• Titles: 3-gatsu no Lion, Sangatsu no Lion
  • Un marzo da leoni, March comes in like a lion
  • Genre: Slice of Life, drama, school, sports!
  • Episodes: 22
  • Studio: Shaft

Rei is all set to be the next meijin. After all, he is only the 5th person to ever become a professional shogi player in middle school. And all his predecessors became meijin. The current reigning god of Shogi was one of them as well. But at 17, Rei is still in C class and his career has taken a bit of a slump. He’s recently moved out of his adoptive home so he has to juggle work, chores, bills and school all at the same time. And for a shy and quiet guy like Rei, getting used to a new place isn’t always the easiest thing. Thankfully, he met the Kawamoto sisters not too long ago, and their welcoming family house is just what Rei needed to get his mind off his own problems for a bit and start opening up. Who knows, maybe a happier Rei will also be a better shogi player.

Did you notice that I couldn’t come up with a title for this review? I hope you didn’t. Post titles are sort of my bane. I find it very difficult t come up with good ones but I enjoy trying. And when I do find a title I like, I’m unreasonably proud of it. It wasn’t the case today. Fortunately, I find that March Comes in Like a Lion is already a pretty great title.

off to an energetic start!

Production

All through my watch of this season, I kept thinking, this is an interesting anime to watch. As in to see. The images were great. The art style might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It certainly isn’t exactly the aesthetic that pops into my mind when someone says anime. But it’s a very distinctive style to the point where if you see a character from the show that you’ve never seen before, you’ll know what series they are from even if it’s completely out of context.

Beyond the art style though, March Comes in Like a Lion plays with the images quite a bit. The style changes a few times, or the style itself doesn’t change but the artistic technique does to create striking scenes.

Black and white shows up and look at my great header gif…

Colours are also used but much more subtlely. Basically, there’s a subtle shift from warm to cold colours depending on the setting. The Kawamoto house being the warmest of course, with a lot of worn wooden accents and warm coloured food often filling scenes. The sisters also tend to dress in warmer shades. Rei’s apartment is the coldest, often shown in shadows that make it look almost black and white. Shimada’s house is in the middle and the shogi hall tends to go from one to the other depending on the situation. This type f colour play really adds a lot to the atmosphere of the series.

I only realized right now that it was made by Shaft and thought, oh that makes sense. Shaft is a studio that likes to use cinematic language and incorporate the visual impact into the narrative itself. No exception here. It’s not only a technically good production but an artistically interesting one.

it really is!

Story & Characters

I have been meaning to watch March Comes in Like a Lion for a while. A lot of bloggers I enjoy really like this show. And it was pretty much universally praised when it aired. Not just that but the story sounded like something I would like. It gave me Natsume vibes. You guys know I can’t resist Natsume vibes! and like a lot of series I decide I’m going to love, I was a little afraid to start it. It was already this perfect little show in my imagination, why ruin it with reality.

I’m rarely correct in those feelings. Almost always the show is as good or even better than I expected. This is why I’m not an author.

I liked March Comes in Like a Lion. I liked it a lot and I will watch the second season soon. There was a rhythm and sway to the narrative that was both a little clumsy and deeply endearing. I have no doubt it was created on purpose. One of the most interesting and quietly ambitious narrative pacing I have ever seen.

But I didn’t love March Comes in Like a Lion. I almost did.

I forgot to mention the gorgeous backgrounds!

First let me tell you a weird little thing about myself. I tend to enjoy stories that deal with grief, isolation and loss. As long as they don’t get too dramatic that is. Most of my favourite anime have some or all of these as central themes. However, I’m really not that into stories that deal with depression. And the difference might not be obvious to most. It’s not always obvious to me.

March Comes in Like a Lion is a story about depression. There are themes of grief and loss throughout but right now Rei is drowning and he’s not entirely sure if he wants to try swimming. (I have noticed that water is often associated with depression in anime, I’m not sure if it’s the same in other media. I find it intriguing. Water is everywhere in this show!) And I have to admit, to my untrained eye, March Comes in Like a Lion looks to be a solid and very down-to-earth exploration of this subject matter. I think it could be cathartic for a lot of viewers.

So I recognize what the story was trying to do. I was impressed by it and even enjoyed it at times. But I couldn’t entirely relate to it and it’s just not a theme that usually appeals to me.

Mind you, if it was just that, I would have called March Comes in Like a Lion a fantastic anime that should be watched by all. Some of my contemporaries would heartily agree with this statement.

ED: I’m rereading this as I am formatting it and I think it’s coming off a bit too negative. I really liked March Comes in Like a Lion. I want that come through.

sure, I like balls too

But I also think it overreached in places. There are elements that just don’t work in my opinion. For example, I love Nikaidou, he’s my favourite character in fact. As the series progresses you get glimpses of his backstory and this is one colourful character. But why make him ill, potentially gravely so? His health is mentioned repeatedly but never elaborated on and it never has any impact on the events of the story. It’s just sort of there. Shimada also has poor health but in that case, it’s used to heighten the tension of matches.

OK, I looked it up and Nikaidou is modeled on Satoshi Murayama who had a lot of health struggles in real life. I take it everything back. Best character!

Fine then, instead I’ll tell you the element I really found superfluous: Kyouko. Not Kyouko herself. Just the tortured, oddly suggestive relationship between her and Rei. It took a lot of space in the story all things considered. And I think it detracted rather than added to it. It sort of goes nowhere. I guess you could say the character is used to show just how difficult Rei’s home life was after he got adopted but I don’t think it did. The self-imposed guilt that Rei felt for surpassing all his siblings and even adoptive father in shogi despite not liking the game that much was more than enough to understand his unease. His imposter syndrome was also easy to understand and created tension and drama.

then why?

I just don’t think bringing in another character with messy psychological issues was necessary and because there was no way to spend the same amount of time on Kyouko that we did on Rei, to me it felt tacked on and annoying. After the first time we see her, I remember wishing we could get back to the ‘real’ story everytime she was on screen.

It’s as if the author didn’t trust us to see just how dramatic the situation is and started thinking of all the extra ways a little more drama could be injected. Thankfully, it’s not too maudlin in execution.

So at the end of the day, there were a lot of things I liked. I enjoyed seeing Rei develop friendships with the sisters and get his confidence slowly back. I liked that they were two broken families coming together to commiserate instead of some questionable love story. I love Akarii and I think she would be great for Rei but it also would have considerably changed the relationship for something much more cliché. besides, her infatuation with Nikaidou is way more entertaining.

happens to the best of us

I liked the quiet pace of the show and most of the supporting cast were complete and enjoyable characters. I really liked that Shogi was used as an emotional catalyst. I have a feeling I would have enjoyed the show even more if I understood shogi. I know chess but it’s not the same thing. This said I had a great time watching the competition even if I didn’t really know what was happening.

So at the end of the day, March Comes in Like a Lion is a good show that was almost great for me. I look forward to watching more. Depending on the direction, a second season could quiet all my misgivings.

You might like this anime if:

You like well-crafted explorations of depression.

My favourite character:

I told you didn’t I? It’s Nikaidou. It took me a while to warm up to him but when I did, I just thought he was delightful. Shimada is a close second. Then Smith although maybe it’s more for his cat.

Suggested drink:

a Lion’s Tail

  • Every time we see air bubbles – take a sip
  • Every time the image turns black and white – take a sip
  • Every time any of the cats talk – sorcery!
  • Every time the clam mind is the way  – take a slow sip
  • Every time anything is/isn’t like a manga  – take a sip
  • Every time every time Nikaidou invites himself somewhere – take a sip
  • Every time anyone cries – oh no!
  • Every time anyone crosses a bridge – take a sip
  • Every time Rei has lunch with his teacher – get a snack
  • Every time Nikaidou gets all sparkly – take a sip
  • Every time we see Mr. Smith – yay
  • Every time it’s windy – brrrrrrr
  • Every time anyone doesn’t want to lose – take a sip
  • Every time there’s a close-up on Rei’s eyes – take a sip
  • Every time Rei smiles – take a screenshot
  • Every time Shimada loses hair – take a sip

I save all my screencaps on my Pinterest and you can find more there if you are interested. But I still like to show you a few in the post. If you’re like me, screencaps are something that really helps you decide to watch an anime or not.

13 thoughts

  1. Though it’s been a long while since I saw “March Comes In Like A Lion”, I recall that I enjoyed this series in the main, although I did find Nikaidou somewhat annoying and tedious…sorry! But I do remember being really struck by the visuals and how their almost watercolour-like effect was very different to most other anime I had watched up to that point.

  2. I dearly loved this show. Naturally, I agree that the depiction of depression was so very real that it was outright painful to watch Rei go through it. Been there. Done that. They do use water a LOT. Was it you who taught me that water in anime is a symbol for the subconscious? Because that is something depression will do to you. You get so wrapped in your head that you feel like you are drowning and it’s very hard to swim back up. And really, why bother? Well, like I said, I get it. Kyouko actually made me mad every time she showed up. It’s rare for me to dislike one character so much, but she just … I wanted to smack her. And although I generally am not someone who automatically awwwws over little kids, Momo is a doll. Something I really appreciated was the handling of Akari as someone working at a hostess bar. She isn’t a party girl. She isn’t doing it because she wants a man or anything negative; she is supporting her family, and at home she is like pretty much like anyone else caring for a family, as well as various stray humans who need love. To me, this was a really outstanding anime that I love, remember in detail, and would happily watch over again.

    1. I did mention it in a post on the symbolism of water.
      I’m glad you liked this one! It’s nice to see a show being so universally enjoyed!

  3. What Karandi just said, in spades! Its take on depression was so spot on, the first time I watched it I had to stop after the first couple of episodes. It hit too close. But I heard so many outstanding reviews, I decided to give it another try and concluded that it was amazing.

    Some of the sequences are among the best ever done in anime. Given the story arc, I consider it to be the perfect Thanksgiving anime. There’s one episode that also makes it the perfect New Year’s anime. I’ve blogged about the anime twice, something very rare for me.

  4. This is one I fell in love with and I really connected with how it depicted depression. I hope you do get a chance to watch season two at some point.

  5. I actually had much the same impression as you. I loved parts of the series, then others less. I even found it a little dull at times. But it’s highs were *very* high. I’d agree, after all this time, that Kyouko didn’t bring much to the table. I barely remember her, compared to other characters, and that’s always a sign that I wasn’t too interesting (I can’t always tell in the moment; sometimes characters I thought were boring at the time have surprising tenacity in memory).

    Interestingly, it’s season 2 where everything came together for me. It’s one of those shows that I enjoyed more in season 2, but probably more in terms of cumulative effect than in quality. I thought they were pretty much the same.

    One thing I really love about the show is that side character get to do important things and have huge impact. They may not be that central to the plot, but that one thing they did has a huge effect. Few shows get this right: it’s usually “important people do important stuff”. Shows that can even have a random passerby have a huge effect (don’t remember if that happened here) have that extra feeling of life. Like the world’s bigger than the story. And I always appreciate that in a show. I most definitely had that feeling here. Every single character, whether at school or in the shogi world, felt like they could be protagonists of their own story.

    It’s definitely among my favourite shaft shows (I think I only prefer Madoka and Denpa Onna, but I might be forgetting stuff).

      1. I have not. But I deeply enjoy this anime, particularly its use of imagery and symbolism, but also its color palette.

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