3-gatsu no Lion Review

March comes like a Lion has an interesting history. Despite being a Shaft show and having garnered relatively high praise for having an amazing opening episode that paved the way the story would play out, it didn’t seem like anyone was really watching the show while everyone turned their heads towards different things. It really was a shame that this show never got the attention that it deserved, because it truly is an amazing watch.

Story:

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We start with Kiriyama Rei, a professional shogi player who barely attends high school, make his way to the shogi hall to play his routine matches. Quietly, he sits as he plays a game until his opponent admits defeat and leaves without saying a word. After he finishes his games, he makes his way to the three sisters that live in a house on the other side of the river and utters the first of his lines in the series.

A dense, twenty-two episode journey, 3-gatsu’s story is wrapped around Rei and his journey to break out of the shell that he has spent around eleven years in and open himself to the world around him. Utilizing Shaft’s (or particularly Shinbou’s) style of visual storytelling, each episode is filled to the brim with each of our characters’ stories and gives us insight to the personal struggles they live with, or the trials that they’ve overcome through the use of visual metaphors and internal narrative in order to convey the feelings and emotions that are pasted on-screen. While I personally don’t find the style of Akiyuki Shinbou to fit a lot of things, 3-gatsu is one of those exceptions where I find his style to work VERY well and would work pretty poorly without it.

At its core, 3-gatsu is a character-based show that spends the lion’s share of its runtime with character development and interaction. It has this slow but consistent build-up from the start of episode one to the last episode that builds up how its characters change over time, culminating into a something that can only be described as beautiful. But every rose has its thorns.

The show is very dense with content and really wants to give us the story of everyone they introduce, but given the time constraints and just how dense the story feels, many if not all of the stories feel incomplete. Not only that, but the story feels like its running off of the tracks in the latter half of the series by shifting to a completely new character and having Rei take a backseat in the background. While the quality of the series during this period was still consistent, I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated due to the fact that the series at this time wasn’t about Rei, and I feel like this period of time created a gap between his story and the audience that almost makes him feel less important despite being the main character.

Not only that, but the show has comedic moments that hurt the series sometimes. While the comedy that the show exhibits does coincide with the situation that they’re placed in, a lot of it clashes with the seriousness of the situation before it, thus creating this VERY jarring shift in tone that I personally wasn’t a big fan of seeing. It erased the seriousness of the situation and I wished they could’ve handled it better so that every profound statement that Rei was saying wasn’t followed up by some crazy shenanigan from the crazy cast of characters that were following behind him.

Despite that, the show managed to pull off a fitting ending to the series that backtracks and shows the emotional journey that the audience went on while seeing Rei grow out of his shell and ride into the light away from the darkness that he secluded himself in. The ending provides a look into the fruits of his labor and is honestly one of the most satisfying endings I’ve seen in a while.

Overview:
+ Great pacing with a dense, investable story
+ Lots and lots of character development
+ Satisfying, cumulative ending
– Comedic timing hurt more than help
– Second half makes the show fall off a bit

Characters:

Characters act as the most important aspect of a slice of life drama, as without them, the story has no way to push itself forward, and if done poorly, will give the audience no reason to bother rooting for the characters since they’ll have no attachment to them.

First and foremost, Kiriyama Rei, our main protagonist. A professional shogi player in high school with a relatively high ranking, Rei first comes off as an introverted recluse who doesn’t seem to want to associate with anyone. As the series unfolds, the story behind those glasses comes forth and we get to see more of what lies beyond that unhappy and silent exterior. 3lion-01-1-1080x608A good portion of the series is split between Rei’s development in the present time as he becomes accustomed to the people that have forced themselves into his life and backstory where we learn more about how the young man known as Kiriyama Rei came into being. Both aspects help make Rei’s story feel real and impactful and turn him into a character that feels very much like a real person. While we do see a lot of the former, the latter leaves a lot to be desired. I feel like the backstory of Rei in certain aspects could’ve been handled better. The story on how he met the three sisters didn’t feel like it had that much detail, and his relationship with someone who beat him up in the past feels like it could’ve used some attention. I feel like these are both story aspects that could’ve been looked upon, but weren’t used simply because they ran out of time, which is a real shame.

Then we have the three sisters of Akari, Hinata, and Momo. The three sisters had a lot of potential at the start of the series as they helped crack Rei’s shell at the beginning of the series, and seemed to have their own story to tell as a sort of sub-journey that we could go on. But sadly, this never came to fruition. 307aa85198054942169754ba3ca2b53fAs the series goes on, the three sisters are used less and less, and by the time the second half shows up, they’re barely in the series anymore and replaced with other characters. I say this because the series synopsis heavily advertises the three sisters, yet they don’t feel as important as they’re let on to be. Which again, is a real shame because they seemed like they had the potential to give us an interesting story to watch.

I also want to bring attention to Shimada Kai, the character who I would argue is the protagonist of the series in the second half of the series. Kai takes the spotlight due to the shift in story arc that the series has in the second half, thus bringing his own story and struggles into the grand scheme of things. ph01His development plays a lot like Rei’s, where we’re given the struggles he has both in the present day and when he was younger through backstory and internal narrative. His story is a lot shorter than Rei’s, but feels a lot more complete. My only complaint with Kai is the fact that to accommodate his story, Rei had to be shelved off to the side and this change in the writing caused me to occasionally forget at times that this show was supposed to be about Rei.

Beyond them, the cast is filled with varying characters with varying degrees of importance. A few have their own stories to tell, with some feeling more complete like Nikaidou’s, while others feel lacking and I really feel like could use more detail like Kyouko and Gotou’s. Mostly I complain about these holes in their story because I feel like the time constraint with such a dense story forced the cutting of some of its parts, making it feel incomplete.


Overview:
+ Rei’s development
+ General character development for the majority of the cast
– Backstories felt incomplete
– The three sisters feel very underwhelming/underused

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Art:

Produced by Shaft, 3-gatsu comes out of the gate with a handdrawn artstyle with rough linework and muted colors similar to that of another show the company has made, Madoka Magica. As such, the show’s art lends itself to be a flexible style that lets it effortlessly flow into serious scenes or comedic scenes without any sort of shift in its art.

As mentioned before, the visual storytelling that 3-gatsu showcases creates stunningly animated metaphors that, alongside the easy flexibility that the art has, adds to the visual experience that 3-gatsu executes. And since this is a Shinbou show, yes, there are headtilts, yes there are closeups, and yes there are the general shinbouisms that persist throughout the series. (Wouldn’t be a Shaft show otherwise) Despite that fact, they don’t actually use them that much throughout the series, so if you’re not a fan of them like me, then good news, there’s not much of that to see.

Overview:
+ Unique, flexible artsyle
+ Stunning visual metaphors
+ Not too many shinbouisms (And yes, I consider this a good thing)

Sound:

The show has two OP and ED tracks as per usual for a show spanning 2 cours. The first half has the tracks “Answer” and “Fighter“, both by Bump of Chicken, while the second half has “Sayonara Bystander” by Yuki and “Orion” by Kenshi Yonezu where the tracks by Bump of Chicken and Yuki are done in emotional rock while the last ed is done in emotional piano with some synthesizing.

All four of these tracks reflect Rei’s struggle with clawing his way forward out of the hole he put himself in, and with the visuals that they’re complimented with, that metaphor becomes all the more clear. That being said, I find the tracks by Bump of Chicken to be the most memorable if not the only tracks worth remembering. I say that mostly because the tracks in the second half don’t stick out to me all that much, and the style of music that Bump of Chicken just fits the series so well that the two feel intertwined and inseparable.

Overview:
+ Good tracks
– Only about half of them are memorable

Personal Enjoyment:

3-gatsu was a series that I was determined to watch when I first read about it. Despite my rather unfavorable history with Shaft and how much I dislike Shinbou’s style of storytelling, I was determined to watch it no matter how many shinbouisms were thrown at me because I truly believed it was gonna be something special even when I found out that not that many people really watched. And honestly, while it may not rank high score-wise, this is a series that speaks to me personally, and I’m really glad that I decided to watch it.

What did I like about this series?

I’ve already praised how much I like Bump of Chicken’s work on the series’s tracks and how well the character development was weaved into the series despite its flaws, so I want to get into specifics here. I think hands down my favorite moment of 3-gatsu was the ending scene of episode 10. The amount of raw emotion and power behind that scene in that point of the series was a huge catalyst for how everything else played out after that and it was honestly bone-chilling hearing those words, sticking out as one of my favorite scenes of anime to date.

What didn’t I like about this series?

If I may be honest…I don’t like Nikaidou. Obvious characters you’re supposed to not feel sorry for aside, NIkaidou is that one character I found to be kinda irritating despite how big of a role he played in the series. There’s something about that cheerful arrogance that irritated me and I wanted to poke him with a needle so he’d deflate like a balloon.

Would I recommend this series?

Yes. If you haven’t watched this series, I would highly recommend putting this on the watchlist because this is one of the better series of the 2016 year. It saddens me that this show wasn’t on a majority of people’s radars, and as someone who saw through the whole thing and shares his opinion with of many of those who watched the series, 3-gatsu is a powerful, emotional journey that should be experienced, especially if you suffer from depression. Trust me, as someone who’s suffered the same shit, this was a very positive and heartwarming experience to have.

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