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Be sure to check out the write-ups for prior episodes!
Jimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)
“…the adaptation succeeds brilliantly…”
Examining the second episode of SHAFT’s March comes in like a lion reinforces the points I made last week about the series being a staff raising project. This time the episode is headed by another new director, Midori Yoshizawa, who has only previously worked as episode director on Gourmet Girl Graffiti, Nisekoi:, and Owarimonogatari. Again, this position is supported by a more experienced storyboarder, Kenichi Imaizumi, a fairly active freelance director not particularly known for working with SHAFT though he has storyboarded a couple of episodes on Naoyuki Tatsuwa’s series. It will be interesting to see if this sort of relationship continues throughout the show.
The first half of the episode is comedy centric, and Yoshizawa spins it in a very SHAFT-like way. Style shifts and abstract backgrounds abound, and even their signature slowed hair-flutter gimmick is featured when Smith is introduced. I was definitely getting Nisekoi vibes from these segments, which is unsurprising considering Yoshizawa’s work on the second season. Despite these embellishments it still manages to be a rather faithful adaptation of the manga, though, which is appreciated.
One of the notable qualities in Chica Umino’s manga are how busy they often are page-top-page. March comes in like a lion is no exception, but adapting it into animated form alleviates some of that. In particular, the shogi matches in the manga can be very difficult to follow if you aren’t familiar with how the game works because movements are represented with coordinate descriptions, much like western chess. Fortunately the anime can show the movements themselves, who while understanding the movements can still be an obstacle it’s not nearly as impenetrable as what’s represented in the manga. This, combined with how much side panel humor is also being adapted into longer scenes in the anime, is likely why there are only two chapters (roughly 30 pages) per episode. Since March comes in like a lion isn’t particularly plot motivated anyways, the slower pacing actually does a lot to helping it develop atmosphere and tone.
Speaking of tone, the somberness present at the end of the episode is handled quite effectively. Tragic pasts are not unfamiliar to most anime fans, but this series handles the theme with more respect than the majority of its contemporaries. We’re already aware Rei has plenty of baggage, something he visually struggles with while alone, and we’re starting to see that the Kawamoto family isn’t perfect either. Whenever this is touched on it’s done with a certain level of maturity, and it is always balanced out with more lighthearted moments. It’s a difficult thing to get right, but so far the adaptation succeeds brilliantly, and hopefully it will continue to as we continue to learn of these characters’ struggles.
Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
“…taking something that faced quite a few potential pitfalls and turned it into an engaging moment of the episode.”
Backgrounds took a real step forward this week, at times asserting themselves as the primary source of mood, or changing shape to allow a moment time to breathe. We see this in the beginning of the episode, Rei escaping Nikaido into the elevator. When Nikaido speaks, his pudgy face consumes nearly all the space in the frame, making him as overbearing to the audience as he is to Rei. Finally, in the safety behind closed elevator doors Rei (and the scene) can breathe easy. What would normally be a 4×4 elevator, with hardly enough room for two, is now a spacious reprieve. In this wide angle shot, the background bends ever so slightly outwards, creating a space that gives way for Rei to literally exhale, and in that moment, the background is just as much a character as Rei. We see this technique again in the supermarket, where Rei is chastised by the Kawamoto sisters.
Character acting pronounced itself as well in a few very key moments. Return to the elevator scene, Rei’s breather is interrupted by Nikaido forcing the elevator doors open, him standing there proclaiming the importance of his upcoming match with Rei. The only reason we don’t hate him in that moment is because we can see how sincere he is. Every minuet detail and fluctuation in his face and hand gestures speaks to us on an empathetic human level. Accenting the scene are the CG tears that float in front of Nikaido’s face, defying gravity much the same way Nikaido defies the natural order of things, comically allowing the CG elevator doors close on him multiple times. Contrast this with Momo’s reaction to Rei in the supermarket. The youth wraps herself around Rei’s leg, refusing to let go, exclaiming all the while ‘found him, found him!’ That’s exactly how a child would act once they have grown fond and familiar with someone, and seeing that brought to life with realistic, child-like motions spoke to the level that the Kawamoto sisters care for Rei. In both cases, the character is the catalyst for the emotion in the scene.
But truly the best part of this episode was the shogi showdown between Issa and our main character. Kenjirou Okada leverages the use of cinema perfectly, taking what would be complicated to show and explain in a medium comprised of static images. The ability to show motion grants the ability to show not only that a piece has been picked up, but how it was picked up. This brilliant continuation of character animation is also carried over into multiple closeups of Issa’s face. As the match goes on, the camera returns, showing his expression growing all the more desperate with each move. What’s more is the accompanying sound and how its use masterfully gives each of these moves a sense of weight. The clack of the ki tsuke and the cut to a title card of move coordinates accents the pace of the game, adding an audio and additional visual impact to the match, and the repeated cutting is a constant stimulus of emotion. You don’t need to understand the rules of shogi to feel what is happening in the moment. It’s the highlight of the episode, taking something that faced quite a few potential pitfalls and turned it into an engaging moment of the episode. These stylistic decisions are ones that I am quite fond of.
CJ Hitchcock (@cjhitchcock)
“I like how you don’t have to know anything about shogi to be invested…”
With our second episode, we got to experience two sides of Rei’s life: his life as a professional shogi player and his relationship with Akari. While that sentence might sound like I setting up these two aspects of his life to be two contrasting things, there are not. Rei handles both work and play with the same strategy, by remaining aloof and silent. One could mistake this as being uppity or standoffish, but Rei’s internal monologue gives the impression he does like everyone he comes into contact with. He might get annoyed with the more boisterous folks in his life, like the self proclaimed rival we meet in this episode, but he doesn’t straight up hate them. Rei’s actions give the impression he puts up barriers between himself and the rest of the world 24/7. To a degree, he’s even put up a barrier around us, the audience, only revealing information about himself when he deems it necessary. It will take a lot of patience and love for Rei to unbottle those emotions that seem to be eating away at his soul.
The person who seems to have gotten through to Rei the most is Akari. Around half of the episode is dedicated to fully introducing us to this character. Akari is the eldest of three sisters, and works as a hostess at a nightclub. The two met when Rei was abandoned outside that same nightclub. Rei was (and still is) underage, but Akari finds him too drunk to stand on his own. She takes him to her house, and helps nurse his hangover. She even goes as far as helping him throw up to quicken his recovery. Since that night, the two have remained as friends and have become entangled into each other’s lives. Akari seems like a kind soul who generally hates to see people being taken advantage of. She’s good at reading people and likes to guilt people into being more friendly with each other. There’s also a brief hint that both Rei and Akari’s family are dealing with the death of a loved one and its another aspect they have bounded over. While Rei’s tragedy seemed to have happened a while ago, Akari’s dealing with a loss that seems recent.
Although one thing Rei isn’t loosing at is his shogi matches. I found the match to be a fascinating watch. It’s not animated like a shonen fight scene or anything, it’s more along the lines of being captivated with how the scene was directed. In most anime in the sport’s genre, the first few episodes are basically spent treating the audience like an idiot, spending lifetimes describing in painstaking detail how the game is played, over commentating each minor action. This show doesn’t insult the viewer by doing that. Instead, we cut to a match in progress with no commentary. Just reactions from the players as they respond to the other’s moves. After each move, text appears on the screen to tell the audience what the play was. Like, “pawn moves to A4” for example. They don’t explain what the move did to the other player or even if it was an effective move, but judging by the expression on the opponent’s face, you can tell moving that pawn there put him at a disadvantage. I like how you don’t have to know anything about shogi to be invested in this match. Plus if you are a shogi fan, the show doesn’t spoon feed you by taking forty hours to explain why that was a good move.
Pat ‘Suri’ Price (@Suribot)
“…I’m going to need something more than pacing to talk about if this show wants to hold my attention.”
While the first episode took its time, with intermittent bursts of action, this one is the opposite. The pace is dominated by all the active and energetic people in Rei’s life, barely giving him a moment to relax. Rather than speeding up as it goes, it starts fast and gradually slows to a pace Rei is more comfortable with as we find him moving from over-eager opponents to his close friends. So close, in fact, I mistook them for family in the last episode.
How fast the show is going seems to mirror how relaxed and/or comfortable Rei is with the scene. When things are moving slow, he’s in his element, or at least near it. He’s relaxed, has a grasp on the situation, and has time to think. It’s when we get his internal monologues. When people are talking fast and loud, Rei is visibly uncomfortable, trying to escape the scene out the back doors, and overall seeming like he doesn’t want to be there. He’s comfortable with Akari and her sisters when it’s nice and quiet. Relatively quiet, anyway.
The exception to this (or perhaps an accentuation of this) is near the end of the episode when Rei starts thinking back to his own family. It’s when this episode feels its slowest, like he’s getting mired in the past, unable to work past it. We learn his parents (and his sister?) died in a car crash and he finds himself wondering when he stopped crying about it. He is uncomfortable with hustle and bustle, relaxed when all is quiet, but when it’s too quiet, he begins going to that dark place we all have. It makes me wonder if he’s only comfortable when it’s quiet because it’s something he’s used to and it’s a path to coming to terms with the way he is and the way he handled grief. Or, he could just be an introvert. It’s still too early to say. I still am enjoying this, but I’m going to need something more than pacing to talk about if this show wants to hold my attention.