March Comes in like a Lion, Episode 19: Shimada’s Past

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March Comes in like a Lion’s shift of focus this week was on Shimada, whose narration reintroduces him as a complex character driven by simple but firm beliefs. In the past, we’ve seen glimpses of his drive: despite his aloof exterior, there’s a fiery passion within him that’s set ablaze by competition. What we hadn’t seen just yet was his reasons for being so.

We’ve been led to believe that’s just the way he is. However, his inner dialogue uncovers that there’s something even deeper and more fundamental to his character that keeps him going—his attachment to his home town and the people that have come to encourage him along the way. While competition is the vehicle for his passion, his love for his hometown is the fuel that pushes him forward.

Shimada is a character who values his connections with people above all else. There’s a stark contrast between Shimada’s inner dialogue and the visuals that accompany it, highlighting how he truly feels about his past. The things he says about his hometown being boring and underpopulated lead you to think he doesn’t care about the place much. Despite the matter-of-fact tone present in his words, the washed edges of the visuals and the small clouds of steam interspersed among the scenes where he’s surrounded by the elders permeate the atmosphere of his past with a gentle warmth—the kind where you’re nestling into your favorite blanket on a winter day with a mug full of hot chocolate—and effectively confirm how fond he is of his village.

Shimada’s connection with his elders is the primary reason he even began playing shogi in the first place. Because his northeastern village was a place with no kids to play with, he was forced to pursue hobbies that he could do in isolation such as bug-catching, video games, and reading. The problem with these hobbies was that they had an inevitable end to them and only held his interest momentarily. As a result, he was perpetually in a state of looking for the next best thing to occupy his mind. That is, until the day the elders taught him how to play shogi.

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“But with shogi, there was never an end, no matter how far I went.”

-Shimada, March Comes in like a Lion, Episode 19

There’s a glimpse of his insatiable drive within those words and the subsequent scenes. Shimada’s choice of words reveals that his initial intrigue was very much related to a competitive urge. While all his other hobbies had ended quickly, shogi presented itself as something with boundless possibilities. He kept searching for ways to push the boundaries of the game, inevitably surpassing even his teachers by the 2nd grade. By that time, he was already looking for more challenging opponents, taking buses into the city to play at a small shogi training hall. Shimada was always looking just beyond his opponent to the next one.

Shimada’s past mirrors that of Rei’s. Both were built up by their respective families as prodigies, both were completely entrenched in the world of shogi and wanted to win above anything else, and both let their narrowed perspectives undermine their growth and ultimately cause stagnation. With Shimada, his stagnation came about in the place he described as the wolf den of the 3rd dans. He had been so focused on his own state of mind that he had completely forgotten that his peers were also hungry to get out of the den. As a result, he kept losing and became stuck there for years and his pride and ego were shattered. The guilt that he had over those years manifested into stomach pains.  The imagery of Shimada riding on a bus into the night while curled up in his seat hauntingly paint his fragile state of mind.

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“I would have nightmares of riding on and on, but never getting anywhere.”

-Shimada, March Comes in like a Lion, Episode 19

These scenes allow us to see that just like Rei, Shimada too has a very private experience with shogi—his pain is very much a physical manifestation of his fears as a shogi player.  And the wolf-den was a literal nightmare for him that forced him to realize he wasn’t getting anywhere with his mentality.

Fortunately for Shimada, he conquered his mentality and moved forward past the den with the help of those around him. His hometown had proven to be a strong support structure he could come to rely on. While he was hurting, he could see past it only because he had people he could lean on. The elders of his hometown had never stopped believing in him, no matter if he was winning or losing.

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Shimada’s backstory reinforces March Comes in like a Lion’s thematic elements of forming strong connections with people to move forward together. For Shimada, Yamagata is the place that started his love for shogi, and the people that reside there are largely to thank for not only his growth as a player, but his emotional growth as a person as well.

While Shimada has triumphed over his stagnation, Rei still has a lot to learn from his own, but the scenes that follow hint that he’s headed in the right direction. His visit to Shimada’s home brings to attention how much he values Shimada, further building upon the revelations he’s had in prior episodes of needing to form strong bonds with his friends and family. He knows Shimada’s stomachache isn’t allowing him to focus and he’s openly showing Shimada he’s worried about him. Rei sets aside his personal vacation time to help his friend and mentor get into better spirits. He even cooks for him because he knows there’s no way Shimada’s can eat well in condition.

Rei assures Shimada that the noodles he brought to cook are easy on the stomach, citing that he remembers his father dealing with similar problems. Again, Rei is opening up, allowing for people to peer into his life. When Rei asks if he could put an egg into the noodles, Shimada’s sharp observations allows him to see just how much Rei has come to trust him—that Rei wasn’t talking about his adoptive father Mr. Kouda, but rather his actual biological father. Rei isn’t just slowly bringing his mental walls down—he’s plowing right through them. His gestures towards Shimada express how his perspective has broadened to include those around him. Rei wants to help and nurture his friends, just as they have come to do so for him.

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There’s a lot of weight in the interactions between Shimada and Rei have during these scenes. Both characters have been established as largely independent and the fact that they’re exposing some of their inner most private thoughts to each other is a big deal. With Shimada realizing Rei was putting himself out there, he felt compelled to respond in kind. Shimada openly praises the food Rei made for him while assuring him the stomachache is something he’s grown used to by now.  He wants Rei to know he appreciates what he’s doing for him. When Rei asks him about his upcoming match, Shimada confesses he’s worried about the game. Last time he had played against Souya, he had felt so backed into a corner that he made a blunder that cost him the game.

When Rei notices Shimada’s stomach condition has only aggravated from their conversation, he attempts to leave to allow Shimada to rest, but Shimada asks him to stay for a little while longer. Shimada’s willingness to momentarily dismiss all his physical pain and discomfort confirms how vitally important he considers connecting with Rei to be.

Ultimately, much of the focus of this week’s episode of March Comes in like a Lion was on the importance of sharing experiences to form strong bonds with those around us. Shimada’s brutally honest narration revealed that he had to learn this the hard way and Rei is just beginning to learn this. While Rei had initially took the first steps by seeking to help Shimada, their connection was only deepened because Shimada was also willing to be helped.

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