March comes in like a lion
Episode 26

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 26 of
March comes in like a lion (TV 2) ?

In my first review of March comes in like a lion's new season, I worried about the show squandering its grace period of reasonable scheduling and visual execution on narrative content that didn't really warrant that focus. This week's episode proved that concern resoundingly wrong. Not only was this one of the most dramatically impactful episodes of the show so far, it was also likely the most beautifully executed episode of either season. Hina's story of bullying, and the way that story helped Rei come to peace with his own past, was articulated with a sensitivity and visual splendor that would make any studio proud.

We opened with a reprise of last week's conclusion, but this time from Hina's perspective, as she walked home through the late-afternoon light. Even this brief sequence demonstrated some strengths of the episode to come, from its close character focus and perspective shots to its purposefully subdued sound design. As she stood bawling in the doorway, the sound of her ugly tears drowned out all background music, birds cawing ominously in the background as Akari rushed to her side.

From there, we learned the story of Hina's classmate Chiho, who was suffering consistent bullying at school. Though this whole flashback was framed as an expository monologue by Rei, the sequence's vivid imagery kept it feeling intimate and emotionally resonant. Hina and Chiho often found themselves stranded in much-too-large frames, and the strong contrast between dynamic background colors and Chiho's grayscale tormentors created a firm sense of antagonism and isolation. Instead of giving us a clear timeframe for this bullying, the consistent return to a shot of changing flowers in the classroom emphasized the ongoing nature of Chiho's abuse. When she walked home after having her shoes stolen, her white footprints framed her steps like chalk outlines at a crime scene, the uneven reminders underlining her one wet shoe and one uncovered foot.

Eventually, Chiho's parents decide to pull her from school, leading to the first of this episode's many standout climaxes. As Hina's feelings built up and she rushed from her classroom to the gate, her attempted escape from this world bled into the color design itself, loose watercolors and vague suggestions of backgrounds echoing her childhood memories of playing with Chiho. As a standalone visual concept, this sequence would already be a great success—her dash and last meeting with Chiho felt truly transcendent as it echoed her feelings

After Hina finally lashed out at the bullies who tormented her friend, she found herself becoming their next target, and the episode returned to the present moment. Hina's emotional breakdown led to Momo crying in sympathy, and not wanting to upset her sister, Hina ran out into the night. At that point we received our second all-star climax, as Rei's attempts to pursue her were brought to life through rough and lively but wholly fluid animation. Carrying on with the grayscale motif of the episode's early scenes, the city Hina ran through was portrayed almost solely in black and white, implying that even the town she lived in had become a kind of enemy. Even the pure length and animated consistency of this sequence created a crucial dramatic effect. A sequence emphasizing one repetitive action demands strong animation to feel meaningful, to let the emotional impact of that action build up. Lost without any way to help her friend or herself, Hina simply ran and ran until she couldn't run anymore, the purity of her exertion echoing the depth of her pain.

Emotionally, this whole ordeal was a sobering growing-up moment for Hina. Until this point, it seemed like she had enjoyed a happy and relatively casual school life. But from the failures of her friends and teachers to her own seeming powerlessness, Hina was now no longer able to avoid seeing the weakness of those around her or the unkindness they all allowed to pass. Hina was scared by this realization, the knowledge that adults aren't always good, that friends aren't always true, and that sometimes no one will be there to catch you when you fall. “From tomorrow, I'll be all alone,” she cried to Rei. “I'm so scared.”

But even in the depths of her fear and shame, Hina held on to the righteousness of her choices. “I don't regret anything. What I did was definitely not wrong!” Her belief in the defense of her friend demonstrated the clear strength of her character. Struck by that confidence, Rei at last found a voice to console his bullied childhood self. “Even after all this time, something can save you, coming in like a storm from an entirely different direction.” Confronted with Hina's strength and charity, Rei finally had an answer to console his young internal self and bandage a wound he had simply buried within himself. Life may be hard, but there are still people like Hina out there. What happened to him was terrible and wrong—he didn't deserve to suffer like that, and he needed to hear that truth from a friend he could trust.

The next day, Rei tried to make good on his emotional debt to Hina and ended up taking her to the library after school. The two researched sweets and ladybugs side by side, Rei finally confronting the trigger for his trauma head-on. There was more pain here, like Rei's beautifully animated anguish at not having a way to truly “fix” Hina's problem, but there was also joy. Rei having reached a point where he could try to help someone other than himself felt like its own victory, and well-observed details like Hina's fear of going home and “disappointing” the people who loved her with her sorrow kept the show as emotionally insightful as ever.

The episode ended on one more standout animation sequence, as Hina, Rei, and the whole Kawamoto family enjoyed a meal of all of Hina's favorite foods. Words of praise gave way to pure music and motion, the love and intimacy of this family made clear in their fond body language. March comes in like a lion is rarely a show that demonstrates the power of pure animation as storytelling, but this episode was a visual tour de force, marrying thoughtful reflections on bullying and trauma to consistently inventive visual concepts and gorgeous movement throughout. I'm not sure March has ever been better than this.

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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