I thought it appropriate to talk about the anime March Comes in like a Lion on the very last day of March. Call me a sucker for that sort of thing.
Umino Chika is a creator who opened up my eyes to a new world of storytelling. In the past, another anime adaptation of one of her manga, Honey & Clover. Watching thathttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3u6lyeC5jOo series, I could relate to both the art school antics (I was attending art school myself at the time), and the rush of emotions positive and negative that could come from seemingly simple interactions with people and the world. Now, over a decade later, I find her more recent work, March Comes in like a Lion, to carry a similar weight even though I’m further in age from its protagonist compared to Honey & Clover.
March Comes in like a Lion follows Kiriyama Rei, a young shogi prodigy with a difficult past who befriends three sisters that take care of him as he tries to get through his shogi career and life in general. The series swings heavily between darkly depressing and frenetically cheerful in ways that mirror Rei’s own internal struggles.
I find Rei to be a fascinating character. When it comes to anime protagonists, he’s somehow both the clever genius many wish they could be, but also highly relatable in terms of how he thinks and feels. Rei is intelligent beyond his years, but he’s also only in high school and thus inexperienced not only in the ways of the world but also in shogi itself. He’s prone to both self-deprecation and arrogance, both looking too far ahead and staring at his own feet. Whether someone is a hard worker who tries to make up for a lack of talent, a genius who can’t seem to muster the will to push further, or even both or neither, it feels as if anyone who understands both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, in formal competition and in life, can connect to Rei’s joys and frustrations. Even if he isn’t perfectly relatable to everyone, there’s bound to be a character that viewers can connect to.
The anime is produced by SHAFT, a studio that for the past decade and change has been known for highly stylized visuals that utilize odd camera angles, unorthodox color palettes, and emphasis on both the flatness of 2-D images and their ability to convey a sense of three-dimensionality. For many of their series, this works fairly well, but the subdued pace of March Comes in like a Lion means the SHAFT style at times risks being too over-the-top for its own good. Fortunately, the March Comes in like a Lion anime is relatively restrained in its approach, especially in the more dark and moody moments and in the shogi matches themselves, which tend to be a mix of cerebral strategizing and emotional ping pong. Sometimes the visuals can go too far, but for the most part any sort of traditional SHAFT antics are reserved for the more light-hearted scenes, especially those involving the Kawamoto sisters mentioned above.
This is not the first shogi-themed series I’ve really enjoyed, but it is almost the polar opposite of my favorite, 81 Diver. If that manga is like a stick of dynamite strapped to an apple pie, then March Comes in like a Lion is like a wool blanket, warm yet occasionally itchy. I’m not sure how those two things are opposites per se, but I’ll just say that they are and leave it at that.
You can watch March Comes in like a Lion on Crunchyroll.