March comes in like a lion
by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 41 of
March comes in like a lion (TV 2) ?
March comes in like a lion underwent another abrupt gear shift this week, lurching from the conclusion of Burnt Field all the way back to the denouement of Hina's school bullying arc. It was a dramatic jump that underlined the fact that March isn't trying to be one tightly-structured story. I'd normally fault a show for possessing as little apparent focus as March, but cataloguing Rei's journey out of depression is ultimately just one of many stories March wants to tell. The series is more a consistent series of destinations than a vehicle for one story and message; like a long-running sitcom or slice of life show, its narrative shapelessness and dramatic malleability are part of the appeal. Jumps like this episode's shift can feel discordant and less propulsive than the show could be, but I'm ultimately happy with March's choice to ramble wherever it so chooses.
As for this episode in particular, the jump back to the Kawamotos felt like a necessary antidote to the stifling drama of the past couple weeks. Conceits like “the Kawamotos gleefully demonstrate some new recipe” are essentially ingredients in March's expansive larder, and sprinkling the stew with some fluffy cooking anecdotes was just the thing to fix up March's overall flavor profile. These segments, and the episode overall, lacked the tremendous visual artistry that elevated last episode, but a great deal of this episode's material didn't warrant that much visual beauty. Long-running series always demand animation compromises, so if March needed to catch its breath either way, this episode was a smart time for it.
After opening with the sisters' preparations for an upcoming summer festival, we jumped back to the beginning of summer and Hina's long-awaited visit with Chiho. The rambling shapelessness of March's narrative did chafe some, as I felt this material ought to have been placed closer to the arc it was resolving, but I still appreciated the sequence's respect for Chiho's ongoing emotional trauma. It'd be easy for a conflict like this to use Chiho's feelings merely as a springboard for Hina's character growth or to present Chiho as “fixed” by Hina's actions, but the segment instead demonstrated great empathy in highlighting the persistent nature of the harm that was done. Regardless of whether Hina fixes her class dynamic or Takagi learns to regret her actions, the cruelty inflicted on Chiho will remain with her, reflecting the tragic nature of abuse. March's generosity of focus may often lead to a dramatically shapeless narrative, but it's also positively reflected in how well the show treats the feelings of minor side characters like Chiho.
The bullying arc's delayed denouement continued through the episode's second half, as we ran through a charming summer festival and then returned to Takagi's counseling. This focus on Takagi acted as a natural mirror to the Chiho visit, once again demonstrating how issues like bullying rarely resolve themselves in clean ways. Takagi's ability to hurt other students has been severely curtailed, but as the embattled head teacher Kokubu reflected, “getting Takagi to understand what she did is part of our job.” But how can you teach someone who refuses to feel bad about something the terrible thing they did? It's a frustrating question that never becomes less relevant regardless of how old you are, the ever-aggravating “I don't know how to convince you that you should care about other people.”
Kokubu initially attempted to foist this duty off on a rookie teacher, but immediately discovered his rookie choice created the opposite problem of the last teacher. Instead of having checked out emotionally, this rookie felt everything too deeply and was clearly more invested in punishing Takagi than actually making her learn. So it ultimately fell to Kokubu himself to counsel Takagi. After opening by meeting Takagi on her level and admitting his own belief in trying your best wasn't based in any clear underlying wisdom, he stabbed straight at her underlying anxieties, stating how she likely refused to try because she was afraid of learning the limits of her abilities. This frankly felt like too easy of a resolution for Takagi's issues, but March has essentially painted itself into a corner; it doesn't want to shortchange the complexity of Takagi's position, but actually articulating and growing past the thought processes of a dedicated bully would take a show's worth of time all by itself, so we're stuck with this summary version.
In the end, the conclusion I was anticipating was reserved for right before the episode credits. After admonishing her sister for falling asleep in the living room, Akira noticed Hina's notebook, now brimming with fresh ideas for candies and sweets. Through all its circuitous winding and various digressions, Hina's arc has often felt like less a self-contained vignette than the current context for everything else in March, the sad baseline conflict of its protagonists' lives. Hina has spent long months plagued by anxieties and regrets, and her story won't ever truly end, but those sweets seemed like as good a time as any to call this a conclusion. If Hina can once again sleep happily in her home, thinking of nothing more troubling than new recipe ideas, surely that must be a victory worth celebrating. It's wonderful to see peace return to this place at last.
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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