Following professional Shogi player Rei Kiriyama through the ups and downs of his young career, personal life and internal struggles, March Comes in Like a Lion promises to be a story rich in character development and heart-plucking drama.

The Lowdown

17 year old Rei Kiriyama moves out from his foster family and leads the intense life of constant competitions and isolation from all social aspects of life. Trying to keep considerable distance from bonding with anyone, he finds himself being included into the kindhearted Kawamoto residence, which provides a homely connection he lacked from the recently departed foster home. Success comes and goes as it does, and the pro player comes to the crossroads that accompany the trials and tribulations of life.

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What is this? This is a series blog, where we’ll provide informal and brief hot takes after each episode in a given anime series. We’ll be updating this every week after each episode, so please check back for more thoughts!



Episode 13: Chapter 26 Black River (Part 2) / Chapter 27 Beyond the Door

Be it by the show’s actual design or just a creative liberty taken, isolating Smith’s character from the louder upperclassman has really paid off, and it is on a brilliant display in this episode. I could be mistaken, but this is the first time in the series that an entire half is devoid of Kiriyama, leaving for a fascinating peek into the mind and heart of a competitor previously unknown to the audience. What is more is that without the rage Rei has for Gotou fogging things, we see just how crooked the man really is through the eyes of a stranger in Smith.

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The old rule of “if you look ahead you’re going to get socked right under your nose” has full marks in the second half as Rei is rocked mid-match by being outsmarted. While it doesn’t have any clear indication that he has lost, getting checked might go quite the distance in calming down the rampaging prodigy. With only this and potentially the final to go, there is a steadily increasing pace that is incredibly easy to miss otherwise. If you recall, I threw down the gauntlet in my case for this series late November saying that this show would be worth it all come episode fourteen-sixteen. I might be off a tad, but it is hard to argue that it won’t be binge worthy after that point with this late stride it is hitting.

In One Line: Smith goes through his pre-match rituals only to be crushed by Gotou as Rei’s boiling anger blinds him from a critical mistake in his own match.


Episode 12: Chapter 24- What Lies on the Opposite Shore / Chapter 25- Black River

There is a lot to love in the first new episode we’ve seen this season, right from the brand new OP to the eerily beautiful ED accompanying the turn of the year. The production value is noticeably higher, and the character models are animated even smoother than ever before. Most shows make that kind of jump between seasons of a multi-season show being aired, but it is still really nice to see something that wasn’t really lacking in artistic flare arriving to the party with even more of it.

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With the introduction of Gotou, the match to the kerosene spilling mess of a stepsister Rei has in Kyouko, there is such a raw layer that is added to the series. Our stoic protagonist is enraged by cold words unlike any other brutal thrashing another has given him to date (speaking of thrashing, there is a pretty unbearable one taken physically by the same people as well) as his senpai Smith has to hold him back. You can feel the rage quelling over the confusing love he still has for a woman that despite being an absolute heathen to him, he still views as family. Such subtext is all over the place after the dispute and hypes up the inevitable showdown up immensely.

The episode sprinted triumphantly towards the end with one tear-jerking interaction between the youngest Kawamoto, Momo, and Rei- Rei breaks the news that he won’t be able to visit his “kotatsu” until he wins his big match and she innocently wishes him luck. Rather than the usual somber walk down the the same bridge taking back to his apartment, there is a spark of competitive fire in the resilient Kiriyama.

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In One Line: March began the Winter season off on the right foot with upped production value and a terrific antagonist in Gotou.


Episode 11: Chapter 22- Old Year/ Chapter 23- New Year

Who knew that having a breakdown in the cold of winter would get you sick? Rei’s bed ridden time in this episode was actually a really touching go, with plentiful amounts of reflection on things of value in family and company. The comedy in this episode really felt genuine and wasn’t forced one bit. There can be a lot learned by how well that aspect of the show works when it is firing off the right cylinders. With far more dull ways to show someone being sick and sleeping days away, there is merit in how well March executes the illness. Such maturity will go as an overlooked element the series did so much better than the field, but it is an underdog for it.

There was a lot of Kawamoto drama glanced at (only makes sense since Rei spent a majority of the time in their home) that hasn’t been touched on just yet. I liked the bit on the lack of mention by anyone as to the whereabouts of the father of the family, setting up a potentially heavy swing later on. Akari unloads some of the burden she carries holding the household and just how lonely that life truly is, complemented perfectly by her aunt arguing with the grandfather for why she needs to get out of the house more. To wrap, Rei’s reflection on a dream touches the heart (shown in the normal SHAFT beauty).

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In One Line: Rei falls violently ill, the girls come to the rescue, and Akari shares the final moments of the year with the recovering introvert.


Episode 10: Chapter 20- Something Given (part 1)/Chapter 21- Something Given (part 2)

Wow.

I had to walk away from this one after the credits rolled. Every week I go into this series, I admit there is an expectation that things are going to make tiny hops towards completion with signs of improvement. What felt like a fraction of the viewers departing the weekly commute through March town has all but turned into a desolate island once lively with people who had real estate. Last week gave a ripple in the water to create a little buzz for the slow show, even if it was only just enough to get mentioned in most of the community circles. Opening up this week, things took a whole new nature masked by the calm cadence the audience has been accustomed to- one of aggression.

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At surface level, it looks like a repeat hit of last week’s affairs- Kyouko crowbars her way into meeting Rei again, to gossip about how awful his opponent’s life is and how awful of a burden losing must be on his family. I found the fiery foster sister even more disturbing with the choice of visuals and dialogue between the siblings- using a callback to a gut turning visual we saw back in episode one (one that all but spells something simply deplorable). Doing his usual top tier play, Rei makes short work of his match, a loud troubled man. Pouting his way to what is assumed to be the bar/liquor store to drink away his loss, the man leaves behind his daughter’s Christmas present. Sprinting to hand off the gift, Rei thinks to Kyouko teasing how the man’s daughter just wanted to spend one last Christmas with her father before his sore losing driven divorce separates her family. Filled with hatred for losing, he dismisses the Christmas present, until Rei’s presence annoys the man into taking the gift with one alarming swoop.

Long form, slow anime like this are defined by the few moments that are executed from the building blocks so carefully assembled in tiny bits. Twelve episode series might fire the three or four moments it has in far higher frequency, but one that spans two seasons gets a pass as long as there are ingredients in the bowl for it. Right on the turn of the double digits, March runs away with the most emphatic moment of the season. Staring at his hand in silence and shock, the outburst makes Rei crack. Frantically, he sprints and screams through town as he runs himself to exhaustion in a park. Clenching his fists and bawling his eyes out, he professes the frustration for always getting guilt pinned on him for the shortcomings of his various foes. In his own moment of clarity, he flips blame on his opposition, challenging them to fight and practice through their own problems. Finding his reason for playing Shogi not only as an act but a hunger in him, Rei awakens his competitive drive to the very first feeling explosion by the protagonist. I could go on for another 500 words how beautiful this scene is, but there is a breathtaking aura between the visuals, voice acting and raw emotion of the scene so perfectly directed. It will never be the anime of the season, or maybe even next season, but this show is going to be remembered as special. I’m no gambling man, but I believe in that so much that I would bet my bottom dollar we haven’t seen the last of these moving moments. This is prime Shaft, and a quintessential emotional haymaker that would leave even the biggest skeptics of March hard pressed to not appreciate it.

In One Line: Kyouko stirs up Rei’s guilt again, a disgruntled foe lashes out against the Shogi prodigy, and Rei has an emotional outburst.


Episode 9: Chapter 18- Distant Thunder (part 2)/ Chapter 19- Distant Thunder (part 3)

There’s a certain odd way that March likes to deliver drama paced with comedy throughout- it is calculated and makes for terrific theater. A really good example can be found in this week’s episode showcasing the match between Rei and dwindling Shogi player Mr. Matsunaga. At first glance, this entire matchup between someone who just doesn’t win and a prodigy is either a complete joke in its own right or a textbook situation for some humbling upset to occur (something I was anticipating). While there certainly are flavors of the former, I was impressed with the direction the show took the match. From Rei’s perspective, his opponent was being unprofessional and scrambling wildly. It isn’t until in the last legs of the episode the audience learns of why such an elder player was acting this way.

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After a long winded comedy segment in the middle to break up things, the gloomy situation Kyouko rattled Rei’s cage over is at hand: With a loss, Mr. Matsunaga was going to retire. Facing opposite of one another, the shot couldn’t have been any more perfect for a full exposure of the heart and soul of a competitor. He cries out how all he wanted to do was “look cool losing” but something in him made him struggle until the end. What I find to be one of the most important things to happen yet in the series shows some real beauty- Rei reaches out to the man and talks him out of retiring. It seems like such a small gesture to ask someone if they enjoy what they do, or to keep competing, but it is another thing entirely to see it from someone who only made his first real friends on his own a few episodes ago. In picking the opposition off the ground and dusting off their moral losses, Rei not only grows as a professional and a person, but he defies the chip on his shoulder that Kyouko constantly likes to put weight on. Moments like these make March comes in like a Lion worth watching and experiencing.

In One Line: Rei dismantles the elderly Mr. Matsunaga and spends the evening with him in reflection and thought.


Episode 8: Chapter 15- Teach Me How to Play Shogi (cont.)/ Chapter 16- Image/ Chapter 17- Distant Thunder (part 1)

The odd cat 3D video makes a second appearance as the audience is told that Harunobu had a fit of anemia after getting so worked up in the video the girls saw the other day. I thought this complemented the off the wall fun for a pretty smart blend of a lighthearted moment with very mature subtext. Seeing how involved of friend he is (even going as far as getting new furniture for Rei’s scarce apartment) solidifies who Harunobu is as a not only a competitor but also a genuine being. Admittedly, I was really off-put by his nature early in the show, but it is refreshing to see someone besides the Kawamoto family who has the best interest in mind for ol’ Rei.

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Playing devil’s advocate in every sense of the term, Kyouko turns up one evening and really throws a curveball into the fray. There’s such an unease about the atmosphere of a scene when she is involved, and how sporadic her mental attacks can be made for one long held breath throughout the episode. The massive stomach turning moment had to be from the flashback to when her boyfriend beat Rei senseless, all recollected while there was nothing but a sound of concern for his step-sister coming from the Shogi prodigy. Kyouko’s rotten plot unfolds the morning of Rei’s next match, with her blitz of a guilt trip over who Rei must face next.

“That one moment captivated my heart...even if that brilliance...did bring on driving rain afterward“- Rei Kiriyama

I loved the foreshadowing throughout this piece of the episode, as the “Distant Thunder” title and bit about when he was a child seeing lightning in the day. You get a really sneaking suspicion that Rei is about to lose this match coming up, or that the guilt from winning is going to derail the progress he has made with the depression. For one of the first times since starting the show, the audience is hooked for a “what is going on right now” moment rather than a “what is to come” slow build. I knew things would pick up after that week break, and thankfully it isn’t just the animation that took a boost!

In One Line: The lessons in Shogi conclude, Rei recounts a fond memory of his father and the heinous Kyouko invites herself over to see her adopted brother.


Episode 7: Chapter 13-Child of God (Part 3)/ Chapter 14- Important Things. Important Matters./ Chapter 15- Teach Me How to Play Shogi

This was the first time I had to really take a minute to go back and digest each part of the episode independently, as there were huge strides this week. Without anyone else’s help, Rei finally reached out and expressed himself to a stranger in a very triumphant fashion. This stranger he had a breakthrough with was by chance Hina’s crush and classmate, Takahashi. The spectacular visuals accompanying his satisfaction of interaction really celebrated the milestone exactly how it should be cheered. Something as trivial as giving an answer to a personal question that he couldn’t answer last week is managed to look artistic and moving thanks to the top notch animation taking point.

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“I say I have no reason to win, but why is it so painful when I lose?” - Rei Kiriyama

The second third of the episode (odd, especially given the typical two-chapter-per fashion) started drinking a bit from the crazy potion with a peculiar VHS recorded match between Rei and a competitor, narrated by none other than Harunobu. Seeing as the situation came about from Takahashi coming for dinner with Rei and Hina, the tape can be overlooked by the development there. It is also established here that despite knowing he is a professional, Rei’s celebrity status was not known in the Kawamoto household. Whatever the case, this sparks an interest from Hina to learn Shogi- something very interesting to me in how much Rei was moved by her request to be taught. After all, he said rather hollow words about the craft and expressed no desire for expression. The one-on-one conversation really must have turned the emotional gears (something I am hopeful will spice up the plot now).

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Also, the last third to the episode was a pure comedy move and nothing else. It probably is a hit with most audiences, but it was lost on me. The strange educational song and 3D graphic cats showing the rules of Shogi felt like some bizarre subliminal brainwashing scene in a classic psychological thriller. The scene wasn’t awful by any means (I’m not that much of a grump!), but it can be forgiven after the feeling was thrown on the “high” setting the last hour of showtime before this week.

In One Line: Rei has a pair of emotional breakthroughs due to making a new friend, Hina and Momo are taught how to play Shogi by Harunobu.


Episode 6: Chapter 11- Child of God (Part One) / Chapter 12-Child of God (Part Two)

While it might not look like it on surface level, there was quite a bit going on here in the entirety of the episode. Introducing itself at first glance as a potential vacation episode (the first two scenes involved brainstorming travel locations and a school trip), there began a very calculated juggling act of a couple of storylines developing. The first was in the current time, with Mr. Hayashida (the teacher from the roof scene in the beginning of the show) lending guidance over lunch. A growing trend can be found with just how much more we are starting to see with interactions for Rei outside of the girls, which is a very interesting thing to keep note of. The second, and potentially most difficult to breakdown part is just how much focus went into the comparison of the current Shogi champion to Kiriyama. After the dust settles it is easy to see that it was to subtly indicate that Rei has a lot to carry in expectation and comparisons to other prodigies, but such subtleties draw the line for those who have been critical of the methodical pace of the series.

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The last bits, however, are by far the calling card as to why this show is so worth sticking through with. Amidst reflecting on his early slumps, Rei compares his depression to swimming through endless stormy waters, going from island to island. Stuck on one of the islands, he loses the “battery” to do things as essential as eat. Between the favored shot of water circling the drain, sinking, and the heavy use of dark shades as the damning words of his step sister dig under the skin, not much else is needed to deliver the point (as we have seen). The analogy, however, manages to take what should be overkill and translate it into an impactful dive into the human condition. Couple it with character development in Hina finally piecing together what her sister meant in Rei going through a rough time, and you have a well executed conclusion to another steady week. It may be lost on a growing impatient audience, but it is impossible to resist the special vibe coming from March.

In One Line: Speaking over lunch with his teacher, Rei ponders his intentions for studying in high school and the expectations of being a prodigy.


Episode 5: Chapter 9- Agreement / Chapter 10-Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Aired 5 Nov 16)

To no surprise, this week turned the dial up far more riding off the coattails of last week with a hard hitting one-two punch of flashbacks in each half of the episode. Considering that there had only been tiny flashes of Rei’s situation that could be pieced together, it was incredibly forward of the show for diving into his past with such detail. It doesn’t take much to note that this was the fastest pitch so far, but it is also worth noting that it was handled with the same methodical artistry steering things so far.

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In several of their shows before, SHAFT has always made it their calling card to really bring the most out visually to match the level of drama in a scene. It is a lofty feat to accomplish, but with the jaw-dropping detail and direction between the chapters here, there is no doubt that they’ve nailed another one with March. The best part about things to come has to be without a doubt that there is an immeasurable amount of potential for a repeat of impressive scenes beckoning their scene reading transcriptions into the stunning visuals. Psychological warfare is on the menu for our young shogi player, and I couldn’t think of a better team to convey the impact Kyouko is going to have on Rei (after all, we were introduced to the entire series with an unsettling nightmare of the very same).

In One Line: Rei thinks back to coming under the wing of Masachika Kouda after his family catastrophe, the toxic situation he created within the Kouda household, specifically the level hatred the daughter Kyouko has for him.


Episode 4: Chapter 7- Hina / Chapter 8- V.S. (Aired 29 Oct 16)

March continues to find its rhythm in a really fun spirited episode, featuring a little bit of everything short of the actual game of shogi that has made it work up to this point. The comedy feels organic, the emotions are raw and fleeting, and there is just enough sprinkled in the mix to remind you of where everybody is standing in their own personal situations. Rei sort of takes the backseat in both halves to this episode, as Hinata fights with Akari over constructing a lunch for a longshot crush and Harunobu befriends the girls whilst out in town with Rei. While it can be risky in high doses to do, it is a nice change of pace to have outsider commentary on the growing experiences of others portrayed here by our protagonist.

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It might be argued as still too early to throw it under a microscope, but it really is admirable just how much care goes into plugging the most subtle of hints into the growing plotlines that will probably be bulldozing their way through our feelings in the later acts of the series. You hear Harunobu fidget over his food choices (as his health was brought on the radar last week), but it isn’t blasted across the narrative in some flashback scene to literally an episode ago. While comforting a rejected Hinata, Rei has a brief contemplation over what love is and a rather dark scene is played out briefly between him and a woman. Perhaps this woman is related to his nightmares he has, or it is just another brick from life crashing at the glasshouse of depression. Regardless, this show doesn’t hold your hand and exposition the living daylights out of the audience in a belittling fashion- it wants you to think and it trusts that you will understand what is going on without it having to scream “Look what I did!” for its messages and development to occur. Unless there is an uncharacteristic display of events in the immediate forecast, I don’t see this changing for a large (if not entire) duration of the show.

In One Line: Hinata goes all out to impress her crush, Harunobu is a massive hit with the girls as Rei gets some downtime from his shogi playing.


Episode 3: Chapter 5- Harunobu / Chapter 6-Beyond the Night Sky (Aired 22 Oct 16)

Easily the most consistent of the bunch so far, this week offered an incredibly entertaining first half in Rei’s match with his rival and in the second a discovery that all that glitters is most certainly not gold. The tonal issues from the previous episode weren’t present, as the comedy bits were small enough to only help the the story without becoming a serious distraction like before. I’m not ready to write off that fear as something that might hinder an impressive overall product, but the control evident here is a pretty good sign for the immediate future. The show has one of its darkest moments mere moments after a lighthearted one and simmers it down to a light boil whilst appreciating one of the many beautiful background shots.

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Previously, I had expressed that the SHAFT style of animation flare was as great to see as always, even if it was a little bit much to see at the time. During a flashback match Rei has and bits of his current one, there are shots that really provide subtle visual aid (something that is a cornerstone to most discussions in the Monogatari series) and flex the creativity of the direction. While relying on it too much might risk getting stale, I believe keeping it to something like that would benefit the series immensely.

I had my thoughts before that there was something special in this series, and by the time the ED rolled around this week, I was a little bit more confident that it would prevail. There is a lot more elbow room for things to happen yet, and if they can turn in a dozen more episodes as good as this one, it’ll reach heights well above the rest.

In One Line: Rei plays Harunobu with a recollection of their long-time rivalry and is greeted with a much different vibe from the Kawamotos.


Episode 2: “Chapter 3- Akari/ Chapter 4- Beyond the Bridge” (Aired 15 Oct 2016)

This week’s showing is something of a baffling one- completely throwing me off the trail for identifying the direction the show seems to be taking. I mentioned before I was wary of the introduction of the high energy rival character in Harunobu Nikaidou at the conclusion of the first episode. In tandem with the downright craziness that is another one of Rei’s competition, Issa Matsumoto, the first half of this episode is completely hamstrung in a tonal shift that leaves a pretty sour taste. Despite a pretty interesting play by play of his match, the off the walls behaviors and style the series takes when a character like these two are present doesn’t particularly settle well. It is one thing to know it is a part of the series if the wild behaviors make the characters in question more endearing, but for something primarily being pitched as a serious drama, the “comedy” went a bit too much up the dial there (albeit SHAFT did their thing with making the art choices match the hectic situations).

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While some might wager it is reaching, there is a lot of symbolism in Rei’s early struggles alone in the city before he met the Kawamoto family and him getting safely helped by Akari when he was too weak to return home on his own. That scene and the brief shot of Rei frowning at hearing after winning another match that his opponent was banking on winning to have his sick grandfather was him on television were probably the more redeeming parts before the episode cut into the next chapter.

In contrast, the second half of the episode was simply a thing of beauty. The imagery starts to come back and mesh well with the storytelling as the tone lowers back down to a sane level. What interested me with the direction in March most certainly is just how well executed something as basic as walking to a grocery store can be. Rei refers to his stroll through town as “soothing” perfectly- the music is relaxing, people move organically, and the little details mixed in with the choice of shading strike all marks. My favorite shots in the series so far have come from the bridges, so there was a lot to be found in this half episode. Coupled with the introspective take on how he handled his parents passing in an accident, this is exactly the right place I want to see the series build off of.

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In One Line: Rei wins another match, taken out to a restaurant with his senpai and then celebrates Obon with the girls.


Episode One: “Chapter One- Rei Kiriyama / Chapter Two- The Town Along the River” (Airing 8 Oct 2016)

Immediately, we are given dark and twisted imagery that sets off red flags left and right for the protagonist, Rei. Putting aside what we already see in the stellar opening, a nightmare looms with shots of water circling a drain, flowing through darkness, and our main character sulking under a bridge to the voice of a woman saying horrible, unsettling things like “See? There’s no place for you here in this world.” It all sets up a quick gut-wrenching feeling that Rei is struggling fiercely with depression of some form. One of the more impressive things about this has to be how there isn’t a character who screams exposition at the audience about the character (or in the case of a lot of shows, the main character narrates for so long that they are depressed that it almost overkills the point), and the story simply continues without questioning the intelligence of the viewer. Call it pretty early to give points for, but if it keeps it up like that, it’ll go a long way of separating itself from other series with depression as a primary character defect.

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Quietly, he wakes up and takes a train to a Shogi hall whilst some really jaw-dropping citylife aesthetics are showcased. The animation is done with a very signature shading style that Shaft has been praised immensely for with their previous work. Perhaps even better is that while it is unmistakably the work of their artists, it still has a uniqueness to it that sets it apart. An unnamed man plays a competitive round of Shogi with Rei, posing questions and small talk to no avail. Without so much as word in return to the man, Rei talks under his breath after the departure of what is revealed to be in passing his foster father. I found that the lack of dialogue might really come off as polarizing to someone expecting a “read-along drama” of sorts, however the move is much more artistic (no matter how uncommon it might come off as).

Rei reluctantly gets invited to have dinner with a girl he knows, Hinata Kawamoto, and her sisters Akari and Momo. Cheery as the mood is for him, Rei is crushed and soon falls asleep from exhaustion accompanying the reality of defeating his foster father in their match, ending the elder’s chances for league entrance. Hinata later enters a dark room to tuck in the passed out professional Shogi player to find he is unconsciously sobbing from his nightmares. Rather than rehash what might be a recurring nightmare for the protagonist, I loved the outside perspective of seeing his struggles with the subconscious in physical form. Like the dialogue, it’s not screaming for attention, but leaves enough for effect.

Chapter two offers less as we learn of young Rei’s profession while he eats a Kawamoto prepared lunch with a broke teacher on the roof. The teacher rambles on about how Rei must make a lot of money before storming off realizing his student rakes in a bigger salary than him, all to minimum to no words spoken by the other party involved. In a much weaker second half to the episode, this rooftop scene really carries the load with the teacher acting out serving a pretty interesting spin to the school life for Rei. My gut tells me that if a faculty member to the school has a sort of sour reaction to the income of his student, then there is absolutely no possible way the stoic Kiriyama can find much to go off of with his peers (not to mention there’s a chance they might loathe him for it). The more we are seeing into the life of the young man, the more the nightmares become understandable. I love the “show, don’t tell” approach to things here and sincerely hope it can continue to count its paces as such.

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Later after school, Rei assists the Kawamotos at their shop as a way to give thanks and departs to practice for a match the next day. In a rather sudden cliffhanger, his entry ticket to the event has been swapped by a snickering portly boy boasting about his crime as the credits roll. Even from an outsider taking in the events in chronological order, it isn’t challenging to agree that a cliffhanger of commercial proportions is a rather sour note to end things on in an otherwise flawlessly executed pilot. The episode could have easily concluded as was and the portly boy get introduced in the following episode (perhaps on the way to the Shogi hall or even there). I get that it’s business but for something with so much attention to detail, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed with this abrupt conclusion. All in all, I found the introductory episode to this series to show all the right flashes of a modern classic brewing so long as it doesn’t deviate from the well disciplined pacing and tone it is capable of pulling off.

In One Line: Professional Shogi player Rei Kiriyama defeats his foster father, struggles with the guilt for it, and spends the evening with the generous Kawamoto family.


Vital Stats:

March Comes in Like a Lion is produced by Aniplex and NHK. In addition, the series is made by Studio SHAFT and is directed by Shinbou Akiyuki (The Monogatari series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica) and has art direction from Asano Naoyuki (Osomatsu-san, Saint Oniisan)


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