On March 25, 2018 I completed the first season of an anime called March Comes In Like A Lion (3-gatsu no Lion), and it was a slough of an anime to get through. As usual, these entries are simply scattershot thoughts on a anime series I completed. They shouldn’t be treated as a review, even if I do give the anime a rating at the end of these blogs. I should fix that, but future me shall worry about that.
In short, March Comes In Like A Lion is a about a professional shogi player named Rei Kiriyama working out life issues…for the first half that is. Eventually turning into something else in the second half that is just as equally mixed in results, but minus as many jarring tonal shifts. As a drama, when the anime decides to be one, it can be rather good at points. My favorite moments in the anime are easily the more human moments in the series. Simple scenes like Rei crying in front a kindergartner when attending to her wound while simplistic gets along across a lot proficiently. Granted that moment got spoiled when a character explains it, but it’s a moment I consider a good example of its drama.
Another one of my favorite moment includes when Rei sister goes over to his apartment for the second time, and have a discussion about love. Followed by a great analogy how the tension in the room makes Rei feels like he’s sinking deeper into the bottom of the ocean together with his sister. Moments like these where the drama is allowed to be absorbed, and not be ruined by the over the top comedy are what I felt March Comes In Like A Lion should have attempted to capture more off. During these moments, I found myself engaged, and invested by what the characters were going through in their life. By the way it depicted, and developed the characters, the anime mostly didn’t feel overbearing into making me feel a certain emotion. Characters acted over the top, but never bordered in making any of them comedic relief. Clearly doing its best in providing all the characters a fair depiction while never overlooking their less favorable aspects. Heck, even the series most dislikable character, Masamune Gotou, isn’t made out to be a typical evil adult that anime typically makes for teenage led anime series.
My favorite character of the anime, as far as season 1 is concerned, is Rei’s teacher Takashi Hayashida. He felt the most balanced character in the anime never hurting the tone, and when the character was used for comedic effect it worked all the time. Takashi is presented as a goofball teacher who cares for Rei’s well being. So whenever he’s on screen he isn’t hurting the narrative in any form. Even when a scene with Takashi is strictly use for comedic purposes it usually involves him helping Rei with school related activities, or giving him life advice. Unlike the rest of the characters, Takashi doesn’t hide any of his issues behind his profession. Being a blunt character in the best possible way.
The other character I liked a lot, even though she could be a bitch, is Kyouko Kouda (Rei’s sister). Whenever it delved into her past, understanding why she acts negatively towards Rei while not excused comes off as reasonable from the way it’s written. It’s a complex past, along with the complex way Rei, and Kyouko feel about each other when they interact. Yet, it didn’t turn into a trainwreck. Too often in anime doing the “water under the bridge” between two character with a troubled history feels unearned in getting a resolution. In March Comes In Like A Lion, I won’t spoil if the messy family bond get fixed, but what it did with it worked exceptionally because it didn’t use any manipulative writing tricks.
The series delves into depression without ever going in the realm of silliness. Doing well in depicting how depression is an ongoing cycle that’s difficult to break, even when given support. Now given this, using over the top comedy to contrast Rei’s current mindset against the world he lives in on paper is fine. In the first episode, there was a jarring tonal shift since most of the episode is somber. However, I allowed it a free pass so to say on the jarring shift because it wasn’t preceded by a heavily dramatic scene. Unfortunately, it the rule that when a well written, heavily dramatic scene is finished it should be followed by a over the comedic scene. Yes, it often kills tension, and counteracts the dramatic aspect of the series.
For example, my least favorite episode of season 1 is easily episode 6 since it’s simply Rei Kiriyama pitying himself, and monologuing about his troubles for about 14 minutes. Man, was this boring because Rei’s says a lot, and little of what he says during those 14 minutes is meaningful. After a barrage of drama ending the episode with Rei taking Hinata (a middle schooler girl whose Rei’s friend) to eat a burger would have been a fine place to end the episode. Before the closing credits showed up, the somber mood was slowly transitioning from the barrage of snooze inducing self-pitying dialogue into a more balance tone. However, there were still about 3 minutes left ruining a generally downer of an episode with a over the top comedy scene. The final impression left on me is that it was funny, despite the barrage of dialogue of Rei issues.
Another thing the comedy negatively contribute are pointless additions to the anime. I also blame some of these on director Akiyuki Shinbou who kept them in for no good reason. One of these pointless addition is giving cats monologues. What’s the point of spending any sort of screen time hearing (or reading for you sub readers) the cats constantly screaming being hungry. This joke loses its luster after its done the fifth time, but kept in because why not. I’m sure a anime series that is filled with the brim of characters tackling personal, life, and family issues really needs cats to scream about wanting food.
From a directing standpoint, there’s also bolds words that appear on screen for comedic effects. These bold words, and some chibi character usage, work well enough in the comedic scenes. Aside from it being expected, if it wanted too, it could also use those bold word effect for something else other than comedy. Like empathizing how a character sees a shogi move as a devastating action. Cats screaming in English (or whatever language you’re watching it in) about wanting food doesn’t have multiple purposes for an anime that wants to be a good drama.
When it comes to direction of Akiyuki Shinbo it’s usually fine. I just wish it wasn’t as obvious at points in the anime when Shinbo felt uninspired, or disinterested in the material. One thing that isn’t consistent, besides the jarring tonal shift, are the visual analogies. They appear infrequently in the anime making their usage be more desired. The visual analogy work, like when Rei faces off against Shimada at his house, and seeing a visuals of strong currents rushing towards him while playing shogi gets across the intensity Rei feels in a match. If used more consistently it would have had a more consistent visual style for the entire season.
Another issue is a tendency to have dialogue be a deterrent to his visual storytelling. Like Rei seeing a nature program about Cuckoo birds, and learns how the Cuckoo bird surrogate parents keep feeding them even though they already out grew their nest. This is preceded by Rei’s backstory which I can’t get into because spoilers, ah. Now, when Rei saw the Cuckoo bird program, making a connection that how he saw himself by the impression he made was easy to connect. It was subtle, until the point Rei himself spells it out for the viewer. This happens repeatedly through the series. It works as much as it fails so it wavers in quality.
The writing is simply bad because it’s unfocus. While it does characterization well, it’s obvious it has too many characters, and doesn’t know what to do with them. There’s several supporting characters in the first half that are largely absent in the second half. Forgetting about them as easily as Rei has. Making it central theme about family sticking together in the first half ultimately feels hollow when it ends up nowhere. For about the last 6 episodes, it forgets that the central character should be Rei, and focuses on a character named Shimada for the majority of those episodes. Since it actually went somewhere meaningful forgiving the lack of a direction is forgiven. However, it’s not overlooked since even subplots, like one revolving around Hinata having a crush on a boy, and Rei befriending that boy simply just end despite how much time it dedicates to them.
On the technical side of things it’s competent. There’s nothing impressive generally about the animation until it does a visual analogies for some memorable imagery. Voice acting in the English dub is good, and I needed it to get through episodes 6, and 11 because if I saw these two episodes sub I would have fallen asleep. Music is fine, but the first opening, and first ending song are by Bump of Chicken are pretty good. As opposed to the 2nd opening track of the anime that’s easily the weakest piece of music in the series, but then pulls a 180 with a song by Kenshi Yonezu called Orion which is great. Then again, that’s just simply the Kenshi Yonezu fanboy in me loving to listen to his stuff whenever it appears.
Aside from characters, and characterization everything else in the anime just feels competently made. It’s a messy type of competent where one moment it grips you, and another moment completely loses your attention. When it wants to be it’s a good drama without eliciting any emotion from the viewer with any cheap writing tricks. At it worse, it’s simply an overbearing comedy that deteriorates the impact of the drama with a lack of focus that can’t handle the many subplots it wants. However, it’s those good dramatic moments that got me through to the end. It’s those scenes that kept me coming back regardless of its subject matter because it was compelling. If it means putting up with a overall sloppy package of an anime I’ll more than gladly put up with the some of its parts for the good stuff. It is nonetheless a disappointing watch. Ain’t no changing that.
If I were to rate March Comes In Like A Lion, I would give it a 6 out 10.