Anime Review: March Comes in Like a Lion

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Hey everyone it’s Kernook here. It’s time to talk about March Comes in Like a Lion, a 2016 anime that is both heartfelt and wonderfully animated. The series lands hard with serious undertones and a main character that suffers from extreme anxiety.

It seems like I’m reviewing a lot of series from Studio Shaft recently. That is the same studio responsible for RWBY Ice Queendom as well. However, where that anime doesn’t start off strongly at all, the studio certainly pulled out all the stops on this one.

Honestly, March Comes in Like a Lion is likely one of the few anime that ever really gets to me. That’s because the series is both subtle and incredibly evocative of other shows and series you may have seen before. Yet, where those anime may fall short, this one doesn’t. This anime stands its ground quite well, despite what it has to offer.

Other anime that might come close in terms of impact might be Your Lie in April, but that anime has nothing on this story, at least in my eyes. Sure, March Comes in Like a Lion lacks several of the same sort of punches to the gut that other melancholic anime offer. What we receive in return, remains an introspective piece of fiction worth your time and attention.

That being said, while this is a beautiful anime, the core themes of anxiety, depression, and a sense of feeling lost, it makes it hard to suggest to anyone who isn’t into very thoughtful and analytical anime in the first place. It isn’t anything you need to dive into, it’s not complicated… it just isn’t mindless viewing either.

Directed by Akiyuki Shinbo and Kenjirou Okada, who also worked upon the storyboard, the series was adapted from a manga of the same name. There is also a live action film, if you care to look for wider media within this franchise.

As for me, I’m just going to focus mostly upon the anime. Right off the bat, let’s not pull any punches here. The story follows Rei Kiriyama, a boy who loses his family at a fairly young age. Now, as a wayward seventeen year hold, he has a pretty rough life. When we first meet him, he’s setting off on his own.

Prior to that, he went to live with a mentor and family friend. Due to strained relationships and a sense of failure, Rei decided it was time to live on his own. The game Shogi plays a large role in the anime, because he not only uses it to pay the bills, to him it’s a possible path for his life to take as a professional player… and that’s an important note.

To me, these tiny, but ultimately pervasive details, are what sets this particular anime above a great many others. When it comes to hobbyists and sporting anime, this one is a rarity. You hardly ever see such sad and emotional ones like this. The series has such introspective overtones, that it can seem a bit overbearing on occasion.

That’s fitting, because that’s actually how the characters in this show often feel The story is about finding a sense of belonging and forging one’s own path. Unfortunately, that’s rife with answers that aren’t clear cut for Rei.

He doesn’t know what to do. He has no idea how to come to terms with his past. He needs to find the levity in his life going forward, but that’s a difficult task. His own emotions inhibit him even more when he’s faced with coming to the right decisions about his future.

However, if Rei was the one and only protagonist, this series would fall incredibly short. Thankfully for us, there are three siblings ready to give us a deeper insight into what this series has to offer.

Overall, I think the Kawamoto siblings were a great addition to this otherwise dour anime. Akari, the eldest, Hinata the middling sibling, and Momo who is the youngest lost their parents too. As a family, they managed to get by in life much better than Rei ever did.

The bond Rei makes with them is probably the most endearing, and reasonably “happy” thing, that March Comes in Like a Lion has to offer.

Akari is the oldest, and the motherly overtones as the one to continue to raise her siblings really carries on well for most of the plot. That is a point too, these characters have their own spotlight episodes, separate from Rei entirely. That allows us to really get to know these characters in ways we otherwise wouldn’t.

From a rather sour outlook of school life from Hinata, to Akari’s need to keep the home running smoothly and raise her siblings, there’s a lot going on for these three characters. I won’t spoil too much, as I do find these women more interesting than Rei a vast majority of the time.

There is a little something I should make note of, though. Momo is quite young, and she acts her age. If that prospect annoyed you in Sweetness and Lightning, or particularly young characters aggravate you in general, it’ll likely annoy you here as well.

That being said, without her particular brand of levity, the anime might be considered too dark. The series kind of needs Momo. Without her, scenes that would be naturally infused with the joyous mind of a small child would cease to exist.

Really to me there is only one major and pointed downside to this anime, and that’s the Shogi matches themselves. If you want to learn about this game, this is the wrong anime. If you don’t know how to play Shogi, and have no concept of the rules for the game, you’re going to feel lost.

March Comes in Like a Lion won’t explain the rules to you in a way that’s meaningful, and it won’t attempt to catch even a novice player up to speed, either. You’ll be on your own, and that can make some of the matches feel boring overall.

A vast majority of rules and confines of gameplay are hand-waved away. So little is explained, glossed over at best. At worst, it makes little sense for someone who hasn’t played the game.

However, it’s not really about the game, it never was. It’s about the characters playing the game. That introspection I spoke of earlier comes from the matches in this series, and the way the characters themselves feel at that moment.

At the end of the day, that’s what the entire story of March Comes in Like a Lion comes down to. It isn’t just about their daily lives, it’s not even really what I would call a slice-of-life show. Rather, it comes down to how these characters really feel. None of the characters in this series are entirely unscathed. Everyone has some kind of trauma.

Sometimes that trauma is subdued or hidden beneath a happy facade. Other times you’ll have a character like Rei, who refuses to hide his own emotional scars, having no need to pretend he’s better off than he is. Several other characters do try to hide it, or at the very least, endure it.

From the whimsical Momo, to the completely depressed Rei, the characters run the gambit of emotions. You’ll notice I didn’t touch on Hinata’s story line here. That’s because it is one of the darkest besides Rei’s own. For me it is also one of the most infuriating and depressing, as Hinata faces bullying from her peers and those around her in a way that goes undressed by the adults around her.

With all of that said, I don’t know if you’ll enjoy this series. I don’t even know that you’ll sit there and think it to be a masterwork of narrative story telling….

To be fair to the critics of this show, there are moments that seem a little contrived, and others that feel a little more heavy handed than they needed to be. I think part of that has to do with the name itself, and the poetic narrative surrounding it.

The month of March has plenty of ways to analyze it. In Thomas Fuller’s 1732 compendium, Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs; Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British, we receive once such analysis. The full reference is this: “In like a lion, out like a lamb” and I’d say that’s a very good way to describe this particular anime too.

Sometimes it’s weaker for its additions, and other times it’s very bold for covering them. Either way, I can’t help but love March Comes in Like a Lion. If you like deep, heavily introspective anime, maybe you will too.

This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. I’ll see you next time. Please be sure to follow the block and check out our other platforms for more content like this.

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