March comes in like a lion
by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 40 of
March comes in like a lion (TV 2) ?
Yanagihara's story continued through March's fortieth episode, as he doggedly fought for his tenth Keishin win and the title of “Eternal Keishin.” The show's last episode did an excellent job of portraying his unique motivations and daily struggles, but I felt it was too aesthetically conservative to bring the immediate experience of Yanagihara's life home. I had no such complaints this time. From its copious fluid animation cuts to its consistently inventive visual motifs and general aesthetic variety, this was one of March's most visually compelling episodes ever. On top of that, the building crescendo of Yanagihara's story offered some of March's most satisfying emotional payoffs too. From its evocative narrative substance to its astonishing visual execution, this was one of March's best episodes yet.
It likely helped that this episode demanded no setup; the match had begun, the weight of Yanagihara's burdens had been made clear, and all that was left was for the battle to play out. The episode's tight focus on this one match allowed time for a uniquely thorough approach to its tactical drama. March comes in like a lion generally frames its matches in terms of emotional turns and metaphors—we can follow the “pace” of the match, but not the back-and-forth of individual moves. In contrast, this match's tight focus on Yanagihara boldly attacking Shimada's left flank actually felt like a coherent conflict in its own right, allowing the show to build up the ferocity of both competitors from a dramatic angle it generally ignores.
Of course, the ultimate focus was still on Yanagihara's emotional burden and how he struggled under the weight of all the friends who'd abandoned shogi before him. This episode's visual illustration of that struggle easily surpassed the previous one, picking up the “competitive sashes as a series of chains” metaphor and turning it into a beautiful and more ambiguous shroud. The weight of Yanagihara's responsibilities felt heavier than ever, articulated through both those ever-present sashes and occasional shots in alternate styles, where heavy shading and more detailed color work made Yanagihara look as drained as he must have felt. The illustration of Shimada's own resilience offered both more beautiful imagery and natural foreshadowing for Yanagihara's eventual turn, building up the idea of a plant weathering any storm just in time for Yanagihara to seize on the “even burnt fields eventually regrow” image as his own redemption.
As in the previous episode, this week's fanciful metaphoric evocation of Yanagihara's struggles was neatly counterbalanced by grounded reflections on the experience of aging. Though I appreciated last week's illustration of Yanagihara's daily routine, I felt more engaged by this episode's articulations of things like his persistent joint pain and the moments where he admonished himself not to lose focus in the match. Moments of heightened drama sat naturally next to both personal and tactical conflict, allowing Yanagihara's match to vividly play out on the levels of tactical shogi match, physical struggle, and metaphorical battle for all the hopes Yanagihara carried.
In the end, this match ended the only way it could, as Yanagihara defiantly hung on to all those heavy sashes. With Shimada seemingly triumphant and those debts drifting away behind him, Yanagihara turned, fiercely clinging to all those errant hopes. In an already-beautiful episode's most striking visual sequence, Yanagihara found a hope of his own in their belief in him, and the promise of regrowth even in a burnt field. And even if regrowth is impossible, Yanagihara still ultimately seemed grateful for that burden, compelling him to temper himself into one passionate, burning torch once again.
The episode's concluding segments were just as creatively executed as the match itself, if not quite so melodramatic. Yanagihara's rise from the match felt like a reprise of last episode's morning routine, where the methodical animated execution of Yanagihara's physical movements revealed more about his exhaustion than any dialogue could. And the last tonal shift, as Yanagihara finally got to bask in the appreciation of his teary-eyed friends, felt like its own small genre shift, letting us briefly enjoy a sitcom centered on a bunch of octogenarians.
This episode was one more embarrassment of riches from one of the most consistently rewarding shows of the past few years. Yanagihara's conflict was simultaneously executed on a tactical, emotional, and metaphorical level, offering satisfying drama in all of those spheres. March's articulation of that conflict jumped gracefully between tonal modes and even entire genres, executing shogi drama, fanciful reflections on aging, and fond bickering between friends with equal beauty and confidence. I was totally swept away by Yanagihara's story, and am grateful to see March comes in like a lion continue to be such a rich and wonderful show.
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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