March comes in like a lion
Episode 23

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 23 of
March comes in like a lion (TV 2) ?

After half a year away, March comes in like a lion has returned, continuing the story of Rei Kiriyama and his various associates. Does this new season open with the announcement of an upcoming tournament, or some change in Rei's mental state? Well, not exactly. This adaptation of March comes in like a lion has always followed a fairly strict formula, and at the beginning of its second season, that formula once again stabs the show in the back.

The standard March format is “each episode of the anime will be split into two halves, each half covering one sequential chapter of the manga.” In the first season, this rigid structure often resulted in episodes that felt dramatically disjointed. Even outside of major cases where some story was split between the second half of one episode and the first half of another, pressing two chapter chunks into single episodes rarely resulted in a whole that felt meaningfully self-contained. The partitioning of a larger narrative into chapters, episodes, or any other sub-structure inherently affects the way the audience engages with that story emotionally, and March's refusal to break from its strict adaptive structure was one of the show's most consistent and frustratingly avoidable failings.

Forcing the show to open this season with the two chapters that followed the last ones meant this didn't really feel like a season premiere at all. Being stuck in Rei's new science/shogi club for basically the whole episode, it was only the episode's strong opening minute that felt meaningfully momentous, as Rei threw open his curtains to reveal the bright May sun. It was easy to relate to Rei's rising mood, as the very world around him seemed to echo his escape from depression. But after that, we mostly just spent time teaching Rei's clubmates shogi and messing around with glucose.

To be fair, at least the messing around with shogi and glucose was creatively illustrated and nicely animated. The amount of divergent visual styles in just this first episode made this feel like March's most Shaft-esque episode yet, and the show eked some solid comedy out of Rei and the science club's shogi misadventures. Some of the jokes felt overly simplistic, but this was one of the better episodes comedy-wise, if only because comedy was the prevailing mood of the episode instead of a tonally incongruous aside.

But even this show's visual successes felt somewhat misguided. Watching the science captain swing his arms around for a gag in fully fluid animation, or the decision to jump through a series of alternate character art styles for a simple science demonstration, felt almost like a waste of resources. Mind you, the practical mechanics of anime production contradict this assumption—studios can't simply “save up the good animation” only for key moments, and the difficulties of show scheduling (particular for studios as perpetually overworked as Shaft) mean that premieres have an inherent advantage in terms of prep time, whereas key moments further down the line may be susceptible to aesthetic meltdowns outside of their control. But that fact only underlined my disappointment with this episode's source of subject matter - if the premiere's going to receive such an elevated treatment, it's that much more important to forego strict adaptation in order to make sure the best-looking episodes align with the moments of key character drama.

On the whole, this was a fairly beautiful adaptation of some of March's least interesting material so far. Stuck between Shimada's personal arc and future adventures with Meijin Souya, this premiere was essentially the kind of palette-cleansing intermission you'd normally get at a story's halfway point, making for a fairly unsatisfying premiere. The good news is that this episode's biggest problem is one the show has had all along. March hasn't “gotten worse” or anything, but when it comes to adaptive bravery, it also hasn't gotten better.

Overall: C+

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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