March comes in like a lion
Episode 10

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 10 of
March comes in like a lion ?

March comes in like a lion's tenth episode opens with a half-set shogi board and total silence. As the show begins, a hand reaches up to place tiles in their positions, and we hear the steady clack of shogi pieces slotting into place. It's an understated opening that emphasizes a sense of quiet place, a sensation amplified as the camera shifts to reveal the chilly December skyline. It's clear from its very first moments that sound and place are crucial in this episode.

The overt narrative of this episode is a near mirror of episode nine. Once again, Rei's upcoming match is sabotaged by Kyouko, who stops by to tell him how tragic it would be for his next opponent to lose. On December 24th, Rei will be matched against Mr. Yasui, who always drinks after he loses. His drinking has finally led to his wife divorcing him, but his daughter wants him home for one last Christmas before that happens. And so, Kyouko says without saying, if Rei beats Mr. Yasui, it'll be his fault that Christmas is ruined.

It's very like March comes in like a lion to offer such a bitter Christmas episode. Rei's conversation with Kyouko is laced with flashbacks to a Christmas their own “family” shared, where Kyouko's father gave only Rei a shogi board. As in previous episodes, Kyouko's resentment toward Rei is utterly understandable, but her actions are still impossibly cruel. In a more perfect world, Rei and Kyouko would both realize that it's their father who should be blamed for their unhappiness, but children can't help but hold out for their parents' love.

In this episode's second half, the sound design that dominated the opening returned with a vengeance. The visual articulation of Rei's match with Mr. Yasui was very restrained, but a slowly building piano melody perfectly set the shifting tenor of the match. March's expression work is pretty minimal, with characters generally expressing themselves through either a “:)” or “:(“, but it was easy to follow Yasui's shifting emotions through the slowly descending melodic progressions. After their first match ended in Yasui's defeat, piano keys were replaced by a mournful trumpet dirge, and Rei's internal monologue became increasingly desperate. It's hard enough just to dedicate yourself to winning, but with Kyouko acting as a devil on his shoulder, Rei also has to contend with the overwhelming guilt of ruining the lives of those he plays against.

After the matches concluded, the music cut out entirely. At first, it seemed like Rei might be able to salvage the situation - racing after Yasui with a forgotten Christmas present, it felt like we might get a repeat of last episode's life-affirming conclusion. But Yasui only snatched the present away and left, leaving Rei alone with his thoughts. The silence emphasized the bleak nature of his feelings and echoed the cold of the December scene. As Rei seemed to drag his feet up a tilting hill, March offered only the call of birds and rush of wind to distract him. Then, as Rei's pace increased, the music crept in - first a persistent piano line, and then strings beneath it, building and building as Rei broke into a run. As the camera swung around him, Rei's haggard breath offered desperate percussion, until he stumbled to a stop in an open field. There, he finally let his feelings out, screaming at the injustice of his position. “What should I have done?” he asked, railing against Yasui, Kyouko, and all the rest of them for implicitly blaming him. As the music rose to an anthemic peak, Rei spat out all the feelings of injustice and resentment he'd been carrying inside.

That finale was one of March's best moments so far, one of my favorite moments of the fall season. Rei's solidly illustrated feelings were elevated through the wonderful color and sound design to offer a moment of pure, inspiring catharsis. It might not have been a truly productive moment, and it certainly wasn't a happy one, but for someone in Rei's position, even acknowledging his pain and sense of injustice can be a critical step forward. And in the hands of March's production team, the power and value of that confession was abundantly clear. March can be a messy show, but I'll happily endure some weaker moments if they lead to rallies like that.

Overall: A

March comes in like a lion is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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