Suffering Alone in March comes in like a lion

Let's explore how March comes in like a lion depicts how hard it can be to reach out for help in your darkest moments

Hello and welcome to Why It Works. After so many episodes chronicling Rei’s battle with depression and the scars of his childhood, the new season of March comes in like a lion has been expanding the show’s focus, exploring Hina’s difficulties with bullying at school. The show’s articulation of Hina’s struggle has been as precise and compassionate as I’ve come to expect from March, her pain made real through careful animation, distinct aesthetic shifts, and consistently thoughtful dialogue. Hina’s great personal strength was made clear through her attempts to help her friend, and her conviction even when things turned out poorly, that attempting to intervene wasn’t wrong. That, in itself, is a courageous and difficult thing to internalize and something that speaks to a larger truth March has never shied away from: the ways we frame our pain as a personal failing and can even feel ashamed at the thought of sharing that pain with others.

 

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The scene where Hina first reveals her suffering at school to her family offers a clean example of this contradictory instinct. Hina tells her story slowly, choking back tears, as if the words are actively fighting her. When her baby sister Momo starts crying in sympathy, Hina actually runs out of the house, not wanting to upset her family. Her feelings of powerlessness leave her no recourse but to simply dash as fast as she can, lacking any agency but the ability to leave her family out of it. When Rei walks her home the next day, she hesitates on the doorstep, her anxiety about upsetting her family clear in her timid actions.


Hina’s story is actually far more healthy than March comes in like a lion’s previous articulations of this instinct. For Rei, the worst of it comes when he spends a winter break both terribly depressed and also very sick, not even leaving his apartment to eat. The thought of imposing on another even in his worst moments doesn’t even occur to him - he is unhappy and unhealthy, and he has accepted those conditions as his natural state of being. With no one else there to break his negative loop, he stews in anxieties and resentments he’s been struggling with all his life, his perspective unable to rise above his immediate sources of pain. It takes active intervention by the Kawamoto siblings to drag him back into the real world where he can begin to heal.

 

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The charity of the Kawamoto sisters then carries on through Rei’s own actions as we witness the struggles of his shogi associate Shimada. Shimada is a great player, but his frail temperament and bad stomach have plagued him all his life, and as his key challenger match approaches, he’s left almost comatose in his own home. Shimada would also never ask for help, so it falls to Rei and Nikaidou to keep him together. Even when March’s heroes clearly need assistance, taking that step of imposing on others is always a difficult one - for Rei, learning you can reach out and that your health isn't just your own concern, is a struggle he carries throughout the series.


March’s focus on this particular instinct illustrates a key insight about depression, anxiety, and our general instincts regarding self-care. Even if it puts us in great personal danger, we often feel like we don’t have the right to impose on others, and may even feel ashamed of our own suffering. There’s a sense that sharing our pain would mean inflicting it on others, forcing them to bear some of our emotional burden - something that, even if this person is a close friend who’d happily help, we’re naturally inclined not to do. In the depths of depression or long-term personal injury, a strange sense of shame can easily develop - the sense that a “normal person” would be able to handle this, and that admitting to our suffering would be admitting to some kind of embarrassing personal failing.


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March comes in like a lion understands that even if this sense of shame doesn’t make much sense, it is a real and powerful instinct. It's understanding of that fact is naturally articulated in that none of its protagonists simply “snap out of” their bad moments - they are helped by others, who intervene even though those who are suffering never ask for help. The Rei of March comes in like a lion’s early episodes could never reach out to help others because he himself was in such a bad place but, after the Kawamotos help him, he finds the strength to help Shimada in turn. Even though our minds often tell us we should be stronger than we are, there is no shame in needing help.


So it goes with Hina’s story. As her desperate run into the night prompts Rei to follow her and do his best to comfort her in turn. Standing on the doorway of her home, you can see March’s full understanding of her fear in that one charged moment. We don’t want to admit when we’re suffering and when we can’t make by ourselves. But March’s consistent articulation of suffering alone demonstrates that we all feel that way and have all been in that place. Ultimately, the people who care about you want to know when you need help. It is no sign of weakness to cry before your loved ones. It's a symbol of your trust, a testament to your love.

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Nick Creamer has been writing about cartoons for too many years now, and is always ready to cry about Madoka. You can find more of his work at his blog Wrong Every Time, or follow him on Twitter.

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