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Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
“I would go as far as to say that March comes in like a lion 10 is bad sakuga…”
I wonder what the production schedule is like on this series. SHAFT’s modus operandi of ‘we’ll clean it up on the bluray’ has often occurred in majorly important scenes, the first that immediately springs to mind is the infamous conclusion of the Nadeko Snake arc. As it stands, March comes in like a lion was already delayed one week – not a good sign of a healthy production schedule. Far too often TV productions are just ‘good enough’, and far too often that’s all SHAFT can manage when the gears go awry.
But this circumstance is a peculiar one. While I was disappointed in the overall visual performance of March comes in like a lion episode 10, the dissapointment is a bittersweet one. The episode is mostly uncompelling save for the visual representation of smell, and an impressive paint on glass scene of movement into depth. And it’s not even a problem of the animation being overly economical, in fact, there is an underlying sense of brilliance to this episode.
The shogi match attempts to invoke synesthesia, visual of what Rei is smells sitting across his alcohol-breathed opponent. The negative image of an unmixed liquid glides across the screen in ghastly levitation. It’s whispy top is breath-like: thin, hanging on the air like a leech, it’s unmixed nature connotes a sense of smell that will not dissipate. The bottom of the screen holds to a solid mass – the power behind the smell. To me this stands as proof that visuals are the quintessential aspect of the medium.The dialog alone states what Rei smells – but it is the visual that gives context, adds the sensual aspect to engage the audience. Being told results in a binary ‘I understand this smell’ or not; visuals provide another layer to relate to/to project onto.
As I’ve mentioned before, movement into depth is one of the hardest illusions to simulate in animation (because remember, animation (and perhaps is can be argued that all cinema) is the illusion of moment, not movement proper). It’s extremely labor intensive, even today, in an age when webgen animators can create and edits thousands of frames in very little time compared to a pen & paper animator. Movement into depth requires the viewer’s perspective to be adjusted nearly every frame and in most cases this can mean redrawing the frame. In this light, using a paint on glass technique makes perfect sense. Paint on glass, given it’s nature, requires that the frame be redrawn no matter the slightest change, and since movement into depth requires such a change for believable fluidity, the coice is an economically artistic one. The work was going to be intensive anyway, and so episode director Yukihiro Miyamoto (Madoka Magicia) decided to artistically invest in that labor. Each smudge and visible finger print left behind adds character and emotion to the shot. The human labor that went into the scene adds gravity to the drama of the scene.
My criticism lies in the final breakdown of Rei. The layouts are perfect, colors are expressive and set a wonderful tone. However the build up to the scene is a jittery, stilted run – Rei might as well have cinder-blocks tied to his feet. What is meant to build anticipation is instead an emotional frustration of amateurish workmanship. My complaint is not exclusive to this scene, the entire episode features kiltered of animation with the poor applications of framerate. And as the math would have it, more frames ≠ better sakuga. I would go as far as to say that March comes in like a lion 10 is bad sakuga – it’s gross. Were it not for Kengo Kawanishi’s amazing vocal performance I would have believed Rei a victim of emotional constipation.
“The most effective, energetic, and emotional part of this episode comes at its end.”
While the match with Mr. Yasui is the central event of this episode, the real conflict in this episode hits much closer to home for Rei. Kyouko, brilliantly voiced by Marina Inoue, once again finds a way to meet up with him right before he sets out play a match. Once again, she displays an extraordinary ability to mix the appearance of a sisterly compassion with poisonous words. This time we get a deeper look into the Kyouko’s abuse of Rei in this episode, both in origin and in scope. We learn that she believes Rei stole her place in her father’s heart when he came into their home. We see this in a flashback to Christmas many years ago, Rei received a shogi board while Kyouko and her brother received only toys. Considering the fact that their father places shogi above everything else in his life, the gesture sent a clear message. Rei recalls the moment as a point where his adopted father’s relationship with his other children began to collapse.
Once again, Kyouko attempts to convince Rei to come home, this time under the pretense of the upcoming winter holidays. Rei’s refusal leads us to another flashback, a single image lasting only an instant, that suggests he may have been sexually abused by Kyouko at some point. The impact of the scene proves especially effective for its brevity, like an unwanted thought forcing its way through Rei’s (and our own) defenses.
The most effective, energetic, and emotional part of this episode comes at its end. The kineticism of Rei’s frantic run and subsequent eruption of emotion in an outstanding performance by Kengo Kawanishi (Rei’s VA) felt like a release from an episode that otherwise did little to inspire much excitement. I’ve yet to feel emotionally invested in a shogi match despite Rei’s last two matches having personal stakes for both of his opponents. This isn’t a sports anime per se, and the source material may limit possibilities, but the show could benefit from a mechanism to generate energy to offset its often slow pace. The shogi matches often feel like a missed opportunity in that regard.