At the young age of seventeen, Rei Kiriyama is considered a prodigy, due to his immense talent as a professional shogi player. But despite all the success and glory he has earned from his career, Rei’s life is not one of happiness. During the years he has spent honing his skills and rising to glory, he has grown distant from his family, namely his adoptive father whom he was once closer to than anyone else. As the days pass by, Rei always has a sad look in his eyes, but he is fortunate to have warm and welcoming people in his life who have opened their arms to him. Can they break through Rei’s emotional shell and help him overcome his inner demons and accept himself?
I’m not a big fan of Slice of Life Anime. Just the thought of realistic settings in Anime has never really been my thing. I prefer whimsical, colourful, fantasy styled worlds filled with magic and adventure or dark, atmospheric, science fiction universes with technology that is leaps and bounds above what is currently possible in the modern world. For a Slice of Life to be truly engaging for me, it has to be relatable to me or extremely well done in its theme exploration, both of which are rarities.
I also know next to nothing about shogi, outside of a few scenes in Naruto, a short sequence during an episode of Hunter x Hunter and an extremely brief explanation of the game during an introductory Games Design class I studied as part of my Degree.
In addition to the above, I also didn’t care for Honey and Clover. At all.
And it just so happens that March Comes in Like a Lion is a Slice of Life series, about a guy who plays shogi and is based on a Manga created by the same Mangaka who made Honey and Clover.
Given all of that, I certainly didn’t see a show of this outstanding quality coming. Not by a long shot. This first episode was incredible.
The main draw of the initial episode is its visual aesthetic. The art style of the series is bursting with vibrancy and energy, while also having a unique feel to it and the directing and presentation are handled so creatively that the series is a pleasure to watch solely because it’s pleasing to the eyes. My god is it satisfying to watch purely as a visual spectacle.
As you’d expect from Studio Shaft and series director, Akiyuki Shinbo, the directing is absolutely fantastic, and is among the best we’ve seen from Anime this year. The series does an excellent job of portraying its main narrative focus and introducing us to the protagonists personal struggle through showing us instead of info dumping us with yawn inducing internal monologues or poorly handled exposition.
Rei’s solitude and unhappiness is conveyed in so many ways, from the various scenes with a black and white aesthetic in the episodes opening moments, to the quiet, still sound design present during the shogi match where barely a peep is made outside of environmental noises. The fact Rei himself doesn’t even utter a single word, internally or externally for a large chunk of the episode, and that the series is able to convey exactly what it is aiming to without the use of any dialogue or exposition is truly an amazing feat.
The tone of March is absolutely fantastic and is consistently well handled. After a quarter of the way through the episode, we already feel sorry for Rei. We already understand his feelings of emptiness and uneasiness in a matter of minutes, something that is truly a testament to how powerful Akiyuki Shinbo’s directing remains since his last entry in the medium.
As for the narrative itself, it’s also very compelling. The story itself is fairly simple, yet the shows primary focus is not on the plot itself, rather the protagonist himself and his inner struggle with depression and his attempts to overcome it and accept himself.
Rei is an incredibly damaged person who is emotionally distant to those around him and has hid himself behind a thick shell. He is incredibly relatable already, and I have a feeling that the show has barely scratched the surface of his character.
The shogi matches themselves are also extremely satisfying to watch. Despite having a lack of understanding or interest in the game itself, the matches are so full of excellent visual presentation and masterfully handled sound design that they are simply breath taking to watch, regardless of my connection to the sport. They are the atmospheric highlight of the show and the biggest conveyor of the series overall theme of depression and solitude.
However, March isn’t all about self-loathing and depression, there’s a good amount of lighthearted moments between Rei and his friendly neighbours that are looking out for him. These moments range from heart-warming to comedic and are a nice break from the sombre tone that is the main focus of the series, even if the comedy itself is a little weak and uninspired in some places.
It’s incredibly satisfying to see these characters bring some joy to Rei’s existence, even if it is but a mere drop in the ocean, and I sincerely hope that they eventually manage to wash away his inner torment. Thematically, that would be great, as well as satisfying to watch develop over time. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives, where we’re depressed for one reason or another, and need someone there to pick up the pieces and put us back together, to put a smile back on our face.
And if March Comes in Like a Lion is willing to be the embodiment of that scenario, that moment in our lives, then it has the potential to be a great series with some excellent depth to it, while being extremely relatable and accessible to just about everyone.
I can definitely see where March could run into some problems further down the line. I’m a little concerned that the series may struggle to maintain this level of quality in its visual presentation and I’m equally worried that the novelty and thematic depth of this first episode will wear off in a few weeks.
But if it does keep up this high standard and if it continues to remain interesting by travelling down this incredibly relatable road of cleansing of the inner demons of its emotionally damaged protagonist, it will be among the best shows to come out this year.
I don’t like Slice of Life. I don’t understand shogi. But my, oh my, do I love and understand March Comes in Like a Lion. The directing and visual aesthetic are phenomenal, the character driven narrative is surprisingly engaging and resonates well with its audience and the sound design sets the mood and conveys the tone of every scene perfectly.
This is a must watch this season, and I highly recommend it.
This first episode was an excellent start and I’m looking forward to seeing what lies ahead.
Speaking of lying…
So what are your first impressions of March Comes in Like a Lion?