030: 3-gatsu no Lion
AKA: March Comes In like a Lion, Sangatsu no Lion
Aired: Fall 2016, Fall 2017
Genres: Drama, Slice of Life, Game, Coming of Age, School
Date watched: Dec 30 2018 – Jan 02 2019
Series watched: 3-gatsu no Lion (22 ep x 25 mins), 3-gatsu no Lion 2nd Season (22 ep x 25 mins)
Why I started watching: This show had been on my radar since I watched Chihayafuru about two weeks prior. I had also seen non-specific good things about it, and had some spare time over the New Year to binge a lot of episodes at once.
This show was like seeing two different stories entwined together into one. One was a very, very good Slice of Life tale revolving around Kiriyama Rei, and basically his two adoptive families. The other was a mediocre to serviceable tale based around his life as a shogi (Japanese chess) prodigy. The show is presented with each episode consisting of either two or three clearly-demarcated chapters from the manga, and the narration jumps back and forth between chapters, with the two worlds seldom meeting together.
The shogi side of the story shares a bunch of parallels with Chihayafuru, with the lead character being good enough at the game to be basically playing professionally, even while they’re in high school, but with many flaws in their game that they have to improve on, drawing strength and inspiration from those around them. Kiriyama starts off with depression and a lot of self-doubt, and his character blossoms through the two long TV seasons from an introverted shut-in personality into a much more likeable and open one as he builds relationships with the Kawamoto sisters and his shogi buddies. We are privy to a lot of this development through heavy use of internal monologuing by Kiriyama, as well as heavy use of water/drowning symbolism throughout the show.
Of the two main story branches that we see in 3-gatsu no Lion, the shogi one is inferior by far. A large number of the characters he meets at his club and as opponents are extremely annoying, to the point of being hateful. Brash, boisterous people that run up to him from behind to headlock him (pet peeve) in their sweaty arms, invite themselves out to dinner or drinks at his expense, and so on. Yet, there are some legitimately good and interesting stories and characters in there, and they sometimes take up entire chapters talking about an opponent’s backstory and motivations in a very Chihayafuru-like style, which I enjoyed.
Or perhaps I was projecting, as someone who has fought through two bouts of severe depression in her life, but is perfectly fine now, perhaps I just hated the people that wouldn’t give him room to breathe or were getting in his way. One could even argue that the hateful characters were part of his negative outlook on life while he was depressed, and as Season 1 moved into Season 2, and his outlook gradually shifted toward rosiness, the screen time of the detestable people also got reduced, and those that did stay with him were shown to have more intricate issues and understandable backstories that he just never saw before.
On the flip side, the chapters about his adoptive families were by far and away the highlight of the show – and perhaps that was the intention of the author, to balance out the awfulness of the outside life with an extremely heartwarming and wholesome relationship with the Kawamotos, whose house he described as a kotatsu (the Japanese table with the heated blanket shown in the picture) whenever he stayed there as a guest, feeling warmth and familial love from the sisters despite having no blood ties to them. Warm pastel colours abound whenever he is in their home. This contrasts the estranged relationship he has with his other adoptive family – mistakes and regrets made that weigh on him, and the two play off of each other very nicely.
Due to the way the plot jumps about, it felt like the author kept introducing this person and that event and never really following up on it – this show has plot holes large enough to drive a convoy of trucks through, especially between the two seasons, as multiple giant plot points that are part of Season 1 are barely mentioned at all in the entirety of Season 2, and some new characters are basically never seen again or relegated far into the background. It was very tonally weird and yet a lot of reviews gushing over this show fail to point out this flaw that was super obvious to me. There are some stupid events that make absolutely no sense too, like his school shogi club, and how it starts off with his sensei turning the scientist club into a science-shogi club; and then after they all graduate, recruiting the principal and other staff members into the club. That’s so unrealistic. That doesn’t happen. Baka. Baka!
And yet, in the midst of alternatingly heartwarming and tiresome chapters, the anime suddenly starts an arc in Season 2 focused around bullying – how people deal with it, the cascading effects that it has on family and friends around them, and how important it is to have support in dark times. This arc seems to be the main reason this show got as high a rating as it did, and after watching it, I wholeheartedly agree! To me, this arc was the most realistic, poignant, and inspiring bullying arc I’ve seen in any medium, and the payoff from this arc ALONE made this entire anime, with all its ups and downs, worth watching. Since each season spanned 22 episodes, the plot was never rushed, and was given enough time to for the intensity to build up and then come crashing down upon the audience with tremendous effect. Even the resolution was well drawn out, and not just a random cheesy ending. That arc was so good that I’d recommend everyone watch the first 13 or so episodes of Season 2 just for it, even if it means skipping the entirety of Season 1 to get there.
Ultimately, while that arc still couldn’t nullify all of Sangatsu no Lion’s negative points by itself, the show was still worth my time, though nowhere as good as Chihayafuru. This is doubly true if you’re coming into this expecting a good shogi show – it does not really teach you to play, and it generally doesn’t explain why moves are made or what strategy is going on inside the players’ heads. Instead, the correct way to approach this show to enjoy it is to be looking for a Slice of Life show wrapped around the sport of shogi, a show that deals with depression and bullying and the weight of society, and what it means to have others you can rely on. I wish the show only revolved around Rei and the Kawamoto family, though.
Final Score: 8/10