March comes in like a lion
Episode 24

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 24 of
March comes in like a lion (TV 2) ?

This week's March comes in like a lion focused primarily on a strange and perhaps misguided goal: humanizing Rei's sister-abusing nemesis, Gotou. We opened with Rei and Nikaidou at the shogi center, bickering about their future matches as their seniors continued to watch the title match. There were some nice visual embellishments here, including an image or two that seemed possibly drawn by SHAFT's secret weapon, Taiki Konno. But the real meat of this episode's conflict surfaced when two mid-level shogi players started trash talking Shimada, implying he was falling apart in the wake of his title. Both Nikaidou and Rei bristled at these remarks, but before they could say anything, Gotou ripped into the naysayers first. Bluntly declaring that he disliked hearing comments on title matches from people who'll probably never experience them, he sent the two players packing and prompted a wave of awkward reflection from Rei.

It's easy enough to see Gotou as a somewhat ambiguous figure from Rei's perspective. On the one hand, Gotou continues to string Rei's sister along in a clearly manipulative relationship. Having been essentially abandoned by her own father, Kyouko is fighting back by embracing an equally cold, equally distant father-esque lover. Gotou acts rudely to Kyouko, but he doesn't truly push her away, and he even scoffs at Rei when the boy demands he leave Kyouko alone. As a middle-aged adult capitalizing on the emotional vulnerability of a deeply wounded young adult, Gotou is one hundred percent an abuser, and Rei sees the scars of that abuse whenever Kyouko visits him and unloads her absolute lack of self-worth.

On the other much smaller hand, Gotou's behavior in a professional context has been nothing but dignified. Gotou is an honorable shogi competitor, and when Rei's mentor is disparaged, it's Gotou who demonstrates the strength to stand up for him. As someone who often sees himself as weak or powerless, Gotou's ability to stand up for “what is right” leaves Rei deeply conflicted. How can he reconcile these two Gotous?

But here's the thing: those two Gotous aren't difficult to reconcile at all. Gotou's callousness towards Kyouko and defense of Shimada don't reflect two sides of a complicated man, they reflect a fairly straightforward man with an extremely consistent philosophy. At his heart, Gotou is just not a kind person. Unkind people tend to embrace a variety of rationalizing philosophies that sidestep the general “golden rule,” and Gotou's is plainly “might makes right.” Strength is the only rule that matters. This instinct prompts him to detest those who snipe at Shimada, who's clearly stronger than they are, and it also prompts him to abuse Kyouko and laugh at Rei, because they are weaker than him and can't do anything about it.

The ugliness of Gotou's philosophy is most clear in this episode's evocative flashback, where black paint splashes garnishing the frame emphasize the tortured nature of Rei's memories. When Rei tells Gotou to leave his sister alone, Gotou laughs. When Rei attempts to shame him for his clearly unkind actions, Gotou smiles and embraces an argument of semantics. “You're the one who gets to decide what's good and bad? Are you god?” This sidestepping, and the implication that those who are judging them are the true bad guys, is a tactic beloved by those who don't want to reckon with the moral implications of their actions. It's an evasion, a simple rhetorical feint, and it reflects a disinterest in the feelings of others.

Unfortunately, acknowledging all of that would require a confidence and emotional maturity Rei clearly doesn't possess. While the shogi center's president rightly labels Gotou's behavior as juvenile bravado, Rei can only see it for its results: a defense of the mentor he loves. And so, even though all of Gotou's actions ultimately reflect his immaturity and callousness, Rei is left with a far more ambiguous portrait.

All of that material is clear enough, and its articulation of both Gotou's nature and Rei's perspective is quite strong. Where things get dicier are in the episode's second half, where we spend a fair amount of time with Gotou and Kyouko. We see Gotou visit his wife, who seems to be in some kind of coma, and then we follow him back to his apartment. There, Kyouko's unexpected appearance leads to a strange comedy sequence, where Kyouko's infatuation with Gotou is played for wacky visual laughs, and the show briefly assumes Gotou's beleaguered perspective. After an episode that so clearly demonstrated the nature of Gotou's abuse, it felt strange to see the episode playing Kyouko's poisoned relationship for laughs.

The crux of the comedy was “Kyouko being amusingly relentless in her pursuit of Gotou,” but the show just emphasized how terrible this relationship is for Kyouko and how Gotou's personality makes him a willing abuser. March comes in like a lion often jumps from its fairly realistic standard tone to a fanciful aesthetic for its comedy beats, but when the jump is directly from “Kyouko's circumstances are a portrait of abuse” to “that wacky Kyouko, why won't she give up on the callous guy she's pursuing because her father never showed her any true affection,” the whiplash becomes a little hard to bear.

In the end, Gotou's only true moment of vulnerability came when he fell asleep, and Kyouko reflected on the dark lines in his face. After being tied up and ignored, Kyouko ended this sequence on a forlorn “Now I can't get mad at you. Not when you show me this face.” That sentiment is pretty much textbook battered lover material, and the ultimate takeaway from this episode depends heavily on whether the show understands that problem, or whether it genuinely believes Gotou is a cold but fundamentally decent and misunderstood man. Framing Gotou as ambiguous from Rei's perspective makes clear dramatic sense. Framing Gotou as sympathetic from Kyouko's perspective also makes sense. But if the show actually agrees with these characters, it'll be a lot tougher to take its Gotou-focused material seriously going forward. If the show is seeking to make Gotou a troubled but sympathetic figure, "Gotou feels sad about his wife and is tired a lot" won't be enough to bridge that gap.

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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