Shelf Life March Comes in Like a Lion Season 1 Part 1
by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,
It looks like Hinamatsuri will be one of my streaming review shows this season, and if the first episode is any indication, I'm going to have plenty to write about. That series looks completely bonkers, but in a good way. Good crazy is my favorite kind of crazy. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
March Comes in Like a Lion season 1 part 1
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Shelf Life Reviews
March Comes in Like a Lion season 1 part 1
Nothing this week.
Nothing this week.
Gabriella does a bit of catch-up work this week with a review of the first volume of March Comes in Like a Lion.
March Comes in Like a Lion is the story of professional shogi player and ultra-depressed high schooler Rei Kiriyama. In spite of how much Rei has achieved for a person his age – he's only the fifth person in the history of the sport to have become a professional shogi player while in middle school – his life is pretty terrible, since he's dealing with a number of severe emotional issues that leave him borderline nonfunctional most of the time. For one, there's the largely unprocessed trauma of having lost his parents and little sister at an early age. Secondly, there were the dysfunctional dynamics within his foster family, in which his foster siblings viewed him as having stolen their father's affections with his talent for shogi. And thirdly, there's just his unusually withdrawn personality, which made him a constant target of bullying regardless of the tragedies that have afflicted his life on the side. All in all, Rei is a mess of issues that, should they go undealt with, are threatening to derail his promising career, as well as his life as a whole.
With this as its setup, March Comes in Like a Lion looks to be the story of Rei's maturation and (very) gradual emotional recovery, all filtered through his relationship to his principle pursuit. Fortunately for him, he's not alone in this journey, since he's been semi-adopted by a number of individuals (like the Kawamoto family or his self-appointed best friend Nikaido) who've proven eager to fill in the emotional void in his life. While his problems run too deep for external tenacity to work as the only solution, it's a start, and Rei finds himself slowly opening up to them. However, alongside all of his allies in this process, he also possesses enemies, and it's an open question whether he'll be able to resist the siren song of their influence over his self-esteem.
In terms of narrative, March Comes in like a Lion's first set marks the first leg of a much larger story. While there's quite a bit of setup regarding the main characters and a few mini-arcs come to completion, catharsis is quite clearly still a long ways off for most of the principle players, who spend much of their time here wallowing in their own sorrow. Even at this early point, however, March Comes in like a Lion looks like it'll develop into a remarkable (and even surprisingly comforting) story about a young man who overcomes harrowing emotional circumstances. While Rei has endured an exceptional amount of tragedy for a person his age, his demeanor and overall psyche speak to my own encounters with depression. So on that front, I'm sure plenty of people will find his struggles relatable, and be heartened as he learns to accept love from the people around him. Beyond that, this show seems to have the typical sports story thing going for it in terms of serving as a meditation on what its like to build your life so completely around a specific activity. As one of these types of narratives, I'd say that March Comes in Like a Lion leans closest to something like Ping Pong in terms of addressing how these activities can intertwine with dysfunction.
On this point, I'd also be remiss not to mention the show's comedic sensibilities, which do a lot to generate its overwhelming sensation of warmth despite the heavy subject matter. There's a lot of “cute,” “funny,” and “cozy” going on in this show, largely courtesy of Rei's friends who – in spite of their own troubles – make a serious effort to brighten his life. Standout gags here include the Kawamoto family kitties and their relentless hunger, pretty much anything that cute little girl Momo does, and Nikaido's boundless enthusiasm for anything involving shogi and/or Rei. I say this all to emphasize that March Comes in Like a Lion is, for all that its characters go through, still a feel-good show. In fact, I'd say that one of its greatest strengths is how it manages to maintain this atmosphere of reassuring comfort without ever undermining the seriousness of what its characters are going through. March Comes in Like a Lion is a story about living life through difficulty, and Rei's journey towards learning how to do this after quite a bit of misfortune has piled up on top of him.
Narratively, the show's biggest problem is probably its pacing, and even that is somewhat mitigated by this home video release. You see, every episode of the show adapts exactly two episodes of the original manga, regardless of whether two chapters serve as an adequate point of division for whatever is happening in the story. This can slow the storytelling down unnecessarily some of the time, while also cutting off some episodes in bizarre places. While I imagine that this may have been frustrating watching the show week to week, it's not an enormous deal watching the show straight-through, since you aren't being forced to wait a week for a development that really should have come immediately. This problem is most galling during the “how to play shogi” part of the show, where a long technical explanation on the game's rules gets split up between episodes for absolutely no good reason. Either way, this is no longer an enormous issue in this format, although it does continue to scatter what could have been slightly more effective climaxes.
In terms of production, this is absolutely a Shaft show. That studio is second only to Kyoto Animation in conjuring up a certain set of stylistic hallmarks associated with the shows that they make, and March Comes in Like a Lion lives up to these precise visual expectations. The “Monogatari Gloss,” with its head tilts, jump cuts, and strange visual emphases, is fully present throughout, pulling its regular shtick of enhancing the moments when that sort of aesthetic excess is appropriate and distracting at those when it isn't. For as much as I'm harping on this, I do think that this style works more often than not in this show, and I have to appreciate a production that remains visually compelling throughout.
Aniplex's release of this show meets the standard for attractiveness that I've come to expect out of them. The package illustrations are nice, and the whole thing is covered in a pleasant matte finish. Extras are a bit sparse, but the release comes with a booklet detailing the character designs and episode endcard illustrations. On disc, there's a recap special, a complete version of the “Moving Meow Shogi” educational segment, and a dub. I watched the show dubbed for the most part and very much enjoyed the experience. The vocal performances are all solid, and in particular I have to commend relative newcomer Khoi Dao for his lead performance as Rei.
In the end, Aniplex has put out a solid initial release for a well-liked show. Now that I've finally had the opportunity to give it a chance, I think I've been converted into a fan, and look forward to subsequent releases. March Comes in Like a Lion: it had me laughing, it had my crying – and about that, I ain't lying.
That wraps things up for this week. We've had some very cool Shelf Obsessed entries over the last couple of weeks, but we always need more! If you'd like to show off your anime collection, send your photos to [email protected]. Thanks for reading!
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