Imagine hearing an anime being about Shogi, the Japanese equivalent of Chess… your immediate response would be that sounds boring or why would I want to watch something like that? I won’t lie, I felt the same at first. “March Comes in Like a Lion” or “3 Gatsu No Lion” (created by Chica Umino but directed by Kenjiro Okada and Akiyuki Shinbo) has that exact summary, yet if you judged this show by that synopsis you would then have missed out on easily one of the most beautifully written and expertly created anime I’ve ever seen in my twenty plus years of watching anime.
The story follows a young man named Rei Kiriyama who is an upcoming Shogi star in Japan. Despite him being only 17 years old, starting at a younger age than that, he’s winning tournaments and rising in the ranks with speed and ferocity. However, Rei is weighed down by several horrible past experiences in the form of him losing his family in a terrible car accident and entering a very abusive family after the traumatic event (namely his adopted sister who ends up jealous of his skills at Shogi in comparison to him).
Rei is a young man who has created a shell around his heart and soul allowing no one in and slowly suffocating to his own feelings of melancholy and loneliness. Yet as the story unfolds beautifully, we see Rei meet people who slowly break his shell and allow him to start becoming more aware of his own presence in the world.
March Comes in Like a Lion makes you feel for Rei, it makes you feel every narrative statement that pops into his mind and you will find that he is what makes this show that much stronger, you want him to break from his shell and abyss.
March Comes in Like a Lion makes you feel for Rei, it makes you feel every narrative statement that pops into his mind and you will find that he is what makes this show that much stronger, you want him to break from his shell and abyss. Even more enjoyable is that this is done in a wonderful 22 episodes so you never feel emotions are rushed in this series. Each episode (which is broken into chapters to mimic the manga it’s based off of) gives you just enough growth for Rei and his cohorts adding a sense of want for a season two not because not enough was explained but because there can be more to be explored and you want more.
That’s just the beauty of the story and to add to that the animation that’s done by Studio Shaft. You’re going to not only be invested in the word play but also the beauty of the gorgeous animation being thrown at you every moment. Characters and environments are handled well by using a unique almost watercolor-like animation style that when something is trying to be cute on screen (example Momo a character who will steal your heart) it makes you see visual cuteness and when a scene needs to explore power in the form of despair or a wandering heart you’ll see scenes of waves slamming against our main character or a forest that looks endless.
Each episode never failed to deliver on animation and it just goes to show you that Shaft was the correct choice for a studio. Sound in terms of voice acting and music again amaze. “Bump of Chicken” offer the first arc’s opening and closing songs (which is rare for any anime to have an opening and ending done by the same group) and the second arc’s opening and ending being handled by “Yuki” and “Kenshi Yonezu” respectively do a solid job but you’ll remember the first arc’s opening and ending more. Outside of that the voice actors & actresses do a great job with their characters you have Rei being voiced by “Kengo Kawanishi” who despite having very few main roles, does an excellent job with Rei really enforcing Rei’s melancholy at times or bursts of emotions. These small touches allow the sound to really enhance, rather than detract, from the already wonderful story being presented.
Overall, “March Comes in Like a Lion” is a show that on paper, seems to be just about the board game Shogi. However, Shogi acts as a focus, the main story and drive of this wonderfully done anime is that the characters (who note I only named Rei because it’s better to go into this learning about them as you go) and Rei’s growth end up becoming the main elements of the series with Shogi only being an occasional re focus to allow the show to never feel stale or weak as it could have been if it was all about the board game. As you watch this series you will learn about Rei’s life and in many ways learn about the struggles of real life that maybe you can related to or at least sympathize with. If I had to review this show on a grade level, hands down it would be an A+. This is an anime you will want to watch and you will be missing out if you decide to skip it.