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It’s been a long ride, and though the story of March Comes In Like A Lion is clearly not finished, it’s safe to say I am incredibly satisfied with where we leave off.
Marlin’s Final Thoughts
With Shaft’s infamous Shinbo helming a story based on a manga by the creator of Honey and Clover, it’s fair to say Lion had high expectations to fulfill the moment we heard of it. And yet, I don’t think I could ever have expected this story being as deep and moving as it was. The year is still young, and yet I find myself hard pressed to believe I could see something present a better story than Lion. We go from a highly personal tale to one that unfolds just as the main character does. As we see Rei’s world expand, it becomes full almost to bursting with other people’s stories and how they affect his own life. I also wouldn’t be doing justice without giving small credence to just how adorable this show is. As I see it, those who matter in Rei’s life are put in a different light. They are cuter than cute, brighter than bright, because that is what they are for him in his life. It’s how the sadness could blend with the goofiness that made this show a real joy. Life is not simply a drudgery, but neither is its joy permanent. It’s how we deal with them both as they come that makes us able to move forward.
Shogi, the heart of the story’s first season, is still something I don’t quite grasp, but undoubtedly the way this show was able to evolve it from mere set-dressing to a powerful metaphor for the struggles of its characters was engrossing. Looking at earlier takes on the show, you can see that Jel and I had gotten frustrated at the constant use of the sport. We felt it dragged away from the more meaningful relationship of Rei with his family and with the Kawamotos. Two things changed this: Firstly, the shogi arcs shortened their scope. Shimada’s story of defeat and seemingly pointless struggle was a six-episode affair. Even the best storytelling would feel strained when we don’t even see some of the main characters for that long of a stretch. In its stead, we got tightly directed stories that cut to the heart of these characters’ personal dramas. To avenge a friend, Rei overcomes his trepidation in playing. He starts gaining purpose. Later, a master in his sport is completely alone and seems to relish in his solitude. Is this the path for Rei? Or will the connections he’s made leave him like Yanagihara, put alone on a pedestal with the weight of expectation bearing down on him to the grave? He seems to have chosen a different path: He will play for the ones that he loves for their sake, he will use it as a force pushing forward, not holding him in place.
For once, Shinbo’s masterful directing is tempered from its tendency to fanservice, and surprise surprise, it results in a gorgeous production to look at. Pastel colors pop in the Kawamoto household, while the cold reality of the outside sucks one in with its oppressively dim palette. Characters are vibrant and dynamic, but not ostentatious or hammy. There may be a classic Shaft headtilt every once in a while, but it was always used to show the emotional range of its cast rather than just look stylish. The way it effortlessly cuts between these two extremes highlights the main theme of the story, Rei is in a process of healing. Whenever he enters the misfit home of the Kawamotos, it’s the people inside it that bring it to life. I couldn’t have asked a better studio to depict this, the depictions would be so colorful one would be forgiven for thinking they had made a oil painting instead of an anime. This was supplemented by great musical work, which, while sparse, always gave a great backdrop to the action, ranging from alienating and heartbreaking to peppy and downright silly.
Now, it would be a total disservice to talk about this show and not give proper time to the Kawamoto sisters. From the very beginning we could realize how much of an impact they would have on the story, but this was always tempered by Rei’s forays into the shogi world. It seemed like Rei had created a divide in his world, one which made him miserable but maintained his independence, and another which welcomed him for what he was and gave him a home. He felt like a stranger in his own life because of this dissonance. The story of the Kawamotos themselves is just as bittersweet. A toddler who has never known her parents, a little girl struggling with the pains of youth, and a woman who found herself thrust into the role of mother to her own siblings before she could ever find out what she wanted out of life. Just as Rei’s adopted mother sees good upbringing in him from his parents, it is obvious these girls, for as long as they had her, had an amazing mother. Each knows how to support the other the best they can, even little Momo in her childish exuberance knows not to make everything about herself. At the same time, their grandfather deserves his own praise for giving them a positive father in the absence of their deadbeat dad. This is a home that understands the idea of charity, it is how Rei comes into their life to begin with. Still, it was never difficult to see the sadness that ringed the bright colors and warm meals.
Then, Hina’s bullying came into the spotlight. Through this struggle, the gap between their world and Rei’s finally found its bridge. Rei is given purpose by this family. He understands there is something only he can do because of his relationship with them. Initially, he thinks he can only live out this gift through money. It’s hard not to see why, the genuine charity he had showed his foster family had only driven them further apart by their bitterness. And yet, his virtue shined through his actions even when he didn’t realize what a difference they made. In the exchange, Rei was able to understand his worth in a way denied him before, and the Kawamotos received another pillar on which they could rest their troubles as much as they cared for his. You see, the difference between codependency and charity is in the freedom of the gift. There is no exploitation where the love is mutually given. As Jel said before, while this storyline focused on Rei and Hina, Akari deserves the spotlight just as much. It is her sacrifice and strength that has allowed Hina to grow up in a loving home and for Rei to find a refuge for his world-weariness. Even if the show never gets another season, I see this as the real climax of this story.: They love Rei and Rei loves them, not in some superficial way, but in a deep friendship.That is why, when we end with the pair walking away from the Kawamoto’s home and off on a new beginning, we still get a satisfying feeling of closure.