Sangatsu no Lion or March Comes in like a Lion is a rather wonderfully unique slice of life entry into the anime world. The story follows Rei Kiriyama (Jap: Kengo Kawanishi (Hu Li (Kitsune no Koe)); Eng: Khoi Dao), a 16 year old professional 5th dan Shogi player who lives by himself in June town (while also attending school) and his day to day interactions with the three Kawamoto sisters which consist of the oldest sister Akari Kawamoto (Jap: Ai Kayano (Mikono Suzushiro (Aquarion Evol)); Eng: Laura Post), the middle sister, Hinata Kawamoto (Jap:Kana Hanazawa (Akane Tsunemori (Psycho Pass)); Eng: Kayli Mills) and the youngest sister, Momo Kawamoto (Jap: Misaki Kuno; Eng: Xanthe Huynh).
Rei is also rather socially awkward as he doesn’t have too many friends his age; besides a fellow passionate but sickly professional Shogi player named Harunobu Nikaidō (Jap: Nobuhiko Okamoto (Makoto Kashino (Yumeiro Patissiere)); Eng: Zach Aguilar) who views himself as Rei’s rival and all the others are older Shogi players like Issa Masamoto and Tatsuyuki “Smith” Misumi. Like with other protagonists, Rei is also burdened with a dark past where he lost his parents at a young age due to a car accident and winds up adopted by his father’s friend, Masachika Kōda and his Shogi loving family consisting of his wife, Mrs Koda, their daughter Kyōko Kōda (Jap: Marina Inoue; Eng: Lauren Landa) and his young son, Ayumu Kōda. However, despite having a seemingly happy life, part of the reason that Rei moves away to live by himself is that he blames himself for the emotional break-up of this new family as Ayumu winds up becoming a ‘Hikkomori’ who is addicted to video games because he gave up on trying to beat Rei and Kyoko becomes distant from her family as she is encouraged to quit Shogi by her father and starts dating his married apprentice in an attempt to get her father’s love back. Masachika is also partially to blame for this; for having spent most of his time improving Rei’s skills, while ignoring his other two children. Additionally, Rei had also been bullied in the past which led to him absorbing himself in Shogi in an attempt to escape from it. So one night, after some Shogi friends got him drunk and flipped him with the bill, Rei met Akari Kawamoto who took him to her place to recover from his drunk state and the next morning meets her sisters and thus begins their frequent interactions with each other.
Now there is a stark contrast between Rei and his adoptive family and Rei’s interactions with the Kawamoto family which includes the Kawamotos grandfather and aunt. For one thing, the atmosphere between Rei and the Kawamotos during dinners and normal meetings is a lot more colorful and warmer than with his adoptive family and there are signs that Rei is developing romantic feelings for the middle sister Hinata who is 14 at the start of the series. Additionally, Rei doesn’t communicate well with his adoptive family and his relationship with his adoptive sister Kyouko is a lot more twisted. The twistedness stems from the fact that while they both hate each other, Rei finds himself unable to ignore Kyouko especially in her times of need as he knows that he is partially to blame for her suffering, while Kyouko is frequently dependent on Rei and stays over at Rei’s apartment occasionally. Rei also heavily disproves of Kyouko’s relationship with Masamune Gotō (Jap: Hiroki Tōchi; Eng: Ray Chase), a 40 year old Shogi player who is twice her age (Kyouko is 20)) and who once was Masachika’s apprentice in Shogi. Masamune is also married and has a sick wife who is dying from an unknown disease in the hospital. He also doesn’t love Kyouko (often calling her “Stalker Girl”) which led to a confrontation between him and Rei, which got Rei beaten badly as a result.
In terms of animation and pacing, the series is animated and paced fairly well and there was only like one major time skip at the end of the second series. The animation is fairly colorful with especially beautifully hand-drawn or water-colored symbolic imagery depicting each of the main character’s chaos and discord and lighting. Some forewarning, the animation won’t be to everyone’s liking and opinions of it are kinda mixed with some liking it and others hating it. The comedy was also fairly on point with some instances being more hilarious than others especially Momo’s cute adorable kid antics. Structurally, I kind of liked how one series was more focused on Rei while the second season was more focused on the Kawamoto sisters and the difficulties that they faced. My major gripe with the overall series is that some of the Shogi matches went on for a bit too long and while I liked that there was an introduction to Shogi explanation for newbies to Shogi, the Shogi rules still confused me a bit. My other gripe with the second series was that I think that the bullying arc went for a bit too long and we don’t really find out if the bully girl, Takagi, got punished for bullying Hinata beyond counseling sessions with the head teacher.
Thematically, this series does a wonderful job at exploring societal issues like bullying, competition, depression, mental health and family issues. Rei’s development in getting over his depression was really inspiring especially when he realized that he wasn’t alone anymore, while Harunobu’s determination to continue to play Shogi despite being very sick was equally incredible and inspiring too. However, the bullying arc really proved how complex the issue of bullying is in our society and did a really good thorough job of exploring the various attitudes that certain people take towards to it. The problem with bullying is that there is not right response in handling it and I think Mr. Hayashida really proved that fact when he showed Rei all of the different websites and responses to it and guided him in helping Hinata with it. Hinata’s original homeroom teacher’s attitude really pissed me off though, because her basic response was to ignore it and when she finally did notice it, she blamed Hinata for it! I was also really supportive with Rei’s Homeroom teacher, Takashi Hayashida when he wanted to run over to her school and yell at the teacher, but the head teacher’s response to it was really mature too. I also loved how Hinata stayed strong throughout that incident for Chiho’s sake too.
Musically and Seiyuu-wise, I once again loved the piano instrumental music as it did a great job of tugging at the heart-strings of the characters. The openings and endings were rather evocative of change and growth, but they are ones where the viewer will either like it or not. Likewise, with the casting, all of the seiyuus pulled off their characters really well. Kengo Kawanishi did a really marvelous job with Rei Kiriyama! He managed to exquisitely pull off both the comedic and depressive aspects of Rei’s character and narrations like a pro. Especially, when it came to Rei’s outbursts and objections to certain things like the broadcast where Harunobu is just yelling at Rei through the screen to be more careful with his Shogi and declaring himself to be his rival and friend. Another notable mention is Nobuhiko Okamoto’s presentation of Harunobu. He really nailed both the irritating and admirable aspects of his personality really well and really did an excellent job at showing that Harunobu is the friend that you want to have in your life.
Overall, March comes in like a Lion is an excellent series. While it definitely won’t be to everyone’s tastes, if you prefer an anime series with a lot of emotional depth to it, then you will definitely like this series!