Anime Review | March comes in like a Lion

Maybe it’s because tomorrow’s the first day of March. Maybe it’s because this series took a three-week hiatus during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, and I missed it very much. Either way, I can’t think of a better time to finally write a review for March comes in like a Lion.

March comes like a Lion, or 3-gatsu no Lion, is one of those series you’d completely dismiss if someone else hadn’t talked you into watching it in the first place. I mean, why would anyone want to watch a 40-plus episodes anime about a sad teen who plays shogi? I’ll tell you why. This borderline masterpiece of a series is heartbreaking, heartwarming, and everything in between.

 

Trailer for Season 1. You can find the trailer for Season 2 here.

 

While it does have its flaws, the series stands out due to its depiction and handling of serious issues like social anxieties, loneliness, depression, and bullying. It’s impactful and artistic, two words I don’t often confidently use to describe an anime.  

I’ll jump straight into the review and try to keep things as spoiler-free as possible. But before we start, if you’re not a fan of slow-paced series, heavy narration, or getting lost because no one thoroughly explained the rules of a game to you, then this anime probably isn’t for you.

 
Sangatsu Poster.png

March comes in like a Lion

Genre: Drama, Slice of Life
Run: 8 October 2016 - 31 March 2018
Studio: Shaft
Episodes: 44
Source: Manga by Chika Umino
Director: Akiyuki Shinbou

 

Synopsis

Despite being a shogi prodigy and reaching a professional status at a young age, Rei Kiriyama’s life up to this point has been bleak. Personal hardships and pressure from the professional world of shogi drove him to distance himself from others. He moves out of his adoptive family home at 17 and lives independently in a bare Tokyo apartment, where he takes very poor care of himself.

Through the people he encounters and interacts with, most notably the Kawamoto sisters, he slowly opens up and comes to understand not only his own complex emotions and personal struggles but also those of others.

Plot

As an anime that revolves around Japanese chess, March comes in like a Lion can come off as slow-paced and boring for some. But for those who stick it out, they’re treated to a beautiful and powerful coming-of-age story about overcoming hardships, insecurities, and depression.

Through heavy uses of inner monologues and imagery, March comes in a Lion quite literally paints a picture of the internal struggles that come with figuring out who you are and what you want to do, while also coming to terms with your past.

The series isn’t driven by a single buildup, its subsequent climax, and an eventual resolution. Instead, we witness a moment in time – a chapter in Rei’s adolescence – that, like in life, takes us through many highs and lows that we learn and grow from. The characters’ struggles, much like some of our own, are ongoing battles. And for that reason, even if the series has yet to end, I wouldn’t consider its lack of a clear conclusion to be a shortcoming at all.

Setting

I love seeing real-life places being animated. Since March comes in like a Lion mostly takes place in Tokyo, there were plenty of backdrops that will be familiar to those who have been there, like the Sumida River and the Chou Bridge. Even if you haven’t been to those places, you can still appreciate the details that go into locations that make Tokyo Tokyo, from its stations and shrines to its streets and vending machines.

I’ll touch more on this when I talk about the art and animation, but one thing I really loved about the series is its use of colors to create the mood in the setting. You’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when you see how warm and inviting the Kawamoto sisters’ home is compared to Rei’s dark and empty apartment and even the sometimes suffocating shogi hall.

 
Image by Shaft, Inc. and Aniplex of America

Image by Shaft, Inc. and Aniplex of America

Image by Shaft, Inc. and Aniplex of America

Image by Shaft, Inc. and Aniplex of America

 

Characters

As you can guess by now, this is a very character-driven series. For the most part, the story follows Rei as he begins to open up to others and understand his own emotions. Haunted by his past, lost in the present, and uncertain of his future, Rei is a protagonist that many people can see a bit of themselves in, even if they aren’t 17-year old professional shogi players.

While Rei is the main focus, we also get a little peek into the other characters’ lives and personal struggles. The opponents he faces aren’t just players that come and go. And the three Kawamoto sisters aren’t just there to be the family Rei never really had. On the surface, the characters are as plain as they can be. What brings them to life are their stories and personal hurdles that feel all too real and even relatable.

However, with so many characters to explore, some won’t be as developed as others. Five episodes can go by before you’re able to see your favorite characters again, which is such a shame because we can all use more Momo in our lives.

 
Image by Shaft, Inc. and Aniplex of America.

Image by Shaft, Inc. and Aniplex of America.

 

Art

Studio Shaft did a phenomenal job with the animation for March comes in like a Lion. The artistic direction and use of colors really brought the metaphors to life and perfectly captured the emotions and atmospheres of each and every scene. And because it’s Shaft, you can expect their signature pops of color and head tilts. It’s totally random, but not unwelcomed at all. Shaft somehow perfectly combined doom and gloom with sunshine and rainbows, and I honestly can’t imagine this series being adapted by any other studio.

 
Image by Shaft, Inc. and Aniplex of America.

Image by Shaft, Inc. and Aniplex of America.

 
 
Same series. Same character. Image by Shaft, Inc. and Aniplex of America.

Same series. Same character. Image by Shaft, Inc. and Aniplex of America.

 

Music

March comes in like a Lion has some of my favorite opening and ending themes, with a fantastic original soundtrack to boot! Like the animation used in the opening sequences, the opening songs get progressively uplifting and hopeful to match Rei’s growth as the series goes on. I especially love the songs performed by Yuki and Bump of Chicken.  

 
 

Good indicators of how much I love a soundtrack album are if I’ve (1) had it on repeat as “focus” music for hours on end and (2) started learning how to play them on the piano. And I’ve done both. The soundtrack has a mix of everything, from the heavy-hitters and tearjerkers to the peaceful piano pieces. My favorite tracks include “On My Way Home”, “Supper”, “Don’t Come”, “Outline” and “En Fermant les Yeux” – yup, that last one’s sung in French. 

Enjoyment

I like playing strategic board games as much as the next person, but I didn’t think I’d enjoy watching an anime about it. However, March comes in like a Lion was so much more than that. It’s raw and intense, but it also knew when to wind down and not take things too seriously. And while there were some dull moments and metaphors that were probably lost in translation, the series knew how to tug at the heartstrings and remind us of the struggles, flaws, and emotions that make us all humans who are just trying to do our best.

TL;DR

Don’t let your disinterest or lack of knowledge of shogi stop you from watching this series. It’s a powerful coming-of-age story that tackles real-life hurdles, like social anxieties, bullying, and depression, through beautiful storytelling, realistic character development, vivid artistic direction, and spot-on music. And it’s one of those series that might make you a better person than you were going into it.

I won’t be the first to admit that it can get boring and slow-paced at times, but it’s definitely not a series to overlook. I give March comes in like a Lion an 8.5/10, but that might change by the time I finish the anime. The second season is wrapping up soon, and I can’t wait to see where it goes!

You can watch March comes in like a Lion on Crunchyroll.