March comes in like a lion
Episode 32

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 32 of
March comes in like a lion (TV 2) ?

In March comes in like a lion's latest episode, two of the show's most enduring tendencies collided in a somewhat awkward way. March's determination to humanize all of Rei's opponents is generally laudable—not only does it grant more emotional complexity to his matches, but it also just gives us that many more characters to care about, bolstering March's ensemble storytelling appeal. Additionally, pulling us outside of Rei's head helps us understand the limitations of his perspective, which makes charting his growth that much more clear and satisfying. Unfortunately, March's dedication to adapting each consecutive episode in their original order ended up making this episode's opponent-focused section feel a little out of place. After Rei spent the end of last episode rushing to Hina's side, the story paused for most of this week, giving us the story of former Newcomer King Junkei and his beloved racing pigeons.

Fortunately, even if Junkei's story was a little awkwardly placed in a structural sense, it was still just a flat-out great story for its own sake. All of Rei's opponents have brought something new and true to their experience to the table, and for Junkei, that thing was the terror of recognizing your skill is limited and your career is fragile. While characters like Rei and Nikaidou pretty much take for granted that they'll continue to improve and their challenges are always ahead of them, Junkei is possessed by the fear that he'll never get better at all. His story was simultaneously sympathetic, frightening, and funny, a quirky but ultimately welcome intermission from the Rei-Hina arc.

The episode began by introducing us to Junkei's quiet, humble life. Junkei lived by the philosophy that “if you work hard and persevere, you might experience some portion of success, maybe,” a mantra he readily admitted was less slogan-friendly than the traditional “work hard, find success.” The mountainous character design that had been so imposing during Rei's match was put to a very different use here, creating a comic contrast between his imposing figure and his daily life of fretting about shogi and tending to his racing pigeons. A meeting with drunk friends further emphasized Junkei's fragile and introverted nature, ending in his declaration that he needed to get home and take care of his pigeons. And by the time he was lamenting the potential fate of Silver, his favorite racing pigeon, I was entirely invested in this sad giant's lonely life.

After selling us on Junkei's humanity through these goofy vignettes, March pulled out the knives, digging deep into Junkei's corresponding anxieties. Fluttering match results were contrasted against flapping bird wings to underline his fears that both pigeons and shogi were slipping through his fingers, as we learned he'd recently been downgraded twice in the shogi rankings. As with Rei, Junkei's anxieties were represented by the ruthless sea—but unlike Rei's more general fears, Junkei's were specifically and poignantly tethered to the terror of having already reached his professional peak.

Junkei's experience with shogi actually felt like the show's most relatable portrayal of sporting struggles yet. While Rei struggles with shogi, he's also a prodigy who spent his adolescence pretty much exclusively studying the sport. For Junkei, shogi isn't as natural. It's always difficult, and the pain of competing is only mitigated by the joy of improving and discovering new things. Having arrived at a plateau in his abilities and results, that joy of improvement has disappeared, and now he's only left with a sport that's painful to play and unrewarding to compete in.

Able to move outside of Rei and Nikaidou's rivalry, Junkei's perspective let us see them for the incredibly impressive players that they are. Junkei actually felt intimidated by his two peers, who'd not only started later than he had, but seemed to approach that deep ocean of discovery willingly again and again, regardless of their results. And with the nature of Junkei's anxieties so well-articulated, his desperation to hold on to the newcomer title felt natural and sympathetic as well. The shame in his eyes when Nikaidou collapsed on the board said everything that needed to be said about his character, and by the time Junkei was reunited with his beloved Silver, I had entirely bought into the emotional life of this strange, sad man. Junkei's final words of encouragement to Silver (“you've gotten thin, but you'll grow strong and fly again”) were clearly meant for himself as well, and I hope to see Junkei and his pigeons again sometime soon.

After that entirely unexpected detour, the fallout of Rei's dash to Hina ended up feeling like more of an afterthought. Seeing the family enjoy sweets together was nice enough, but it was another of those dialogue-stuffed, one-joke segments that likely worked better in manga form. But this episode's structural weirdness and unlikely highlights feel pretty true to March's nature; the show won't always satisfy in the way you expect, but it will always find new ways to pleasantly surprise you. Godspeed Junkei, and may Silver always fly true.

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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