March comes in like a lion
Episode 20

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 20 of
March comes in like a lion ?

March comes in like a lion's newest episode opens with a flurry of snow, as an obscured figure marches through a canvas of white. Echoing the final sequence of the opening song, it seems that this straggler must be Rei - but then the camera closes in, and we see it's actually Shimada. Though harsh weather has often been correlated with Rei's depression, it seems that the impenetrable Souya is aligned with the storm itself. Struggling in the grey, Shimada seems utterly dwarfed by Souya's presence.

That evocative moment is followed by another reverie, as we meet Shimada once again in a dream. Bathed in orange light, we see him tilling the land back in his old rural hometown. This is a Shimada that might have been - a Shimada who failed to ascend to the professional leagues and retired to a normal life with a lost girlfriend. Shimada seems happier here, even though his ostensible dream is gone. As the old men who always encouraged him say, “happiness is something you can find wherever you are.” Better to let his passion remain a passion, and save dreams for his sleeping mind. Our current Shimada's waking hours are a dream that verge on nightmare; he is saved from his passion by the blessed contentment of sleep.

But even Shimada understands that this alternate dream isn't a true answer to his anxieties. Waking in the cold blue light of morning, he reflects on the fact that even in the dream, he was still haunted by his urge to play shogi. Whether we choose to pursue our passions or let them remain idle hobbies, we will always have regrets, and we will always be taunted by the lives we could have lived. The pain in Shimada's stomach assures him that no matter what path he chose, this pain and this passion would be a part of him.

The rest of this episode can't really live up to that beautiful, poignant opening sequence, but it still has its own pleasures. The weakest segments are the comedy, as usual. March has reached a point where it can inconsistently integrate comedy into its drama without the jokes feeling disruptive or overlong, but that's an uneven proficiency based in specific dramatic circumstances. When jokes emerge naturally from the personalities of Kyouko or the Kawamoto siblings, March can pull off laughs that feel natural and further our understanding of the key players. Here, deep in Shimada's gripping Lion King arc, random jokes about Smith's career or Nikaido's anxieties feel totally incongruous. Rei's introduction to his “dragon” co-commentator might have worked as one rambling panel in manga form, but stretching his monologue out over a minute while we wait for Shimada's match was a terrible dramatic choice.

Fortunately, the episode's final act respected the solemnity of Shimada's fourth match. I felt that Rei's mental defense of Shimada's board state was a little repetitive, but I really enjoyed how the show articulated the final concession. Just as the melancholy country guitar set the tone for Shimada's initial dream, the ominous piano and urgent percussion of Rei's final dash lent a sense of panic and profundity to the moment, with the light filtering into the hotel forming a visual mirror of Shimada's dream. In the end, Rei's analysis of the final board state both validated Shimada's impression of his abilities and firmly tied him to Souya as a shogi player. Shimada's contest may be over, but his impact on Rei's life will certainly carry on.

Overall: B+

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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