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Episode 1 | Episode 2
“…shogi does not allow Kiryama to entirely elude emotional pain.”
Grief comes in like a fucking lion.
Kiryama is stuck. He’s stuck because he is afraid of letting that lion have its way with his heart. This is not an irrational fear, as an encounter with that lion, and the fallout from that encounter, can shape the course of one’s life. The final scene of this episode contrasts one who has hidden from grief with one who is letting it in. Hina and Kiryama stare across the river and into the summer sky as different people, in part due to their emotional responses to loss.
Of course, different biological and environmental factors make certain people more or less predisposed to respond to loss in certain ways. Kiryama himself struggles to see the logic in the elaborate ceremony for Hina’s deceased mother and grandmother. To him, it just seems like that family is needlessly opening themselves up to the stress and suffering he has spent his entire life avoiding by escaping into shogi.
Ironically, shogi does not allow Kiryama to entirely elude emotional pain. He is a shogi genius, a rising star in the game who sweeps aside all before him (at least according to what we’ve seen so far). But, because he is so good, he doesn’t lose. He’s always breaking people’s hearts. Kiryama is forced to endure sitting across from his opponents as they come to terms with their defeat. We see this episode that this experience can be uncomfortable and difficult for him; after all, these people have put so much effort and energy into the game, but Kiryama’s shogi is the block they break themselves against.
Much like his opponents, Kiryama has hit a wall. The question is, will follow his opponents’ example and keep moving forward? As he watches over a weeping Hina, Kiryama begins to question whether his response to his own familial loss was the correct one. Sure, Hina and her family are opening themselves up to be ravaged by that lion, but this openness also seems to allow them to move forward. Perhaps future episodes will show us that Kiryama, with help from his friends, will take steps to move forward as well.
Jimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)
“…packs an emotional punch that’s rare to see in a show only three weeks in.”
This week’s March Comes in like a Lion begins to uncover some of the more dramatic conflicts that lay beneath the unassuming slice of life narrative of the series. It is led by director Takaaki Kidokoro, who has at least been working in the industry for some time, and is supported by Toshimasa Suzuki, a well-known storyboard artist at SHAFT. The difference in experience between this team and those who helmed the last two episodes is made apparent by their more nuanced control over the visuals and tone throughout, and their combined skills make this the best episode of the series thus far.
The first half is marked by two similar shogi matches between Rei and his rival Nikaido, one from the past and the other in the present. While both take place during the summer, the flashback scene that the episode leads with is sweltering, carefully adjusting the saturation to create the illusion of heat that turns the rooftop tournament into a personal hell for both children. In contrast, the other match loses the oppressive atmosphere to an air of professionalism. Movements are measured at first, but become more passionate and exaggerated as the scene goes on. While the outcome is the same in both matches, the way they’re presented shows that the two have grown beyond the limitations of their past, and Nikaido will not let sun nor sickness affect his determinations to surpass his rival.
The ending of the episode reveals the wounded Kawamoto sisters as they remember the loss of their mother and grandmother on the last day of Oban. While initially the grief is restrained in the presence of company, Hinata trails off to let her emotions out. This scene, while simple, packs an emotional punch that’s rare to see in a show only three weeks in. Hopefully there are many more moments like this to come.
I must mention Yukari Hashimoto, best known for her snappy pop compositions in series like Toradora and Penguindrum, for her more restrained yet greatly effective work so far in March Comes in like a Lion. I was particularly surprised by the complexity of her piano piece at the beginning of the second match, naturally supporting the set tempo of the scene while trading between delicate phrases and more vigorous ones. Even if the internal narration was removed during this bit I feel the thoughts and feelings of the players are perfectly communicated through the interactions of the animation and music. That is a truly great achievement for any anime.
CJ Hitchcock (@cjhitchcock)
“It’s tiny details in the animation that make this show fascinating to watch.”
The Shogi match between Rei and Harunobu was intriguing to watch from both a narrative standpoint and a visual perspective. Story wise, we learn that Rei and Harunobu have ultimately been playing the same match every time they play. The game last far longer than a traditional match, Rei constantly underestimates Harunobu’s skills and determination to beat him and every time they play, Harunobu puts serious strain on his physical health. While Rei sees these games against Harunobu as predictable, you get the sense Rei doesn’t like playing against him because you get the feeling he doesn’t want to hurt Harunobu. Not just physically, but Rei knows that their pride won’t let them throw away the match to get it to end faster. Even though Harunobu is constantly being pushed to his limits, he still enjoys the game and loves giving the games his literal all.
And when I say these matches physically hurt Harunobu, you can see it. One of the biggest factors that goes against him in these matches is the heat. In previous episodes, the wind has been a constant presence, but when the temperature rises, the wind disappears. All of those subtle movements caused by the wind stops and everything becomes eerily still. While these characters sit in the shade, they sweat and and fidget in their seats uncomfortably. While Rei is doing both of these things, Harunobu’s displaying twice the level of uncomfort. Sweat drenches his body, his breathing is heavy and his face looks like it’s in pain. The cleaver way this is set up is at the beginning, you’re not really sure if Harunobu’s face looks that way because he’s in excruciating pain or if he’s a sore loser. It’s these tiny details in the animation that make this show fascinating to watch.
If I have one complaint at this point in the series, it’s the episode length. So far each episode has been split into two chapters. For example, Episode three covered Chapters five and six. Both of these chapters contain full stories and don’t really blend well from the first half of the episode to the last half. Each chapter feels like an individual episode that should be on its own. Where this becomes a slight issue is in the order of events depicted in the show. Our last episode ended on Chapter four, which was about Akari’s family celebrating Obon. Episode three picks up on Chapter five which is the match between Rei and Harunobu, and Chapter six is more of Akari’s family dealing with the ending of Obon. For me, I feel like it would make more sense if the chapters dealing with Obon were next to each other instead of having a brief pause in between. Now structure wise, it makes sense to end the episode on Obon because that chapter has a big emotional moment that ended the episode on a powerful note that reflected on the nature of death and Rei shutting himself off from feeling the emotions that come with death. This moment probably wouldn’t of work as well if it was in the middle of the episode and we moved on to other things. With that being said, I feel as though if each episode was a single chapter, you could reposition these scenes around and not loose any context or emotional impact for either chapter. Ten minute long episode series are starting to get more popular and I wonder if that’s what this was originally suppose to be, because I don’t see how having two chapters in one episode benefits the story outside of being able to tell the story faster. This is a very minor nitpick and doesn’t really effect the show in anyway, but I do wonder about it while I watching.
Pat ‘Suri’ Price (@Suribot)
“Rei does not announce his intentions, ….he takes his quiet determination and he just does it.”
In a vacuum, people are complicated. When people interact, that complexity multiplies. Rei’s internal monologue is largely about his interactions with other people, his interpretations thereof, and the results of his judgments. He feels some measure of regret or guilt over his first match with Harunobu, trying to expedite the match to spare him the heat, and not realizing how insulting and arrogant that was. It does, however, highlight a facet of Rei Kiriyama that has not been focused upon. He was concerned for Harunobu’s safety and comfort, since he seemed to be in distress from the heat. He acknowledged this and remembered this, so he tried to in as quickly as possible to get him out of the heat.
Something the show does not focus on, something Rei does not mention in his narration, is that the thought of losing did not occur to him. Even as a child, when the competition did not matter, the notion of losing did not cross his mind. Rei, who otherwise seems totally listless and merely going through the motions, has a burning desire to win.
“The human sitting in front of me, drenched in sweat and reeling from the sun, was here because he wanted to win.”
This kind of motivation, where the notion of a loss or taking pity on an opponent because they’re hurting doesn’t even occur to the protagonist, is normally a hot-blooded shonen protagonist trait. They grit their teeth, they scream, they yell about grasping victory with both hands. Rei does not announce his intentions, he does not burn and seethe, he takes his quiet determination and he just does it. It’s small, but it’s the hook I needed to keep me going.
Rei is someone interesting to observe. He doesn’t quite connect with people, he doesn’t seem to have a very good grasp on how other people feel. He’s quiet, he’s inward-focused and a type of protagonist that’s refreshing in how different he is. I said last week I needed more than pacing and now I have it.