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Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5
“For me this resulted in the episode dragging more than usual…”
In this episode of March comes in like a lion, Rei spends a lot of time examining his relationship with shogi and what it means to him. In becoming a pro shogi player, Rei built a life around the only thing where he feels a sense of agency. His mastery grants him a shield against a world that hasn’t offered much in the way of compassion or comfort, but that shield comes at a price. Having already lost his family and home, Rei has also sacrificed opportunities to develop bonds with other people due to the demands his job (playing matches, studying the game, and practicing new strategies). In return, he’s developed a sense of security and worth born of his singular talent for the game. It’s a security that built entirely on his own competence and winning, and therein lies the problem.
After losing two matches in a row, Rei finds himself backsliding into despair, which deepens once he realizes he’s lost a shot at advancing in professional rank. In becoming a pro, Rei has begun to feel pressure the space in his life where he feels safest. His status as a shogi prodigy has created expectations for his career and he’s unsure if his talent can meet the demands placed upon it. Passion has never driven Rei’s pursuit of the game and now he has begun to wonder why he’s working so hard in the first place. The scene in this episode where Rei struggles to swim to an island metaphorically represents his inner turmoil over shogi. He’s arrived at a place where, if he embraces stagnation, he could stay forever. He could reject expectation and stop trying to improve, and focus on maintaining his current rank. In the same vein, he could stop attempting to reach out for social connections and be alone. But as he says in the beginning of the episode: “I want to go somewhere”. Both in shogi and in life, Rei seeks change.
Rei has begun to realize the limits of what shogi can do to fill the void in his life or serve as a distraction to his despair and unresolved feelings over the loss of his family. He wants to leave his pain and guilt behind, and it marks a significant step for him in fighting his depression. Despite his progress, Rei won’t be able to move forward alone. In this episode, we see people that care about Rei attempt different methods of reaching him. Mr. Hayashida, Rei’s homeroom teacher, encourages him to get into student life and tries to reach out to him during a scene where they’re eating together in a stairwell. Hayashida’s approach, that of an adult wary of a teenager shutting down, does little to reach Rei. By contrast, Hina Kawamoto tries to reach Rei with the overwhelming force of earnest enthusiasm that only a child can bring to bear. In this case, the forceful approach helps a listless Rei move forward, and he eventually agrees to coming over for dinner.
This episode starts off with a light and upbeat family scene and quickly shifts into an even more dark, listless tone than usual as Rei’s shogi troubles come into focus. For me this resulted in the episode dragging more than usual, in a show that often feels slow paced. The oft-used technique of punctuating the episode with jokes or brightly hued shots didn’t do much to invigorate things for me this time. The use of water imagery throughout the show to visualize and create a tactile sense of Rei’s deep depression and lethargy, already apart of the opening and closing of each episode, has begun to feel overused for me. Overall, this wasn’t March comes in like a lion’s strongest episode. The next episode suggests a brighter tone, and after slogging through this episode I’ll be looking forward to it.
CJ Hitchcock (@cjhitchcock)
“The direction in this episode felt lackadaisical.”
While trying to depict a character with depression is no small feat, trying to capture how other people respond to those with depression is an even harder feat to accomplish. If a character isn’t completely supportive of the depressed character, they can come across as a short sighted dick. March comes in like a lion episode 6 attempts to tackle this with mixed results. On one end of the spectrum you have Rei’s teacher, Mr. Hayashida, who’s not very tactful; the other is Hina, who’s overthinking her actions. While both characters do care about Rei and are legitimately trying to help him cope with his issues, they don’t go about it in the best way.
Mr. Hayashida is very direct in telling Rei that he needs to start caring for himself if he wants to be happy. While good advice, Mr. Hayashida is a few steps away from being that guy who thinks depression is like an on/off switch Rei has the ability to control at will. Instead of telling him how he was supposed to achieve this mindset, he only told him what needed to be accomplished. Rei has achieved his dream as far as Mr. Hayashida is concerned. Because of this, one can get the impression that Mr. Hayashida is jealous of Rei’s success. There’s a sense of bitterness in his tone when he talks to Rei. A tone that says, “There’s no need for him to be sad when he’s accomplished so much.” Even so, he knows he shouldn’t hold it against him and offers decent life advice. The problem is, Mr. Hayashida handles it like a bad algebra teacher. He’ll say what the answer is without explaining how you get to that answer.
Hina, on the other hand, knows it’ll be rude to just say, ‘Stop being sad’, and offers the suggestion of having diner at her place. While Hina is trying to show Rei that he is appreciated, she’s not offering a solution to Rei’s bigger problems. While distractions are good, that’s ultimately all they are, distractions. You don’t fix a broken bridge by taking an alternate route. You might still get to where you need to go, but that bridge is still unusable. Hina’s problem is that she’s still a child, and thus approaches the problem like a child. Rei is sad. Eating my sister’s food makes Rei happy. So ‘Rei + Food = Happiness’. Boom! Problem solved, right?
While Hina and Mr. Hayashida miss their marks, the series still depicts both as well intentioned. Even with that being the case, both of them feel like simple viewpoints of depression from those who are witnessing it. One handles the problem head on, while the other dances around the issue. Both cases do have thought put into their reasoning for handling the topic in the way that they did, but it still falls a bit short.
Asides from that, the direction in this episode felt lackadaisical. While a majority of this episode is just talking heads, the episode uses a lot of traditional SHAFT tricks to make the episode visually interesting. The most notable of these tricks is the use of the SHAFT Head Tilt, a.k.a. the close up of the character’s face while turning towards the camera. This bit of animation is used multiple times by multiple characters in this one episode, almost to the point where it’s obnoxious. While I don’t have a problem with the shot itself, it’s overuse is tiring. It feels as though they knew this was going to be a dialogue heavy episode with little chance of using visual symbolism, so they fell back on their old tricks in hopes the next episode will provide them with better moments.
Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
“ If the show continues in slow, deep breathes of tragedy it will slowly lull into the position of being the most bland modern SHAFT show. ”
I feel like it’s time for the show to move forward. Episode 6 spends a good amount of time detailing why Rei feels so gloomy, taking time to allow the viewer to bathe in the emotion. It’s a pretty real depiction of melancholy and emotional defeat. Rei states that he could be happy if he learns to accept stagnation, and the show has successfully conveyed that message – in fact, I fear it might be stuck in this mode. While each of the characters are developed enough for me to be invested, I have yet to share in their triumphs. What doesn’t help was the lack of a distinguished boundary memory sequences and flash backs. There is a merit to this, in that all these moments feel ever present and connected, but it’s another reason the plot feels restrained.
I am starting to reconsider Jimmy Gnome’s comments made last episode concerning the problems with pacing. If the show continues in slow, deep breathes of tragedy it will slowly lull into the position of being the most bland modern SHAFT show. That being said, now is the perfect time for the focus to shift to Rei rebuilding his life and advancing his career. Coming off of two loses, a victory (and a focus on that victory) would be a huge emotional payoff. And since highs are often defined by their lows, another tragedy can strike right at the end of the episode. I say this as if the source material isn’t already out there, but at least it would feel like a step forward.
Jimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)
“By giving us time to dwell … we’re allowed a greater opportunity to empathize…”
Pacing is one of the most important aspects of any adaptation from written-and-read material to something that is watched in a discrete amount of time. When creating a manga the author has no control over how quickly the reader moves from page to page and many choose to consider the form of their drawings to influence the relative speed at which their audience experiences the story. By filling a page with a single moment or using progressive paneling a reader can be guided to pause and reflect or fly through a scene by a skillful mangaka. When transitioning this natural flow into animation these nuances are often misunderstood by directors who have total control over how quickly events occur, and even the closest to source adaptations can have issues with pacing for this reason.
March comes in like a lion’s pacing can be a double-edged sword. So far it has kept an extremely rigid schedule of two chapters per episode, with the only exception being this week’s preview of chapter 13 that takes place after the ending credits. This is extremely slow for most adaptation standards, but on paper it seems like it would suit this slice-of-life drama rather well. Slow pacing can do wonders for characterizing both setting and cast or creating a specific tone, and SHAFT has had experience with this style through their work on Hidamari Sketch, but as I mentioned last week it can often make fleeting memories come off as heavy handed.
Yet this episode works fairly well with its set pacing. Instead of focusing directly on dramatic moments or tragic histories it seems more interested in conveying Rei’s state of mind, his loneliness. By giving us time to dwell on his thoughts and emotions we’re allowed a greater opportunity to empathize and relate with his depression, something which actually improves upon the short collection of pages it draws from. There is one scene in particular that left a strong impression on me, a thirty-second long moving painting of a Rei swimming on the horizon of a blood-red sea. The image and music are so effective in combination that the following narration is practically superfluous, an excellent example of using the advantages of a medium to their fullest extent.
Unfortunately not all of the episode is so high quality. Storyboarder Hiroko Kazui, a Monogatari and Nisekoi vet, forces the SHAFTisms in a characteristically shallow way, although most of the comedy scenes aren’t hindered. I’d presume most of the genius comes from episode director Sou Toyama, relatively inexperienced but free from SHAFT’s influence. It seems the further we avoid studio trappings the more successful an adaptation March Comes in like a lion becomes.
“If the show continues in slow, deep breathes of tragedy it will slowly lull into the position of being the most bland modern SHAFT show.”
But is that inherently an issue? Given how eccentric and quirky Shaft can be with its approach on the medium, something more slower and methodical actually feels a bit refreshing coming from them. Sure it maybe bland, but a little vanilla tastes good when the ice cream store has primarily served exotic flavors for last few years.
Regardless this was well done Josh. Jimmy also did a wonderful job.
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