March Comes in like a Lion episode 18 builds upon Rei’s enlightened perspective, allowing us to see just how much Rei has come to trust others. Rei visits Shimada’s workshop, where Nikaido bickers with Mr. Shigeta over their contrasting game philosophies. A playful tone permeates the scene as cute metaphorical Jedi cats narrate their fiery battle. Shimada easily and comedically extinguishes the flames, throwing the two a complicated shogi question to divert their attention. All of this confirms what we’ve already come to know—everyone in the workshop is deeply passionate about shogi and they have firm beliefs on how the game should be played. Shimada, upon noticing Rei has largely been taking a backseat in the workshop, urges him on to speak his point-of-view, like one of those teachers picking on the quiet kid in class.
The fact Shimada reaches out to Rei shows how adept he is at judging the emotions of those around him. He recognizes Rei came to him because Rei wanted to change—he’s desperate to properly connect with his peers, friends, and family after years of keeping people in the dark—he just needs a shove in the right direction. Shimada asking him was his way of allowing Rei to take his first steps, to lean on them and show them the fiery passion that’s ready to burst at any moment now. Shimada’s depth of character in recent episodes—the bottomless passion that’s revealed behind his aloofness, his understanding and compassion for his peers, and his modesty—has quickly won me over, earning him a spot among my favorite characters in the series.
With the focus on Rei, the scene indeed confirms his emotional growth thus far. As he struggles to vocalize his thoughts, his choice of words reveal just how private an experience shogi is for him.
“The thing is… once the board gets to this position, you’re already in bad shape… Um… How can I put it? It’s disturbing. ”
– Rei, March Comes in like a Lion, Episode 18
While the others mistake his words for pretentious rambling, Shimada’s astuteness allows him to see the innerworkings of Rei’s mind. Rei’s an intuitive player, relying on his gut instincts to guide his play. Shimada continues pushing him forward with patience, telling him he knows it’ll be hard to put to words things that he’s kept inside, but to take his time articulating his thoughts for them. Little by little, Rei allows himself to be vulnerable. Rei uses interesting word choices to describe the game, saying things like ‘it’s disturbing’ and ‘I think going with black’s 7d-pawn will only result in injury.’
Notice the use of personal words such as disturbance and injury. Usually those are words that you would use in a physical altercation with someone, but here Rei is using them to show his personal connection to Shogi. Shimada parrots the words in a hushed voice, making little effort to hide his intrigue. He’s not only supporting Rei, he’s appreciating Rei’s unique approach and taking a mental note that beyond having a strong intuitive sense of the game, Rei has a deeply intimate experience with it.
The workshop scenes were effectively strong at stressing the importance of vulnerability and connection. These scenes make me question the paths of Gotou and Souya, both of whom are portrayed as loners in the shogi world, but have somehow managed to get so high up in the rankings through their own methods. In Rei’s mind, Souya is an oddity of nature—his seemingly unchanging appearance imbues him with a sense of timelessness, as if his stranglehold on the throne will never falter. The thing is, Souya’s backstory in the prior episode was through Rei’s eyes, so we have to call into question how reliable these observations are. After all, he’s shown in the past that his opinions and beliefs aren’t always infallible, and his narrowed perspective on his idol only perpetuated Souya’s image as a loner. The same could be said about Gotou, who (understandably) he has made little effort to understand in the past. There’s a definite need for more backstory from their own perspectives. The workshop highlights a need for a fluidity of approach, entertaining perspectives from other playstyles, and yet, those two seem to have an air of confidence in their own respective playstyles. Perhaps their methodologies are the result of carefully dissecting varied perspectives until they’ve reached their own. Hopefully we get to see more about them, but I digress.
After Rei’s private thoughts were unveiled to the class, Shimada saw a hint of brilliance there that he could build upon. He asks him to come back, but this time privately. Shimada approaching Rei portrays how much he truly respects Rei, despite the fact he’s of lesser rank than him. When Rei comes back the next day, their match was unlike anything he’s ever experienced. They recreate the game from yesterday, playing from where the workshop had left off, but this time Shimada wants to see his answer.
The visuals used during their match executed the crushing weight of it all with absolute clarity. They simultaneously painted Shimada’s overwhelming play through a clever use of metaphorical imagery while alternating between Rei’s point-of-view. Through Rei’s gaze, a sinister aura envelopes Shimada with dark shadows embracing his character. In the background, tumultuous waves unceasingly crash down on Rei, portraying his struggle against Shimada’s oppressive gameplay. What’s interesting to note is that the water itself is actually an ocean of words interlaced with shogi moves and inked splotches, and while I can’t read Japanese, I can only guess the imagery serves to show Rei is not at a point where he can hold his own against Shimada’s vast experience and knowledge. That for every move Rei can come up with in response, all Shimada has to do is briefly dip into this vast sea of knowledge to quickly thwart him. Rei’s despair is only made more apparent when he’s shown drowning in the ocean, slowly trickling further and further down.
He’s so caught up in Shimada’s ability that he completely forgets his surroundings, suddenly waking up in a bathtub, gasping for air. Rei’s fatigue is proof of just how great their divide was, despite him giving it his all. It was the first time he’s ever faced a player of Shimada’s caliber for as long as he did. Even while he was in despair, the determined look in his face revealed just exactly how far he’s come. He’s not running away from his problems anymore. This time, he voluntarily submerges himself, using the time under water to make sense of the situation.
The scene’s use of water further illustrates just how far Rei’s come since the days where he was quick to give in to depression. It’s interesting to see just how many times the theme of water as a destructive property has come up. In the past episode alone, water was used to show Kyouko’s pain as she vented to Rei. It’s no surprise, then, that water resurfaces in this episode a number of times. However, instead of using water to show Rei giving in to despair, the bathtub is used as a device for him to clear his thoughts. As he thinks back to the events, bubbles emerge in the picture frame to show how water—the same instrument used to paint Rei’s crushing defeat—gave him the utmost clarity. He slowly realizes the truth—that they’re both pros and they’re both benefitting from playing each other. He has something to offer Shimada because if really he didn’t, Shimada would’ve never asked him to come alone. He emerges from the water with a conclusion:
“Until I can get my answer, all I can do is hang on.”
-Rei, March Comes in like a Lion, Episode 18
Does that look like the face of someone cowering away from their problems?
The bathtub scene epitomizes Rei’s emotional growth and at the same brings to attention an important underlying theme of March Comes in like a Lion: We are largely responsible for our own state of mind. Rei’s just starting to realize that within us all lies the capacity to see problems as a chance for positive change or self-destruction, and it’s up to us to decide if we will falter.
The next day, Rei bumps into Mr. Hayashida while he’s at school and they have a heart-to-heart conversation. This scene brings to attention Rei’s vulnerability yet again, this time emphasizing just how much he’s come to trust his teacher. He vents to him, stating that although nothing has changed—he squeaked by with attendance, he didn’t join a club, and his rank is stagnant—he’s still passed the year thanks to Mr. Hayashida’s efforts. The use of cherry blossoms blowing in the wind imbues the narrative with a sense of Mono no Aware and effectively shows that Rei’s emotional growth is very much a work-in-progress.
The visuals contrasting Rei’s belief allows us to see that despite Rei’s words, time is passing by and things are changing, whether Rei realizes it accepts it yet or not. By opening up to Mr. Hayashida, Rei gets to see first-hand just how cleansing vulnerability can be. Mr. Hayashida can’t stand the fact that Rei doesn’t see himself for the amazing person he truly is and returns Rei’s trust with some of his own private thoughts. Mr. Hayashida talks about how he had the audacity to dream big without putting his words to action, where Rei is doing a lot more than he did at seventeen. As he makes a breakthrough to Rei, the perspective swaps. The scene begins to blurry as tears pour down his face.
Rei wasn’t the only one making himself vulnerable this episode. All of the characters reciprocated Rei’s feelings, allowing him to explore the depths of his emotions. Shimada did this with his one-on-one, Mr. Hayashida did this by telling him how much he admires Rei, and Hina did this. When Hina visits Rei at the end of the episode, she too is showing that she’s being much bolder with her feelings. Her hesitation and blushing revealed how deeply bothered by Kyouko she was. Her elation upon learning Kyouko was Rei’s sister confirms her torment, showing that a huge weight was lifted off her shoulders. She’s grown rather attached to Rei and she may very well be coming to accept her romantic feelings for him.
Overall, March Comes in like a Lion episode 18 solidified Rei’s emotional growth thus far, emphasizing the importance of varied perspectives. When Rei isolated himself, he created an echo chamber of negative thoughts—that he was a no one with no home, friends, or family to call his own—but by coming to rely on others, he’s slowly starting to see the much more positive reality. He’s loved and admired and ultimately, people have come to rely on him. Shimada saw something within him, Mr. Hayashida admires him, and Hina and the Kawamotos have come to appreciate him. Vulnerability, thus, is the lifeblood of friendships. Without it, we are doomed to be creatures of stagnation.