“While I was running in circles getting lost, my peer has already hardened his resolve.”
–Rei, March Comes in like a Lion, Episode 17
March Comes in like a Lion episode 17 has silently and ever so delicately brought to focus Rei’s shifting emotional state. With Shimada’s triumph over Gotou, everyone’s attention was on the impending challenge match between him and the man everyone deems to be the peerless shogi monster, Souya. Nikaido and Rei have both made their way to the hotel where Shimada is being interviewed just before his first of seven match showdown against Souya. While Nikaido is genuinely excited for Shimada, Rei looks physically uncomfortable and struggles to find a reason to even be at the hotel. Rei feels as though Shimada’s interviews have nothing to do with him. In his mind, he hasn’t earned the right to be there. This event demonstrates one of the central themes of March Comes in like a Lion: Sometimes our problems can feel so pervasive, so all-consuming, we can almost forget the world around us.
By giving into these thoughts, we effectively magnify our issues by isolating ourselves. In Rei’s case, his attempts to solve his familial problems lead him to move out on his own, ultimately exacerbating the root cause and giving way to an unyielding depression. It’s no surprise, then, when Rei responds the event has nothing to do with him, as he’s been so caught up in coping with his own emotions it’s almost as if he’s forgotten those around him have emotions too.
The thing is, Rei isn’t as oblivious to people’s feelings as he seems – his plight is not the result of self-absorption, but on the contrary, altruism. He firmly believes not being a nuisance for those around him is best for everyone. Nikaido’s words point out a glaring flaw with Rei’s approach – sometimes we need the support of others to feel at ease.
For Rei, Nikaido’s varied perspective points out very clearly just how flawed and narrowed his own point-of-view is. Nikaido is capable of momentarily dismissing his own problems in order to help Shimada. Rei has been caught up in his stagnation all this time. In Rei’s eyes, Nikaido is much more mature than him. What Rei doesn’t notice is that though their viewpoints may differ, they’re both much more similar to each other than he’s led to believe — Nikaido having experienced the tragedy of coping with a life-threatening illness from an early age and Rei having experienced the tragedy of losing loved ones, they’ve both arrived at the answer of shogi to come to grips with their bitter realities. For as much as Nikaido preaches about the importance of leaning on friends in a time of need, there’s a hint of irony in his words as he himself has not told Rei about his illness. For better or for worse, their kindness gets the best of them in that they believe the best way to deal with their own problems is to exclude others. They both are in desperate need of opening up.
When Rei runs into his father at the hotel, he learns that his desperate attempts at distancing himself have only done the opposite. Kyouko has been lying about her whereabouts, using visiting Rei as a cover-up story. If it wasn’t clear to him Kyouko was hurting, it is now.
The fact she’s deceiving their own father to pursue a volatile relationship with a married man proves to Rei the extent of her pain. For as enigmatic as Kyouko seems, her actions reveal the truth of her character. There is no one else that she comes to trust as much as Rei, which is why their father is left in the dark about her life while she makes so many sudden appearances at Rei’s house — In spite of her enigmatic behavior, she wants to be near Rei. And Nikaido’s words, which have now taken root, allow him to see this a little more clearly.
Later on, when Rei goes to relax near the pond at the hotel, he sees a pair of fish swimming in the distance. With the sunlight shining down on him — a literal light-bulb moment — Rei sees his own connections as those the fish have. Though they always pass each other, neither one of them wants to sever their relationship —a metaphorical image highlighting his connection to Kyouko.
Which is why it makes sense that Kyouko bumps into him under the bridge. Rei knows that as hard as they try to distance themselves, they are inextricably linked to one another through their suffering. Their polarizing feelings for one another, their insecurities and hang-ups, all draw them closer to one another, despite what logic tells them. Kyouko should hate Rei — in her eyes, he invaded their family and took all of his parents love, leaving none for her or their other brother. In Rei’s mind, he shouldn’t have any attachments with their family anymore — he thought leaving the house would effectively cut all ties. Evidently, they’re both wrong, and they’re coming to grips with the truth of their reality. When all is said and done, they both legitimately care for each other and can’t stand the thought of separation. That’s why Rei telling Kyouko that she’s responsible for her own actions eventually escalated into a full-blown argument with personal insults.
“I brought this on myself? What’s that? Are you looking down on me? Who do you think you are? All you do is whine pitifully and play messy shogi!”
-Kyouko, March Comes in like a Lion, Episode 17
Does this sound like two people who don’t care about one another?
For Kyouko, the argument was in fact about something else entirely – her pent-up emotions about Rei’s attempt to sever their ties. She was deeply hurt by what he said, not because of being blamed, but because she felt his comment was insensitive. In her mind, he’s the one that left them making Rei very much responsible for her emotional state. Yet, he’s asking her to take responsibility for running away, when he has yet to really do that himself. Kyouko is startled by Rei’s sudden confrontational tone and spits back, aiming to wound him just as deeply (hence the shogi part of the attack). In fact, they’re both practically at each other’s throats. Their confrontation serves to prove one thing: they care so much about each other that they can’t help but be swept away in their emotions. They don’t have a healthy relationship just yet, but it’s still beautiful in the way they legitimately care for one another.
Thankfully, the Kawamoto sisters arrive just before the argument escalates to the point of no return. Momo interrupts Rei and Kyouko, clinging to Rei while asking if Kyouko is a witch. The Kawamotos, upon sensing they were in the middle of a heated argument, decide it’s best to leave Rei and Kyouko alone. While they don’t know who Kyouko is, they understand Rei’s problem is not one to get involved in. However, Hina can’t bear to leave Rei as distraught as he is. She butts into the conversation, giving Rei their homecooked meal and shoots Kyouko a piercing glare before she scurries off back to Akari.
Both Hina and Kyouko wear their jealousy clearly for the world to see. They can’t stand the fact Rei has women in his life they don’t know about. Hina storms off, stomping her feet and vocalizing how pissed off she is, but she doesn’t know why she’s so angry. Hina’s just beginning to be a little more honest with her own feelings — she may very well have romantic feelings for Rei. Kyouko asks who the girls were and if Rei found another family to mooch off. Neither the Kawamotos or Kyouko knew who the other was, but they both assume the worst.
The final scene of the episode puts into context their inextricable bond through despair. Despite having a seemingly intense argument only moments prior, Kyouko ultimately invites herself over to Rei’s and makes herself comfortable. If she were truly upset at him, she wouldn’t have bothered to stick around. Instead, she devours the meal the sisters had given Rei while mocking them, hoping to get a reaction out of him.
Rei brushes her childish whims off, asking her what she plans to do next. This is when Kyouko’s honesty catches him off-guard. Kyouko admits her insecurities – in a hushed tone, she reveals she doesn’t know what she’s doing, she doesn’t know why she loves Gotou, and all of these things scare her – and looks to Rei for comfort, hugging him . She could have not made herself more vulnerable to him than this. The juxtaposition of ripples of water over Kyouko’s venting captures her fragility of mind.
‘The room was dyed blue, as if we were at the bottom of the sea.’
-Rei, March Comes in like a Lion, episode 17
Her pain has never been more clear to Rei than this moment. Kyouko desperately needs Rei and he desperately needs her. Rei understands that no matter how much they try to distance themselves, they are the fish in the pond that ultimately return to one another, failing to sever their relationship. This all circles back to the underlying message of March Comes in Like a Lion’s 17th episode. Try as we might, some issues are too great to tackle by ourselves. It is only through allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and leaning on others for support that we can overcome those issues.