March Comes in Like a Lion: Of Sincere Character Writing and (Mostly) Warm Visuals

March Comes in Like a Lion (also known as Sangatsu no Lion) is a coming of age anime adapted from the manga with the same name, written by Umino Chika (also the mangaka of Honey and Clover). It is produced by Shaft, directed by a trio (according to MAL): Akiyuki Shinbou, Kenjirou Okada and Naoyuki Asano and music composition by Yukari Hashimoto (also did the music composition of last year’s Poco’s Udon World).

Rei Kiriyama is an emotionally reserved seventeen year old who lives alone in a one room apartment. He is also a professional shogi player, making him a prodigy at his trade. But this isn’t an anime about shogi but rather one with shogi. The first half of the anime kind of does an elaborate character study on Rei and his past; and his interactions between him and his shogi opponents the Kawamoto sisters- whose house is basically a second home to him. In the second half, the show gets more narrative and drama heavy, but the anime still manages to make it about Rei and his development as a character.

REI AND THE CAST

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March Comes in Like a Lion is, predictably so, quite hyperbolic in its character writing through visual narration. This isn’t a bad thing at all, since for a good majority of the first half- the show executed them with a personality and sincerity. This show is very visual with its writing primarily because there aren’t many plot elements to play with, and since the protagonist is introverted- the script isn’t heavy with two sided dialogue. In fact, for most of the first episode- Rei hardly talked at all, and the show fetishized the episode with bubbles, blue and black, harsh lighting contrasting a warm pastel color palette.

But that is not to say that the show is as silent of an anime a Serial Experiments Lain- where the whole cast hardly ever talked and Lain didn’t have much of an inner monologue. Rei isn’t an empty character- as expected from an introverted character, he monologues heavily; but rarely does he come off as overly pretentious partly because of sincere voicing from the voice actor and partly because of again, visual direction. Umino Chika humanizing character writing comes in full bloom in this show- Rei doesn’t narrate everything he does, he doesn’t get too self-centered and does involve in light-hearted comedic routines every so often. Like many other like-minded introverts, I find Rei’s character really relatable. I think the show did a well job in translating this character in anime form and I am glad that it Rei’s character development had the pacing it needed.

Sure, Rei isn’t an original character with unique character aspects, but his portrayal is so sincerely, thoroughly and uniquely done that it doesn’t really make sense to gripe about somebody not being original.

His character writing is also wrapped up satisfactorily by setting up a contrast in Rei’s mindset at the end of the season to his mindset at the beginning of the season- he is now trying to be optimistic and appreciating the fact that he has people involved in his life rather than being reserved with some arrogance.

Not only Rei, I think the other members of the cast have sufficient character focus and they never seem to be just background characters that occasionally share a line or too. The Kawamoto sisters, Nikaidou, Shimada and Kyouko all have fair shares of character exposition to make them tangible and dynamic portrayals.

PACING

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Sangatsu no Lion never felt slow to me- sure, each episode (seemingly) faithfully adapts two chapters from the manga- and that seems excruciatingly stretched out if we were talking about something more plot reliant or drama reliant like battle shounen or romantic comedy. But March Comes in Like a Lion is more of a slice-of-life character study with an overarching dramatic development. I think it is a merit that the anime was patient, it helps to set up an atmosphere- and I always appreciate anime with good atmosphere.

IĀ  don’t think the anime was slow in the second cour of the anime- the script was hefty enough to keep the narrative moving and Shimada’s character arc’s pacing was held together well enough. But I wouldn’t disagree as much if one looks from a drama standpoint- the matches between Shimada and Souya did go slowly in the last quarter of the season. Then again, the last quarter of the season focused more on the character study of Shimada than anything else.

TONAL SHIFTS

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I think Sangatsu no Lion is a master at tonal shifts from dark, blue depressing color splashes in Rei’s mind to Momo’s charming and warm face. The only other anime I can think off the top of my head is Gintama.

I have to give props to the visuals to make these tonal shifts look coherent (at least to a degree) and smooth. The coherence is mostly due to the continuity in the basic visual design- the bright yet harsh colors just reduce their contrast- and you get a warm, vibrant palette. This may not be as simple as I make it out to be- but that’s the best speculative comment I can make in terms of the lighting and color palette. And as most anime do, the character designs get less detailed and the expressions get more comedic. The instrumentation and voice acting also play key roles here.

THE VISUAL DESIGN AND DIRECTION

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This is perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the show. The visuals seem to play a key role in exploring characters and their monologue.

Sangatsu’s art style is unique with the thick and bold yet smooth line work- which somehow doesn’t look gritty at all but gives scenes warmth most of the time. But this becomes advantageous when expressing Rei’s depressing and dark thoughts- when the art transforms (well not entirely the art, the color scheme plays a huge role too) into shaky lines. Like I mentioned before, the art style also helps to make the tonal shifts look coherent; which makes the art really dynamic and flexible to moods without changing a whole lot. The character designs are diverse and, thanks to Umino Chika’s distinctive art style, memorable.

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The show’s color scheme and the bright lighting really suits Umino Chika’s art- the water color shading adds to the warmth in the character designs and the background art. The backgrounds look beautiful and, clearly, a lot of work go into them as it is pretty clear that the show has a lot of reference shots: which surprised me because most of the Shaft shows (directed by Akiyuki Shinbou) have simple, sharp, geometric backgrounds instead of warm water color shaded detailed paintings.

In terms of visual direction, I wouldn’t argue that the show always seemed to be reliant on its visuals and always seemed to show rather than tell. The anime leaned towards close-ups on character faces, silent moments and showing blue bubbles (especially in the first half) for portraying Rei’s mood. Metaphorical visualisation is one of Shaft’s selling points and their execution was on point in the first cour- they set up Rei’s character thoroughly. But in the second part, the visual metaphors, especially during the shogi matches, failed to produce dramatic tension- which was kind of a let down. But Shimada’s character exposition reminded me again of its knack for nailing down character expository visuals. I am glad that the show doesn’t get too stuck up with its arty visuals and comes down to simple designs for a mid-episode comedy routine- which is done pretty decently enough.

The animation also fits the visual flow, it isn’t overly detailed- but rarely does it feels janky or the characters go off-model. So, I am impressed by the consistent production quality of the show. I also liked the opening and ending animation sequences- they really carried the whole personality of the show and the first opening and the second opening set up the contrast in Rei’s mindset: from being a struggling, self-centred teenager to a still struggling, but more observant and optimistic teenager.

CONCLUSION

March Comes in Like a Lion has been a wonderful anime and it ranks second in my favorite anime from Winter 2017. I loved its sincere character writing, warm yet arty visual design and light-hearted-ness and the humanizing aspects of this show: the tonal shifts really helped to make this show a balanced and realistic narrative.

I highly recommend this show. Rating 9/10.

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Anilog #23: Spring 2017 Impressions

Here’s a quick blog update before I start with my impressions:

I won’t be posting Anilog entries weekly for this season because it is exam season for me; and this thing stretched out unnecessarily throughout the month of May. So even if I post regularly in April, I am bound to be inconsistent in May. This exams are pretty important for me too because the grades will be carried forward to my final year in school.

So yeah, I won’t be posting regularly in May. I will get a ten-day gap in the middle of May so I think I could put up a mid season update or something but I guess only time will tell.

I feel pretty bad that I can’t review these airing anime weekly because so many interesting shows are airing this season. But not everything goes like I want it to. Anyway, here are the anime that I watched this first 9 days of Spring 2017.

My Hero Academia S2

(Episode 1)

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Tournament arc hype! Future Deku looks pretty cool, but he doesn’t seem much older than he is now. This was a nice set-up episode for the sports festival and Ochaco’s resolution is kind of unexpected but then again, her character design kind of a ‘genki’ girl’s. The opening sequence is solidly animated but Kenshi Yonezu’s voice doesn’t deliver sufficient oomph, but it isn’t anything major since he narrates the visual flow pretty consistently. The visual design of the show still looks solid, bold and colorful, and I have no complaints about the animation.

(Episode 2)

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Even though I am glad that the show didn’t have a training episode- its pacing remains a bit loose, or I am being too quick to judge. It is interesting that people outside the hero course are also aiming to snatch a seat from the hero class. The new character designs didn’t impress me neither did they stand out as being too bland. Todoroki’s sequence had decent animation, though.

Attack on Titan

(Episode 26)

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Not a bad start. I am impressed with the polished production: this season seems to have a more cinematic effects. Speaking of effects, that horse animation got to me- whenever the shot pans out to show horses running it just irks me- it is bad CG rendering- and I would have been okay with it if everyone didn’t ride horses for like half of the episode. Yeah, too bad ‘only second to Levi’ is gone: this episode was pretty slow for me.

The opening sequence put in a lot of things- but it didn’t flow well, and the song itself just sounded like an uninspired continuation of the first theme. But the ending sequence featured good illustrations and the anthem’s murkiness complemented the aesthetic of the anime.

(Episode 27)

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Sasha is one of my favorite characters because she is simple and sincere and she seems to be the most ‘straight man’ from the anime- she reacts most expressively and comically when things get messed up (especially this episode). The shading effects this episode were on point. More packed in content than the last episode.

Akashic Records of Bastard Magic Instructor (Episode 1)

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This anime didn’t really impress me. The character designs do not look good even in the ‘ecchi’ aspect: seriously, the girls’ uniform look comical more than anything. I don’t even think that this show has a good harem cast just from a few character conversations and the art. Basically, this show lacks visual appeal. The meta in this show falls flat and the comedic bits aren’t funny. I don’t know if I will continue watching this.

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations (Episode 1)

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I don’t know why I even bothered watching this. The character designs look too mellow, the color design doesn’t stand out and the animation isn’t that good. Boruto’s character writing doesn’t intrigue me at the slightest and it fails to persuade me to look forward to his character development. I don’t really care about the blue pupil eye thing; but the modernized design of the village looks pretty cool. The pacing is pretty loose, too. I don’t think I am going to watch this week by week, though I might binge on one cour in my summer vacation.

Sakura Quest (Episode 1)

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P.A. Works’ new work seems to have potential. For one, Sakura Quest has an interesting premise which seems slightly reminiscent of (one of my favorite anime) Hanasaku Iroha- where a city girl starts a life in the countryside.

The production aspects are decent, too. The animation looks pretty polished and so does the lighting and background art design. Background art from a P.A. Works show is almost always detailed and pleasant to look at. I don’t think this show will be drama heavy and be more slice-of-life, but either way I am hooked. Koharu is an entertaining character and I look forward to her future character expeditions in this anime.

Saekano Flat (Episode 0)

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This isn’t the first episode so this couldn’t really count as a first impression. It starts off with a shot sequence of boobs and bikinis. And then the girls go onto the meta side of things and comment on whether their anime is original or not and whether it deserves a second season. Yeah, really clever stuff. They even bashed on anime critiques for criticizing someone’s hard work- which I just shook my head to. And harem elements come into play throughout the episode, and it ended with hopeful lines from Katou and LN guy. Overall, this episode looked good (the CG props don’t stand out as much in my eyes anymore) but content-wise it was just saturated with just meta focused on harems and VNs- which I don’t really care for.

Armed Girls Machiavellianism (Episode 1)

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Now this is some weird premise and a weird harem set-up. This season seems to have a lot more harems than the last couple of seasons. The art doesn’t appeal to me much and the fights are decently animated. The character writing and script are pretty generic. So this anime isn’t on my high-priority watch list, but I might end up watching it anyway.

Sagrada Reset (Episode 1)

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This show has its atmosphere presented solidly, but its premise isn’t original. I don’t know whether the show has a solid mystery or sci-fi story to tell, but I will continue watching it because the visual design looks good and the main characters aren’t as edgy as I thought they would be (but they still are pretentious- and I don’t mind mild pretension- they are high-schoolers, I get them). I don’t have anything else to say about this anime right now except the mystery didn’t seem to have a good visual set-up, it depended too much on the script.

Love Tyrant (Episode 1)

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Boy-oh-boy, the amount of parody and meta in this anime. This episode was just filled to the brim with parodic elements and plot devices: some which some which are funny and some of which are not but the show also has a wackiness to its whole pacing of dialogue that adds to its intended comedic effect. I won’t be quick to say that this might be the comedy of the season- but it seems to have the potential to be. I think the premise is there for comedic purposes and the show does make fun of it being saturated with plot elements. Since I haven’t watched Future Diary I got my first exposure to the yandere character trait from this anime, so yeah… it is pretty freaky. The visuals also appealed to me- the color coded and white lined character designs and the vibrant and poppy lighting were pleasant. So, I will be watching this anime weekly, hoping that future episodes would be as entertaining as this one.

Tsuki ga Kirei (Episode 1)

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This is a really pleasant SoL. The art style is reminiscent of Hourou Musuko: water color-y and warm. The character interactions between the two main characters were pretty sweet; and the whole narration is quite soothing. I am going to continue watching this because the characters do not act outside their age, they seem pretty realistically portrayed and the anime is really panders to my relatability to the social awkwardness of the characters.

Clockwork Planet (Episode 1)

Screenshot (1942)This is the only show from this batch that I dropped immediately without any second thoughts after the first episode. I don’t like the character designs and the CG is horribly rendered- I got sick flashbacks to Hand Shakers’ gears after looking at all those CG bearings. The setting is too lore-heavy and generic; and what’s with that finger-fellatio scene? Even the sound design is just unnecessarily packed. I can’t think of one aspect of this firs episode that could persuade me to watch the second episode.

Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul (Episode 1)

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Rage of Bahamut is back with its flashy and high-spec production aspects for a 24-episode second season: the lighting, the animation are all on point with some minor slips in the CG rendering- which didn’t always look bad. I love the new female character’s design- even her energetic character stands out from the general grim of the show; and her expressions are really adorable and cute (potential best girl of the season).

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Yeah, as long as MAPPA remains consistent with its production- this anime might end being one of the most entertaining shows from this season

Eromanga-senseiĀ  (Episode 1)

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I think I know what this show might end up as… yeah, it is pretty messed up. But hey, the show has the excuse that they are not blood related, right? I think I am going to keep watching this because the art design is pleasant and I want to see the limit that a siscon show can get to (because I haven’t watched Oreimo).

Re: Creators (Episode 1)

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Your waifu got teleported to the real world? Wow, that is so original; I have never thought of this concept before!

Seriously though, the premise seems overly pandering and I am not into fantasy lore- so I am glad that the show didn’t delve into exposition in the first episode and instead showed off its cool animation with one of the better rendering of CG from this season. The character designs are appealing enough- but content wise, I am not really sold on this show. Then again, who knows, this might just be another entertaining Re: to Re: zero. I will be watching this week by week.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Episode 13)

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Although this isn’t a Spring 2017 impression, I have covered this anime throughout the Winter season, so it deserves a final episode mini-review.

I was skeptical about the drama development in the preview, but this wasn’t as badly paced as I expected it to be. I think the show did a good job at portraying the change in Kobayashi’s character where she became more upfront with her feelings. Still, I can’t say it was laid out smoothly and certainly needed more time than one episode.

That’s all for today.

Late edit: I didn’t have enough time to put out the remaining impressions. My bad.

Winter 2017 Roundup (Part 1)

Winter 2017 season of anime is over.

Of course, with the exception of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (which has yet to air one more episode) and Little Witch Academia (a two-cour anime) every TV anime I started watching fro January completed airing. Looking at the MAL seasonal chart- I sampled about 20 shows and stuck with 13.

In this roundup, I will be doing mini-reviews of the shows I watched throughout this season. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be doing long-form reviews of any of the shows. I plan to review the following anime over the next month or so: March Comes in Like a Lion, ACCA, Scum’s Wish, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid and Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. I don’t know, the Rakugo review might come out a bit later because I plan to review both the seasons in one post and I want to re watch the first season. Yeah, so I will be reviewing five anime from this season- not saying that these were the only good shows from the season, it is just that I feel that I don’t have enough to say about the rest of the shows that would fill-up a long-form review.Read More »

Anilog #22: Last Week of Winter 2017

So it has been a season of Anilog. I didn’t end up being super-consistent, but I am satisfied with the posting. As for the writing, I am still pretty lazy in that aspect and I hope I can become a bit more well-worded and verbose in my future Anilog posts in the coming season.

Almost all the shows from Winter 2017 ended this week, with the exception of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: where Kobayashi and Tohru’s meeting was finally animated and Tohru’s first meeting with a human was told- overall, it was a well-written and well-paced Tohru episode. Gintama ended this (sort of) disappointing arc with some hype and a hilarious comedy routine after the credits (now that’s Gintama I love!). Gabriel Dropout ended with a Gabriel episode featuring a hilarious psychological show-down between she and her sister. Little Witch Academia showed more love for Diana and Akko and set up a mini-arc. ACCA ended things in its own chilled style; and Scum’s Wish ended on a disappointing note with some shallow hasty lines (where’s Akane’s final words?).Read More »

Anilog #21: 12th Week of Winter 2017

This is the Anilog from the penultimate week of Winter 2017 anime. So here are the weekly batch of (usually) one-sentence episodic summaries:

Gintama swiftly transitions into the Oboro arc and ties it up pretty efficiently. Gabriel Dropout featured Saint Satania doing her duties of taking care of her melon bread robber, and Tapris makes an appearance. ACCA’s coup is in narrative focus now and things are looking pretty hype (that’s what I have been saying for the last few weeks).

Little Witch Academia lay out some intriguing narrative groundwork this week and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid experienced New Year’s with some cute kimono fan service.

Masamune didn’t get his revenge this week either… oh look! You are past twelve episodes. Too bad, better luck next time (don’t let there be a second season). Speaking of trash, Fuuka’s stink has been swept away by “Fair Wind” (haha): which was an okay song- compared to the karaoke-promo thing that Masamune- moving away from the trash… wait, Blue Exorcist ended this week too… yeah that’s what the ‘epic’ arc led to- a marriage proposal, someone being able to play with fire and Mephisto’s ‘secret’ motives laid bare.

Interviews with Monster Girls ended with a good old 3D animated splash and Akane became best female character in Scum’s Wish. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju sang its swan song this week with a quick, silent bow (not literally, though)- by revisiting the cast members after quite a number of years (where Shinnosuke looks more like Kikuhiko than Sukeroku and Yotaro is the new Yakumo).Read More »

The Eccentric Family (S1): An Interesting Tanuki Tale

This anime, like the title suggests, is about a family. More specifically, it is a short, sweet (yet engaging) tale of a familial feud and familial integrity. The story is set in Kyoto city where humans live in the city, tanuki crawl on the earth and tengu soar in the skies.

Synopsis

Yasaburo is the third son of the late Shimogamo (who was the former Nise-e-mon: the leader of the tanuki society) and he just wants to lead a ‘omoishiro’ (interesting) life where he imitates humans and learns from his mentor who is a tengu. But his busy life gets busier as the tanuki society prepares for the selection of the new Nise-e-mon from the two representatives from the two main Tanuki families in Kyoto: the Shimogamo family and the Ebisugawa family. Things also get heated up between the humans and tanuki after the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Yasaburo’s father: he gets boiled and eaten by the Friday Fellows (comprised of humans).Read More »