March comes in like a lion
by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 39 of
March comes in like a lion (TV 2) ?
With its long break for the Olympics finally concluded, March comes in like a lion wasted no time returning us to its incisive and almost oppressively intimate character stories this week. Rei's exposition match has concluded and Hina's school life has taken a turn for the better, so this week's episode turned to Shimada and Yanagihara, two life-long competitors battling for the Kishou Championship. Buoyed by the immediate support of his hometown companions, Shimada strode toward this match with the fire of a man ready for his first title. And for his part, Yanagihara mostly preoccupied himself with trying to keep that fire alive.
Yanagihara's struggles inspired this episode's title, the unhappy “burnt field.” That term first appeared in the context of Yanahihara's friend Gen, an old companion who unexpectedly chose to skip Yanagihara's pre-match celebration. Confronting his friend, Yanagihara learned that Gen had recently been let go from his position at a newspaper, a forced retirement that seemed to have devastated him with the knowledge of his own obsolescence. “Without my work, what's left of me?” he confided in Yanagihara. “I feel like I'm in a burnt field.” Laying his emotional burden on Yanagihara, he set the stage for a compelling portrait of one more shogi champion.
At sixty-six years of age, Yanagihara stands at the very oldest end of competitive shogi players. Having seen companion after companion drop out of the circuit life, he carries their dreams with him, a burden conveyed visually through a wavering shroud of competitor sashes. This episode's illustration of the weight those sashes impart was easily one of its highlights, marrying brief yet evocative flashbacks of his many partings against the imposing tendrils of those endless wrappings. Initially represented through a nearly black expanse sporting one rising plume of smoke, the burnt field eventually merged with shots of Yanagihara's cigarette to form a metaphorical yet bracingly immediate icon of his absent friends and irretrievable youth.
After the episode's first half articulated Yanagihara's struggle largely through visual metaphor and monologue, its second half honed in on the experience of his daily routine. A mixture of perspective shots and flat profile shots led us through Yanagihara's morning routine on the day of the match, offering a sense of melancholy but largely unfiltered reality. This close focus on Yanagihara sorting through his medications and applying patches for his stiffness acted as the perfect complement for the episode's first half, turning a sympathetic but largely abstract personal struggle into an immediate series of obligations and aggravations.
The unvarnished framing of Yanagihara's daily routine and the lofty imagery of his emotional burden came together in the episode's last act, as he clashed with Shimada in their final bout. An uncharacteristically thorough articulation of the match's first few steps gave the contest a sense of tactical weight, letting the slow emergence of Yanagihara's sashes come across like an emotional counterpoint to the tactical drama. Yanagihara is far from March's most compelling competitor, and this episode's hasty articulation of his story and often overlong comedy beats couldn't secure it a place among March's top episodes. But it's a credit to this show's efficient and evocative storytelling that by the time Yanagihara spun his obligations into the defiant “if you're in a burnt field, I'm still burning,” I was right there cheering beside him.
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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