March Comes in like a Lion piles on to its depiction of depression relentlessly, layering epiphany after epiphany to deconstruct the tumultuous state of Rei’s fragile mind. Seemingly enough, not a lot technically happens on a surface level, with one half of the episode dedicated to Rei’s match and the other half exploring the aftermath of the battle. But the focus of the episode wasn’t in the advancement of the scenes; it was in the exploration of the delicate fabric that seizes hold of Rei’s mind, blinding him to the harsh realities of competition.
Rei’s confidence, while well-intentioned, was based in a layer of lies so thick that it has long since clouded his judgement. The reality of his situation is, he has never truly allowed himself to enjoy Shogi. To Rei, the pressures of being a childhood prodigy never allowed him to progress. He has been built up as an infallible prodigious god, held in the highest esteem by his peers and mentor. Being adopted by his mentor, he saw the ripples of discontent taking form within a family that held Shogi so dearly to their identities. Rei viewed himself as an outsider in their home — he threatened the sanctity of what his mentor’s family held sacred. As such, Rei never let himself enjoy Shogi because to do so would be to spit in the face of what the family held dear. He needed to get out before he was consumed by his insecurities, and Shogi was the only way he knew how. Thus, his relationship to Shogi was largely one based on necessity, more than trivial enjoyment. Rei’s shogi match against Shimada unraveled the silk threads of false liberation that he had meticulously constructed to hide all the feelings of guilt he tucked away somewhere deep within his consciousness. These feelings of guilt Rei once believed he could conquer in and by himself.
Can you really blame Rei for thinking so? Rei had never really faced hiccups in the world of Shogi before he took the plunge to live on his own. Facing Shimada in the Shogi match proved to be a larger undertaking than he could have ever predicted. Rei was looking further ahead of the competition, but Shimada was not someone to be taken lightly. Just as Rei has something he does not want to lose, so does Shimada. The reality was the same for both competitors: They put everything they are on the board. Rei’s thickly woven silk of lies didn’t let him see this fact. As such, he was never as prepared for the match as he thought he was. His ill-preparation was a bitter revelation that tormented him for the rest of the episode; he was never a prodigious, infallible god, but a mere mortal, easily wounded by the false ideals he had built up over the years. Shimada completely defeated Rei in cold, methodical fashion. What’s more, their post-match review revealed just how doomed Rei truly was. He had no idea that the game had long since been decided. Shimada did exactly what Nikaido asked of him: he broke Rei’s mind open. What resulted was an endless torrent of epiphanies that Rei could no longer keep from gushing forth. These epiphanies broke him and laid bare the crippling fragility that lied just beyond his poorly constructed walls of self-deception.
Rei’s exploration of self is where the beauty of the episode lies. The aftermath of the match was a tormenting, all-consuming depression that assaulted Rei, leaving him bedridden for days. The realization sunk in for him that he had let his deep-seated anger for Gotou blind him to his other competitors. They weren’t, as he put, ‘side characters’ he could easily trample on. This realization gave way to an endless stream of bitter truths: Rei was never fully prepared for this match, let alone Gotou. He had all these ideas on what it meant to grow up, and all of them were not as well-formed as he would’ve liked for them to be. You can’t really blame him for thinking getting out of his mentor’s house would liberate him. He felt caged at home, not being able to relate to his siblings while altogether desiring a father figure. His siblings could not come to welcome him with open arms. Because Rei was a childhood shogi prodigy, he was a looming, threatening presence to them. Thus, Shogi, his only sanctuary, was tainted by guilt. Rei’s familial upheaval was overwhelming, awkward, and overall too painful for him to bear, so his response was what comes natural to most people: If you’re in an awkward or painful situation, your first instinct is to run away from the cause. How was Rei, being young and inexperienced, supposed to know that running away would somehow manifest in stagnation later down the road? He believed all he needed to do was to get out of the home of his mentor, so he could quickly become an adult, but he was largely unaware of the responsibilities of such a decision. Moving out meant that he was alone. Alone, as a kid, facing himself while also responsible for fending for himself. I gotta give him credit for trying- that’s far more than I could do at his age. However, the result was ugly.
March Comes in like a Lion does not hold back any punches when portraying depression. There is nothing subtle about the series’ themes. “I’m not even terrible at depression,” said a bedridden Rei. His introspection was pretty overt, but the moment served to highlight his overwhelming despair. When a person is depressed, they are just slowly stripped away with the means of dealing with it. That’s not him being terrible at depression. That’s him experiencing depression in full swing. Depression robs you of every pleasure, no matter how mundane or trivial, until what you’re left is the skeleton of bare necessity to live (and sometimes not even that). His turmoil was painted so vividly, it was almost unbearable to watch. It took him half a day to get to bed, and he described his despair to scrupulous detail. Everything he ate and drank would come out the same way it entered. He couldn’t leave his bed, but he needed to. He basically crawled to the convenience store to grab something to sustain himself.
The next day at school, Rei ate lunch by himself, succumbing to just how pathetic he is. Rei compared his food to the taste of sand, making me draw a mental image of him struggling through quicksand. But just as he was beginning to sink back into despair, his teacher comes to lend him a much needed helping hand. Their conversation proved to be insightful for Rei, making him realize how many of his problems are the result of his reluctance to let others in. He’s just a seventeen year-old kid that bit off more than he can chew, but there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Rei’s a talented individual all the same and he still has room to grow. His teacher informs him of Shimada’s drive, uncovering just how wrong Rei’s approach to Shogi has been all along. When Rei’s teacher encourages him to join Shimada’s shogi workshop with Nikaido, he surprisingly warms up to the idea. For as much despair was explored, the episode ends in a light-hearted note, in large part to his teacher’s encouragements.
All of Rei’s disillusionments with adulthood came to a point of capsizing in episode fourteen of March Comes in like a Lion. The series has a way of capturing the ugly moments of depression with captivating beauty; a weird, paradoxical state that is fascinating, powerful, and yet painful to watch. I’m excited to see what Rei’s revelations will bring.
For those still a little choked up after that episode, here’s a little smith to brighten up your day:
— Palpable T_T