Where do I even begin? This anime is not just a show for entertainment. It’s an experience, a life lesson. It left me with a feeling of emptiness but also hopefulness at the same time. It was an overwhelming experience, and I am not ashamed to admit that it made me cry more than once. I got in expecting it to be another sports anime; what I got was one of the most realistic shows ever, which stays true to its themes. As Todd Howard once said, “It just works.” (just wanted to slide in that joke).
March comes in like a lion or 3-gatsu no lion is a Japanese animated show based on the same name’s manga. The manga is written by Chica Umino, and she is best known for Honey and clover. The two seasons of the anime consist of 44 episodes. It was made by Studio Shaft and is directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. He is best known for his works on the Monogatari series & Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
Review – Story
Since it is mainly a slice-of-life show, there is no solid premise. The story follows a 17-year-old guy named Rei, a professional shogi player who has much emotional baggage. The opening shot of the anime efficiently communicates what kind of a person he is. The anime is his personal journey of becoming more trusting and learning to rely on others. Despite shogi being a huge part of the story, it never overshadows the characters’ personal moments and the story. It does start slow, though, and slowly introduces the characters and their relationships with each other.
What I really like about this show, apart from the story’s heartwarming nature, is how realistic the shogi elements are. It’s not like the protagonist is just magically able to defeat players who are much more experienced than him. It’s grounded, and the main focus is the personal development of the protagonist. And the writing here is just wonderful. The show is very depressing at its core, but it teaches you to learn to be happy. The protagonist is very obviously depressed, but its portrayal is just so raw. The anime doesn’t try to romanticize depression, it sheds light on what it actually is, and it feels mature.
Also, in case you don’t know. Shogi is a Japanese version of chess but is also very different. And to be honest, I have no idea how it is played. There is an episode in the middle where they try to explain the basics of shogi, just before the more game-focused episodes come. But it’s not like you need to understand how shogi is played to enjoy the show. The game is just a narrative tool and is used to tell the real story.
The animation here is something to behold. It’s simplistic yet filled with so much personality. As I said, the studio which made this anime is none other than Shaft, and they have done a remarkable job here. My usual go-to option when consuming these kinds of stuff is the manga, but for some reason, I decided to give the anime a try. Those opening moments won me over. The animation is just simply divine. It goes so well with the theme of anime and changes based on the mood as well. Animation has a major advantage over other mediums and can induce emotions from the viewers with the presentation only, and this anime is a prime example of that.
For instance, the house of the family who cares for our protagonist from time to time is filled with vibrant color and has a fluff to it. It aims to show the warmth of the house and convey how our character feels there, and at the same time, you will feel that as well. On the opposite end, the apartment where the protagonist lives on his own is almost devoid of any color. The only thing that stands out in his room and has a somewhat colorful appearance is the shogi board. And this is only the surface-level stuff; there is just so much more visual storytelling going on.
The animation also has a unique watercolor style. The landscape shots feel like paintings and are gorgeous to look at. Then there are the openings. I can’t even describe how good they are; you have to see them for yourself. Each episode of the anime ends with a gorgeous end card, consisting of an illustration made by a skilled mangaka or artist.
I will keep this section short because, in a show like this, the characters are all that matters, and I really don’t want to spoil anything. What I would say is that the characters in this show are the best I’ve ever seen. And I also include the side characters. Each character has an extra layer to them, and they never feel one-dimensional. All of them help our protagonists grow in one way or another, and it’s just super satisfying to watch them interact. Especially the interactions between the protagonist and the family, which took him in. They feel so real and wholesome that just watching them talk fills my heart with happiness.
Even the characters you will hate at first will turn out to be relatable. One such person is the protagonist’s sister Kyouko, and I kid you not. Every time she showed up on the screen, I wanted to strangle her(also because the animation really sets a really oppressive mood whenever she is around). She is in clear contrast to the family. But as I got to know more about her, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Literally, the same can be said about any character, you would think they are just one-dimensional fodder, and before you know it, they become just as important as the MC. And when a side character said, “you can be happy anywhere,” I felt that.
I can not recommend this show enough. This anime really made me think about how I look at things and just tug the right heartstrings. Well-developed characters, a perfectly paced story with an engaging enough plot, and the stunning visuals all combine to form what I would call one of the best anime for me. Also, I recommend you check out Honey and Clover as well because that too is an outstanding show.