March comes in like a lion
by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 31 of
March comes in like a lion (TV 2) ?
This week saw March comes in like a lion paying off its recent dramatic threads in spades. It's at times felt a little awkward to contrast Hina's story of bullying against Rei's ongoing Newcomer Tournament trials. Just because two conflicts are aligned temporally doesn't mean they make sense as dramatic contrasts, and Hina's drama has often felt far more urgent than Rei's various matches. But here in episode thirty-one, the unifying thread of Rei's desire to meaningfully pay back the people he loves merged both these stories into a clear whole. At last, Rei was able to act on the confidence he's felt to find an outlet for his new resolve.
The episode didn't begin that way, though. The Newcomer Tournament finals acted as something of a final challenge for the lessons Rei has recently been forced to internalize. Rei's match against Junkei Yamazaki, an imposing mountain of a man, was defined by austerity. There was little background noise except the click of the tiles, and little visual embellishment outside of March's gentle watercolors. Rei was left aesthetically alone with his thoughts, and thus his thoughts ended up dominating the screen.
Rei's battle with Junkei was simultaneously a shogi match and an interrogation. For likely the first time since battling Gotou, Rei didn't just want to achieve victory, but specifically defeat this opponent. Grimly pushing forward with his pieces, his thoughts focused on how Junkei had drawn out the match with Nikaidou and seemingly capitalized on Nikaidou's physical weakness. And though Rei eventually realized defensive play was just this opponent's style (illustrated through one of this episode's best visual embellishments), that did little to lessen his anger. Faced by an opponent seemingly unashamed of their past crimes, Rei almost started making hasty plays just to provoke a reaction, to do something to pay back his friend.
In the end, it was Nikaidou who once again rescued Rei. His past advice stayed Rei's hand, and though it hurt him to do it, Rei relented and returned to his usual methodical style. As an elegiac piano and string melody played in the background, Rei played out the rest of the match conservatively, wishing only to attack all the while. In this way, Rei's tournament finals acted as the final realization of this arc's most consistent message; sometimes our passionate desire to act on behalf of others can't actually find an outlet, and sometimes being there for a friend means allowing them to experience their own hardship. Nikaidou wouldn't want Rei to sabotage his own chances just to get revenge for his loss. It thus became an act of strength for Rei to simply play in his usual style, pressing down his anger over Nikaidou and accepting this was all he could do.
Rei was rewarded for that strength and took the newcomer crown. But his truer reward came after the tournament, when his return to the shogi club found him acquiring some high-strength Shimada-level stomach medicine. While Rei was fighting through his shogi battle, Hina was off experiencing a battle of her own, suffering through her class' Kyoto trip. And so, having exercised restraint for all this time, Rei finally found himself with a meaningful task to accomplish, a way he could truly help his friend. In the end, it's Rei's recollection of his own bullying as a kid that helps him find Hina. Just like Hina's strength “saved” his childhood self a few episodes ago, so now do Rei's unhappy memories help him save Hina, completing one more dramatic cycle. Rushing to the riverbank, he's reunited with Hina, finally able to help her in her time of need.
This was an extremely satisfying episode of March comes in like a lion, neatly drawing Rei and Hina's narratives together and offering a thematically sturdy conclusion to the Newcomer Tournament arc. Though its visual execution was relatively restrained, its focus on gentle watercolors and roughly sketched lines felt appropriate for an episode that was dramatically centered on Rei himself exercising restraint. Hina's story still needs more conclusion and more direct action by Hina herself in particular, but Rei's own role in her story felt fulfilled by this episode's conclusion. Altogether, this was a strong reminder that although March's narrative may wander this way and that, its overarching trajectory reflects the confidence of a master storyteller.
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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