March Comes In Like A Lion

Rei Kiriyama was just a child when he returned home from a school camp to discover his parents and younger sister had been killed in a motor vehicle accident. Fostered by his father’s best friend, Rei tries to fit into his new family by immersing himself in his foster-father’s favourite pastime – the ancient board game called shōgi, known in the West as “Japanese chess”. Rei becomes so good at shōgi he unwittingly displaces his foster siblings – who also hoped to become pro shōgi players – in their father’s affections. By the age of 15, Rei is able to turn pro, one of the most promising players of his generation; but by 17, facing a form slump, he lives as a virtual recluse in a barely furnished apartment. Shunned by his fellow high-school students, and tormented by his vindictive and vengeful foster-sister Kyōko, Rei’s only contacts with the outside world are: the Kawamoto sisters – Akari, Hinata, and Momo – who live with their grandfather; Takashi Hayashida, Rei’s high-school teacher and shōgi fan; and Harunobu Nikaidō, a fellow shōgi player whom Rei once defeated in a children’s tournament, and who subsequently declares himself to be Rei’s “best friend” and “greatest rival”. Faced with the competing pressures of school and exams, the demands of the professional shōgi circuit, and the ghosts of his past, Rei must somehow find a way to come to terms with life and find a meaningful space in which to live and have his being.

Based on the long-running manga by award-winning manga creator Chica Umino (who was also responsible for the character designs on the anime “Eden of the East”) and produced by anime studio Shaft, “March Comes In Like A Lion” premiered on Japanese television in 2016, with a second season running in 2017.  Presented in a hand-drawn visual style reminiscent of watercolour paintings, “March” proceeds along a slow narrative arc in which we witness Rei’s attempts to reconcile the various competing forces operating on his life. Along the way, we learn a great deal about shōgi – not just its rules and modes of play, but also its place and significance in Japanese cultural life. Unfortunately, the exaggerated reaction tropes that are a part of much Japanese anime occur with an extraordinary frequency and intensity in “March”, even by the usual standards of the genre; Western audiences are likely to find them both annoying and disruptive. Nonetheless, “March” is a compelling study of loneliness, the debilitating pressure to succeed which Japan’s conformist cultural norms place on individuals, and the interpersonal dynamics that can be both warped by pressured contexts as well as form a source of resilience for those who are struggling with life’s demands. A live-action feature adaption of “March Comes In Like A Lion” premiered in Japan in 2017.

© Text Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.