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Be sure to check out the write-ups for prior episodes!
“This is the kind of storytelling I’ve been waiting to see in this show.”
Nikaido may indeed be Rei’s best friend. We transition from the Disneyesque magic of the shogi lesson to a scene where Nikaido has decided to buy Rei furniture out of concern for his well-being. In true Nikaido fashion, he then proceeds to invite himself to sleep over. Up until now, Nikaido has been characterized as a one note rival, with only hints of depth. With the first cour approaching its final quarter, Nikaido has been revealed to genuinely care for Rei, perhaps even to sympathize with him on some level.
Both young men struggle against debilitating conditions, but the way the struggle against those conditions form the strongest contrast between them. Where Rei retreats into himself and sinks deeper into the watery depths of his own gloom, Nikaido lives in the moment and frantically paddles to keep his head above the tide. And Nikaido’s willingness to succumb to his illness just so he can yell at Rei on a national broadcast resonates as heroic all the more in that context. Nikaido’s earnestness has reached Rei and forced him to confront his own problems. By the way, the theoretical anime that follows Nikaido’s life would be a heavier-set treatment of Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto. We’ve yet to meet anyone in the cast who doesn’t love the guy. Heck, even I’m a fan now.
Rei’s other house guest could not be more different than Nikaido in either style or substance. Kyouko’s voice ushered us into the series, and we’ve only seen glimpses of her through flashbacks until now. Chapter 17, Distant Thunder, takes its name for the frame story around which Kyouko and Rei’s reunion occurs. As a child, Rei sees lightning in a blue sky just before a storm and it captivates his heart. The visual symbolism perfectly encapsulates Rei’s feelings about seeing his adopted older sister again, the night before a critical shogi match. The encounter marks the first time in the series I felt like Rei was in danger. Kyouko hasn’t come by for a mere social call. She’s an abuser who has arrived to reassert a form of control over a victim.
Just before the Chapter reintroducing Kyouko, we see a flashback to Akari telling Rei about how excited her younger sisters are about shogi. We’re treated to numerous scenes of Akari being motherly and nurturing with her sisters, but this ends up being the most powerful tonal shift we’ve experienced on the show. The rapid transition from nurturing Akari to predatory Kyouko creates an emotional dissonance for the viewer that approximates the low grade distress experienced by Rei having to face his chief tormentor unexpectedly.
A dangerous tension flows throughout this encounter. Rei initially challenges Kyouko but backs down in the face of her unpredictable temper and aggression. The two talk, but quickly becomes clear that Kyouko intends to twist the conversation into an opportunity to emotionally abuse him. She peppers her small talk with insults designed to create doubt and guilt in him. Faced with this, it’s easy to see why Rei became so emotionally withdrawn.
And yet, for all her aggression and bullying, Rei seems drawn to her. He expresses concern for her and seems on some level to be attracted to Kyouko. In her twisted way, she seems to return some level of affection for Rei. For him, she’s beautiful in the same way as a lioness on the hunt, or a shark gliding through the water. For her, she’s cares for him the same way a spider cares for the prey it snares in its web.
Like a storm, Kyouko leaves Rei’s apartment the next morning, but not before attempting to create a sense of unease about his next shogi match. Next week we’ll learn just how effective her abuse might be.
As much as I enjoy March comes in like a lion, I feel like it is SHAFT’s most mutable work. It’s not that I didn’t like episode 8 or that I thought it was bad; but there is very little notable about it that warrants thought provoking discussion. The symbolic imagery that I was so gun-ho about is absent, leaving things rather flat. Emotions are only surface deep, with everything explained through flashbacks that are explained rather than experienced. This is not to say that no emotion can be derived from March comes in like a lion, but more that it is incredible guided, and most of the time the track we are stuck on meanders more often than it advances.
Having a story pushed by it’s narrative is fine, but there is no way of knowing what a character’s motivations are, and that leaves the show feeling aimless at times. The show’s intention is in ‘being there’, but falls short at times in making things interesting enough. Not to mention having things so guided requires no higher thought or emotional empathy. I choose not to level an animation complaint at the show because that is clearly not the show’s focus, but when you stop to consider that SHAFT is also known for Bakemonogatari, Hidamari Sketch, and Nisekoi among others, you can’t help but feel like SHAFT has lost its visual fangs.
Kyoko’s sudden appearance is indicative of that. She is a femme fatal, but you don;t feel that, you are told that. When she spends the night at Rei’s apartment you can tell there’s a sense of tension: she’s beautiful, she’s wicked, she’s here to make things go wrong. And you spend time wondering what will go wrong, and then she flat out tells you ‘the plot may have Rei throw the match out of sympathy’. This is what I mean when I say guided. There is no room left to wonder, to extrapolate.
For all of what I’ve mentioned, I did enjoy the episode – but I don’t feel the need to recommend this beyond other shows airing this season.
Jimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)
“I was pleasantly surprised by episode 8’s consistency…”
Judging from the production of the last few episodes I was under the impression that March comes in like a lion’s schedule was falling apart, which should come as no surprise considering SHAFT’s history of rushed TV jobs. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by episode 8’s consistency, likely due stronger animation directors like Kumiko Kawashima and Akane Yano keeping characters on model. This quality is further supported by Midori Yoshizawa, acting as both episode director and storyboarder this time. While her ED work on episode 2 was lackluster, here she has a stronger creative voice that differentiates her work from the prior new directors.
The first half is especially strong, focusing on both the friendly and professional sides of Rei and Nikaido’s relationship while retaining a lighthearted atmosphere. Layouts more varied compared to the flat, horizontal compositions we’re used to seeing and the comedy is executed straightforwardly without any additional embellishments. Considering the boost in visual fidelity this segment manages to be the cleanest and least distracted the show has ever been, and though it may not be a work of genius it’s certainly a refreshing feeling. Also, while I complained about the shogi cat ED not being translated for episode 7 the concept is fortunately revisited here, which should dispel some of the difficulties of understanding basic play for Westerners.
Later on the focus shifts to Rei examining his purpose for playing shogi until he is interrupted by the return of his step sister, Kyouko. This transition is handled rather nicely as Rei wanders around the city at night, the sky gradually growing darker, giving a sense of foreboding until he finally encounters her in front of his apartment covered in shadow. From prior scenes we’re already aware that their relationship cannot be on good terms, but the following scenes reveal how toxic it truly is. The atmosphere of their night together begins awkwardly but slowly builds to more sinister tones, not to mention sexual tension. Her monochrome hand reaches for his face as she imparts a crucial detail to the audience about her lover, Gotou, in a flashback quite unlike the others. A silent collection of washed-over frames, seemingly scribbled over with pitch black markers, and carried by heavy bass tones. It’s a mesmerizing moment of insight into Kyouko’s troubled lifestyle.
As appreciative I am of these scenes there are still some annoyingly out-of-place cuts, like the pastel filters used on Kyouko the morning afterwords to cover up the gray dread of the previous night. Fortunately such disruptions are few and far between, noticeably less than in previous episodes, and the highlights more than make up for them. Overall, this is the most inspired and consistent March comes in like a lion has been since the premiere, and hopefully it’s indicative of the series turning a new leaf to approach the material from a fresh perspective.