topic, we will be writing about mentors or mentorships in anime and other pop culture media. Some topics we will be exploring include how a mentorship impacted a main character’s life, the types of mentor relationships a person could have, and/or personal stories about mentors or mentorships.
The Small Words That Make All The Difference
Previously I’ve made a very definitive statement about mentors in stories: Mentors die. There are very clear reasons why they do in so many stories and particularly in action or fantasy stories, this is the assigned role of the mentor archetype. Train the next generation, pass on your wisdom, die tragically both inspiring your protege, teaching one final lesson, and also ensuring the audience doesn’t wonder why you aren’t actually the hero of the story. But these stories are very far removed from the everyday lives most of us live and so while these mentors are brilliant and memorable for their wondrous moments before their candle gets blown out, they aren’t exactly the kind of people we’re going to walk down the street and run into.
More importantly, for most of us there isn’t one single person with a single view of the world who is going to help us through everything and set us on our path. For the vast majority of us, it is the culmination of many small words and actions that slowly turn our path and shape who we are or who we want to be. While we may not always recognise the input of these people, on reflection there are probably many people we have to thank for making it through a particularly trying time in our lives.
So rather than choosing to focus on any one of those shows that I have loved over the years with classic mentors such as Star Wars, I’m choosing in this post to focus on a character who I really connected with when watching the series and I’m looking at the characters who have had an impact on his life for the better.
Of course that means I’m going for another March Comes in Like a Lion Post.
For me there are several characters who have acted as a mentor and adviser to Rei over the first two seasons of March Comes in Like a Lion. They aren’t the only characters who have had an input, but they are all characters that he has turned to for advice or has drawn on their words at critical junctures. As a result, I haven’t included Hina in the list despite her being awesome. She’s definitely a catalyst for change, but she doesn’t really fulfil the role of mentor. Due to the length of the post I’ve focused on just a couple of characters and their performance as a mentor.
Akari Kawamoto is the oldest of the three sisters who kind of take Rei under their wing at the beginning of the show and really do act as Rei’s bridge back to the world. As the oldest, Akari is the voice of calm and reason, the one who nurses Rei when he is unwell, and she is the one who slowly drags him back into the world and won’t accept excuses. She’s a gentle but persistent presence and someone who exerts a natural warmth that Rei is drawn to. He finds himself unable to refuse her when she asks him to join them for dinner and seemingly against his own desires he is drawn more and more into the family by her.
However, Akari as a mentor is flawed because she is also very young and in over her head. With two young sisters to raise and care for she’s forced to act older than her years and put on a front, but there is a fantastic moment in the second season when it crumbles. At this stage we see how far Rei has come in his emotional journey when he surpasses his mentor and returns to her some of the emotional strength she has given him and he works to allay her fears.
It is very safe to say that without Akari, Rei would never have been able to consider the situation as clearly, would never have had the empathy or emotional understanding to comprehend it, and certainly wouldn’t have had the words to comfort another. Far from the fantastic mentors who beat their knowledge into their students with showy and dramatic performances, Akari is a character who works quietly and consistently from the sidelines. She watches over Rei and lends a gentle guiding hand when needed, acts more forcefully only when necessary, and ultimately waits for him to come to her though she leaves the door wide open and the space she has created for him is warm and inviting.
Akari is the kind of mentor we all wish we had in our lives because even when we stuff everything up, she would be there for us and would probably give us a hug or a warm meal and let us cry until we had let it all out.
I could hardly write about mentors in March Comes in Like a Lion without touching on Shimada. We first come across him when Rei is facing him in a match. Rei has put very little thought into his match against Shimada because his eyes are focused on the next competition, and this is something that ultimately costs Rei deeply and shames him horrendously. However, it is this defeat that opens the door for Rei to learn and to grow as a Shogi player. Where Akari is the warmth of human connections, Shimada is the one who will allow Rei to develop as a professional.
That said, like Akari, Shimada is a flawed mentor in that his own relationship with Shogi isn’t exactly a smooth ride. Plagued by health ailments due to the stress of his life, having never one a title match, feeling the pressure (not deliberate but well-meaning) of those who have supported him, Shimada has had a difficult road to walk and he’s still very much fighting every single day. Despite that, Shimada has not lost his focus or his goal and continues to quietly work towards it.
There’s probably a reason both Akari and Shimada are quiet and fairly unassuming mentors. With Rei’s mental state, someone more forceful or erratic would certainly just cause Rei to shut down and not engage. It is their quiet and persistent approach, the waiting for Rei to open to them, that allows these two characters to be successful in their interactions with him.
Through Shimada, Rei joins the Shogi workshop which opens him up to discussions with others about Shogi. We no longer see him practising and studying in solitude with Shogi being the thing Rei hides behind to avoid others or interactions. Instead, it becomes something that forces him into professional and spirited conversations and interactions with others. This really marks a turning point for Rei and one that is really pushed through Shimada’s arc where Rei accompanies him to his match and helps him through a fairly gruelling defeat.
Again, we see Rei stepping up and using what he has been shown by his mentor to ultimately assist the mentor. It is a really important step for Rei as a character as he dislikes owing others and so a mentorship that was strictly one-way would only leave him guilt ridden. These small moments where he is able to give back actually allow the relationship to continue and to grow.
The last character I’m going to touch on is Rei’s teacher at the high school, Hayashida. Unlike Akari and Shimada, Hayashida is an intrusive and brash character. He forces himself into the solitude of Rei’s lunch breaks, he pushes conversation, he drags Rei through what he must do not to have to repeat a year at school, and organises for Rei to join a school club. He is well meaning but the kind of person who initially exhausts Rei.
However, through his persistence and his earnest desire to be there for his student, Hayashida slowly chips away at the walls Rei has build around himself. In large part this is because of the other characters, such as the Kawamoto sisters, who have already breached a lot of Rei’s automatic defences, but by the second season, Hayashida is someone Rei trusts to listen when he wants to talk about Hina’s predicament.
While it would have been easy to write Hayashida’s character off as the comic relief, or the brash friend who no one cares about, what we see is that he takes his role of teacher very seriously and he has very carefully forcefully kept the door to communication with Rei open without barging through it and causing Rei to run. That careful balancing act in season 1 of being there without crossing too many lines pays off when Rei is finally needing someone and ready to open up as Hayashida is already there for him and made that very clear.
Small Moments, Small Words, Big Difference
All three of these characters have made a world of difference to Rei and the future that awaits him. If even one of these people hadn’t been in his life, the journey he is on would have been infinitely more thorny and difficult. They aren’t walking his path for him, they don’t hand him all the answers on a silver platter, but they are most definitely a large part of the reason he is managing to find his way.
Thanks for reading this far and remember, there are probably people in your life you have offered you those small words just when you needed them. Remember to say thank-you.
Thank you those who read my blog and offer your kind words of support. You have no idea how much you have helped me over the past two years and motivated me to keep going. Thank you.
The Schedule for July:
If you’ve missed any posts on the tour or want to know who is up next, the schedule is below. Be sure to check out some of the great bloggers and their posts this month.
The previous episodes all seemed to be pushing Shimada as a mentor or father figure onto Rei. Someone to give him guidance and help him move forward professionally after the sisters had managed to make him move forward a little bit socially. Or at the very least they got him out of his apartment. This episode strips away that guise as we see that even Rei realises he can’t simply look to someone else and he has to find the answer in himself. For the first time we see Rei actually determined to find that answer rather than hide from himself and his own feelings. It kind of blew me away. Certainly nothing has changed for Rei outwardly. This episode really didn’t do much other than play the much awaited fourth match of this tournament and had Shimada lose (with some fairly petty commentary from the onlookers – the guy qualified to play, leave him alone).
This is what I have liked about this story from the beginning. It isn’t so concerned about following a narrative trope that it misses its own focus and forces actions on characters due to narrative convenience. This story is entirely focussed on the characters, specifically Rei, and it ensures that all of his actions are directly linked to his emotional state which is affected continuously by outside stimulus and his own self-doubt. Of course, the question after this episode becomes one of whether Rei can actually maintain the feeling he has right now and try to find his own answer or whether he’ll back away again and beat a hasty retreat to the comfort of the familiar (even if the familiar is pretty miserable).
March Comes in Like a Lion is available on Crunchyroll.
March Comes in Like a Lion continues to be a slow yet quietly impressive character journey. Our focus is still on Shimada as he prepares for the upcoming tournament aided by a fairly conflicted Rei (I know, Rei being conflicted is at this point kind of a given). Still, we see some genuine interactions between Rei and Shimada and in the process learn more about both of them.
Last week I criticised some of the over the top visual metaphors in episode 18 and the clashing nature of them. This week returns to a more cohesive look and tone and the effect is far greater than the frantic images of last week.
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