Hello everyone, and welcome to Why It Works. Today I’d like to do some exploring of March comes in like a lion, and how its most recent conflicts have flipped the script on its protagonist Rei Kiriyama. Rei began this series as a boy who was almost entirely dependent, in spite of his defiant attempts to become a self-reliant young man. Though he paid for his own apartment and worked as a professional shogi player, his personal life was a depressive abyss, and it was only through the support of friends like Nikaidou Harunobu and the Kawamoto sisters that he was able to overcome his own worst instincts. Eventually, Rei rose out of that terrible place; and recently, from an initial position of only being able to languish in his unhappiness, he’s arrived at a point where he wants to pay back the support others have given him and materially improve the lives of the people he loves.
Unfortunately, just as March is keen enough to emphasize the difficulty of reaching out for help, so too does it understand that sometimes our ability to help others is tragically limited. Across its most recent arcs, March has consistently articulated the limitations of our concern and the pain of having to exhibit restraint when our friends are hurting. Sometimes, actually not running to our friends to help, allowing them to fight their own battles, can simultaneously be the best and hardest thing we can do for them.
This is vividly clear in the conflict of the middle Kawamoto sisters, Hina. Hina’s issues with being bullied at school were initially born in her own desire to save her friend, a girl who ultimately transfer schools. Though her friend’s oppressors then turned to her, much of Hina’s current unhappiness comes down to her own feeling of prior powerlessness, her shame at being unable to save her friend. But here in the present, with Hina now the immediate target of bullying, that sense of powerlessness must be shared by her own loved ones.
Though March does nothing to undercut the terrible nature of Hina’s struggle, it’s also quick to underline how little her friends and family can actually do. If Hina’s big sister Akari were to step in, Hina would likely become even more of a pariah at school, and there’s no guarantee things would improve in any way. Though both Rei and even his own teacher-confidant Hayashida would like to help, their hands are likewise tied by their remoteness from the conflict. Having finally embraced his own agency, Rei is now forced to stew in this powerlessness, and simply act out his rage in his own mind. Akari's position seems even more painful, as she must now only sit and watch as Hina follows through on the once-simple lessons she herself taught her. The most difficult battle now is letting Hina’s own desires take the lead, and simply being there for her when she needs support.
This conflict centered on the pain of restraint culminates in the Newcomer Tournament finals, a shogi match the show has been building towards all season. Rei’s opponent in this match is Junkei Yamazaki, a man whose own semi-final match saw him defeating Rei’s friend and rival Nikaidou. Junkei didn’t just defeat Nikaidou - through his incredibly slow and methodical play, he ended up aggravating Nikaidou’s consistent poor health, bringing Rei’s friend to the point of outright collapsing on the table. Here in the finals, with Nikaidou still marooned in a hospital from his match, Rei wishes for nothing more than to strike back for Nikaidou’s sake, to play rashly and rapidly, to shake Junkei and make him pay for what he did.
It’s a credit to Rei’s strength and a validation of his overall journey that our hero manages to hold back. Even though Rei’s love of his friend compels him to rash action for Nikadou’s sake, sacrificing his potential victory to make a statement isn’t what Nikaidou would want. Instead of acting on his anger and love, Rei slows down, and the last act of this match turns into a painful and meditative affair. Clenching his teeth as he moves one piece after another, Rei exhibits true strength here, paradoxically pressing down on his desire to help his friend for the sake of that friend.
The silver lining of this painful conflict is that sometimes, being there for your friend is more than enough. Rei is “rewarded” with victory in the Newcomer Tournament, but his true reward comes later when he’s finally able to act on his love for his friends. Rushing to where Hina is suffering alone on her school trip, he, at last, finds a moment where simply being there is all he needs to do, where the concern of a loved one is all that one of his dear friends needs. Rei will certainly continue to struggle in expressing his love and helping his friends, but even if we can’t fight all our friends’ battles for them, we can still meaningfully improve their lives. Sometimes loving our friends means granting them the space to solve their own problems. Sometimes it means simply standing beside them, making sure to show how much we care.