The way 3-gatsu no Lion (March comes like a lion) is written is like a poetic adventure. Only thing is, the main protagonist is in his own story and we (the audience) gets to see what they experience. From that experience, the main protagonist Rei tackles through obstacles in his life, building relationships, and growing as a person. Adapted by the manga of the same name, this is a show that really takes slice of life to a unique perspective.
The creator of the series is Chica Umino. Some people may recognize her work such as Honey and Clover. As such, character designs represented in this show may feel familiar. However, 3-gatsu no Lion stands out on its own as we are introduced to Rei Kiriyama, a young man known for his professional shogi talent. Rei may seem like a successful person at first glance but deep down, he suffers from many personal issues. The show explores those issues in ways that really makes us curious not just about his life but how society, relationships, and a career can influence a person.
From the first few episodes, it’s clear that Rei has talent when it comes to shogi. People even label him as a prodigy with a unique gift. Yet, Rei feels isolated in society as his real parents no longer exists in his world. However, fortune does smile on him as he meets Akari, Momo, and Hina, three sisters with gentle hearts that welcomes him as their own family. I have to admit, those very first few episodes gave me a realistic impression of Rei’s character. There are those in our world where a prodigy can feel so alone. The expectations from their peers, coaches, and fans really put them on the edge when they deal with competition against rivals. For Rei, it seems even worse because of his unsociable personality and the fact that he has a strained relationship with his adoptive parents. On a professional level, his career hasn’t really bloomed in his adolescence years. Sound something similar? Once in a while, I’m sure we’ve heard similar stories in the news before too. Viewers coming into this show should really expect to see why Rei feels the way he views society and how he adapts to make his life better for himself.
There are a lot of memorable moments in this show but perhaps one of the most influential is how Rei develops relationship with the people he meets. He’s not an outgoing person and most of the time, he seems to keep to himself. This is evidenced by the cynical thoughts and narratives he voices in his head. Often times or not, Rei has trust issues towards others because of his past. The show cleverly does a good job at storytelling as we see glimpses of his past in multi-chapter arcs. Rei’s personality is strongly influenced by his past that carries into the present. Fortunately, not everything is gloom and doom because Akari, Momo, and Hina brightens up Rei’s life. They are like the light of his dark tunnel and we see how they are able to give him affection and treat him like a real family. Their influence in the show changes Rei as he realizes that he can trust certain people. Rei also becomes more aware of how being together with people is better than being alone. That’s really what makes the storytelling and character of this show intriguing. We see the mistakes that Rei makes and life lessons he learns from. Rei’s confidence grows and he begins to develop meaningful relationship with others.
Besides the Kawamoto sisters, the show also offers a colorful cast of other characters. One of the most noticeable is Kyoko, the daughter of Rei’s shogi teacher. Throughout the show, we learn the negative influence she has on him. The way this show expresses human emotions is most evident when Kyoko and Rei are in the same segments. To name a few, we got jealousy, hate, pity, among others. The way Kyoko taunts Rei can also get uncomforting to watch with her snarky attitude. What’s important though is to understand her role in the show. It’s not to just to make viewers despise her but also how Rei’s negative side is often bought out in the worst way because of her influence.
That being said, the series also has a colorful cast of characters on the professional shogi scene. Rei’s self-proclaimed rival Nikadou brings in many of the comical moments between them. Kai Shimada, a man in the late 30s, also has influence on Rei as he learns quite a bit from him throughout the show. Masamune Goto, a man that has a very complicated relationship with Rei’s father stands out as a seemingly main obstacle in Rei’s life. From this series, Rei experiences different feelings when it comes to facing off against his rivals. The in-depth narratives accompanied by the inner thoughts from his shogi matches gives us even a better insight of Rei on the competitive scene.
Now, I am not an expert on shogi but it’s fair to say that 3-gatsu no Lion knows its content when it comes to game perspective. While the show heavily involves psychology in those shogi matches, there’s also strategy that is narrated and presented. Colorful imagery is also added to make the matches look larger than life. Even though the show can feel very melancholic, it still has many moments where it can draw an audience’s laughter. The shogi matches, character relationships, and even non-human characters such as Kawamoto’s cats are just a few examples. In fact, the show seems to not forget any character throughout its recourse. Unfortunately, this 2-cour adaptation is simply not enough to cover everything. The manga is still ongoing and as faithful as this is adaptation is, there’s still plenty that are left uncovered. Perhaps another season can explore more options but in a span of 22 episodes, that’s not really happening.
Adapted by studio Shaft, it’s pretty recognizable that 3-gatsu no Lion has its style. While Shaft’s iconic head tilts aren’t the main factors when it comes to art direction, it’s still very Akiyuki Shinobish. Inspirations are drawn from the flashy segments, dialogue usage, and background imagery are just a few to name. It feels experimental at times while demonstrating a superior feel of realism. One thing I was really impressed by is how almost every camera shot focused on Rei reveals his feelings. Character designs are influential by the author’s works and very faithfully adapted from the manga. That being said, Shaft’s art style may not be for everyone but for 3-gatsu no Lion, it hits the nail in the coffin.
3-gatsu no Lion may not be a show about music but even its soundtrack works effectively thanks to the talent of its production staff. The melancholic atmosphere is well choreographed with cleverly timed OST. The theme songs very well fits with the show’s themes. In particularl, Bump of Chicken’s OP song “Answer” really bought out the psychology of the show. However, I think the biggest praise should be given to Rei’s voice actor, Kengo Kawanishi. The way he voices Rei makes him feel very believable especially during powerful moments. Voicing a character like Rei honestly feels difficult but he pulls it off without trouble. Finally, the show’s narratives remains strong throughout the show. Rather than relying on a narrator, it doe the storytelling itself with its characters.
Watching 3-gatsu no Lion feels very different compared to some of the other shows I’ve watched in relating to exploring the growth of a prodigy. It not only has heavy characterization but the psychology of the show gives a unique feeling of its storytelling. The relationship building and realism really gives slice of life more than just every day adventures. Because for circumstances, every day is a challenge for Rei as he takes on himself. Whether it’s in life or on the competitive shogi scene, we can see how Rei develops as a person. I can’t safely recommend this show to everyone however. It’s definitely a show that isn’t for anyone’s taste and for manga readers, you may feel slightly disappointed by what’s still left out in the dark. Yet in the end, 3-gatsu no Lion is able to breathe life with its powerful direction and a story of compelling melodrama.