Alternative names: 3-gatsu no lion // 3月のライオン
I’ll be honest, as a fan of Shaft’s prior works (Bakemonogatari and Arakawa Under the Bridge, to name a few) I’m going into this series with high expectations. It also helps that the art style is reminiscent of Your Lie in April — another series that to say I enjoyed would be an understatement. I wept like a baby after finishing that series. I’m expecting a narrative that is equally as moving from March Comes in like a Lion.
March Comes in like a Lion immediately greets us with the visuals of an ominous wind, hinting at the tumultuous state of the Protagonist’s mind. This is further perpetuated by the opening song where images of the protagonist drowning in a river is juxtaposed with a city backdrop. The symbolism is a little heavy handed, sure, but I don’t mind as long the series keeps it in small doses. As for the soundtrack, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Bump of Chicken for the opening. Hell, I still listen to Kimi no Na wa.‘s soundtrack from time-to-time.
Through the voice of a mysterious woman, we learn that the protagonist has earned the nickname Zero — you can take a guess why, but I’ll entertain you anyway. He is a boy without a home, friends, or even family. However dull the opening sequence seems with its abundance of heavy-handed symbolism, I can’t help but wonder about this boy and his circumstances. How did he come to be so alone in the world? The opening sequence is rather slow, lingering on Zero’s hard life decisions such as which of his two pants he should wear or how long he should stare out the window. I guess it wasn’t enough to tell the audience through narration how bland his life was.
To be fair, the slow pacing is not all that bad. As we follow Zero through the cityscape, we begin to see the stark contrast between his bland life and the beautiful world around him. While he’s devoid of life, we see images of seagulls and butterflies fluttering about. I enjoyed that the series took the time to show these contrasting moments. To me, it signals that there’s still hope for Zero.
After following Zero through the city, we learn that he has a Shogi match with an old man whose identity remains unknown for the rest of the episode. It doesn’t become clear how important this match is until later. As the two converse, it is evident that they have known each other for quite some time. It is then that we learn that Zero’s name is actually Rei. Whatever the relationship is between Rei and this person, it’s somewhat strained. An air of awkwardness looms over their match as Rei ignores the man’s attempts at casual conversation, never taking his eyes off the board before the game even starts.
Throughout the match, not a single word is uttered. Instead, we’re greeted with images of Rei’s past — a glimpse into better days where Rei smiles cheerfully at the man he’s playing against now.
The Shogi battle itself was rather lifeless; a quick and utter victory on Rei’s part. The strangest part was how Rei didn’t even seem to care about winning, even after the person he just beat praised him. The person even shows concern for Rei, asking if he’s eating well. Again, there’s no response on his part. It’s possible that he answered them off-camera, but that’s not helping his case. To the viewer, he’s coming off as somewhat of a self-absorbed jerk. We’re completely in the dark with just about everything.
Later, Rei is invited over through a text by Hinata to go eat curry at her house. Before he can completely decline, he’s bombarded by a series of texts and gives in. It makes you wonder just how important this person is that they can pull him out from his introverted ways. Whoever it is, she sure is pushy.
After Rei gets to Hinata’s home, his once gloomy outlook is washed away with the giddiness and energy of Hinata’s family. I rather enjoyed this second half of the episode. Suddenly, we’re introduced to a cast of characters whose cheerfulness rubs off on the main character. I mean, he even laughs and smiles for once.
Sure, Hinata might be pushy, silly, and maybe a little slow in the head, but who cares? She’s endearing and that’s what Rei needs. I’m glad Hinata is a pushy character who’s not afraid to wear her emotions. Her energy and optimism is a pleasant contrast to Rei’s gloomy nature.
There’s one thing about having dinner at Hinata’s house that struck me rather odd. As they’re enjoying a nice dinner, the television in the background reports a father is brutally murdered with a hammer by his own son. This in turn leads Rei to think about his past. Suddenly, the man he faced earlier in a match is shown after he remembers a conversation people had about a son beating their father rather easily at Shogi. I can only assume that the situation is meant to mirror the metaphorical murder of his own idol. It’s a stretch of a comparison, but it does establish just how important that event was in his life. He’s a boy haunted by his past.
These thoughts cause Rei to tremble with Hinata managing to notice shortly after. What follows is nothing short of heartwarming. Her concern makes her ramble at about one-thousand words per minute. I could not help but burst into laughter at how Hinata just jumps into action before he can even answer. Her oblivious nature makes her compassion that much more endearing.
We get more information about Rei during his dinner at Hinata’s than at any other point in time in the episode. He’s shown that his character is capable of growth despite being plagued by his past. However, everyone around him is more concerned for his own well-being than himself. As he sleeps, he finally reveals to the audience about himself: His name is Rei Kiriyama. A seventeen-year-old Rank C-1, 5th Dan professional Shogi player. If it wasn’t clear before how intelligent Rei is with his effortless Shogi play, it is now.
The morning after is another pleasant moment, showing us a silly side of Rei we have yet to see. As Hinata wakes him up, his alarmed state allows him to be overly obedient to her. I love the fact that even when Hinata’s late for school, she hurriedly makes breakfast for Rei. To top it off, she makes him the most ridiculous looking rice ball. Rei even shows that he is considerate of others too! It’s a change of pace from all his sulking and frowning.
Rei hints that he’ll try going to school. While he’s eating lunch at the rooftop, he’s joined by his teacher who is seemingly his only friend at school. The teacher is likable and hilarious, albeit a nosy guy. He’s also a little loose with personal details, sharing his financial troubles with Rei. They have a small discussion on Shogi and his current win streak which causes him to have an epiphany — Rei has been winning a lot recently, earning him a lot of tournament money. Some simple math later, it’s clear Rei makes significantly more money than him. The teacher lashes out at him in humiliation. It’s here that we get to see that even while flustered, the teacher still shows he cares about Rei’s well-being, telling him to ‘hurry up and go make friends.’ Rei’s surrounded by some great people in his life.
After school finishes, Rei goes to Mikazuki-Dou — Hinata’s family bakery ֫— to help out. Hinata’s list of waifu traits further develops, as her sister explains to Rei how the beautiful wrapping paper he’s holding is a hand-made gift by her for her calligraphy instructor’s birthday.
He’s invited to have dinner with them again, but unlike last time, he manages to turn them down. Instead, Rei goes back to his home. As he’s sifting through his mailbox, he’s greeted by a character in the shadow. The episode ends on a cliffhanger with this smug mystery boy holding Rei’s official match notification in his hands.
In all, I fully enjoyed the first episode of March Comes in like a Lion, despite some very heavy-handed attempts at showing how much inner turmoil Rei has. This series shows a lot of potential for character growth. It also helps that visually and stylistically, the artwork is stunning — nothing less than I had expected from Shaft. The backgrounds are carefully drawn and vibrant, yet subtle enough to not overwhelm the foreground. I guess if I had something negative to say about the art, it’d only be minor. My only qualm with the artwork lies in the lifeless hatching of the pupils on characters, but arguably that only serves to drive the theme of Rei’s despair even more. The first episode, while slow at the beginning, was interesting and enjoyable. I’m expecting great things.