What They Say:
Rei Kiriyama is a seventeen year old professional shogi player. Among the youngest in history to go pro, he has many expectations for the future, yet his recent separation from his foster family has left him conflicted and his career has stagnated. However, after meeting a family of three sisters, color slowly returns to his life…
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with an English language dub (!), both of which are done in the uncompressed PCM format. The show is one that is largely dialogue oriented without much in the way of action as even the shogi move sequences aren’t overplayed dramatically. There are some nice moments where the dialogue moves around and some dramatic sound effects from time to time, but the big sequences for the audio are still the opening and closing moments. That said, the dialogue is very well handled here with some big dramatic moments taking shape but also some really strong pieces where quiet is key and that takes on its own disturbing tones. It’s a very good show in this regard throughout and with the background music that wells nicely from time to time, but it’s not a mix that’s going to attract a ton of attention.
Originally airing in 2016, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The elevent episodes for this set are spread across three discs in a four/four/three format. Animated by Shaft, the series has an exceptionally strong look about it with the details, quality of animation, and color design. It’s not a movement-heavy series for the most part but what it does is create such an authentic world and setting that it just draws you in through that quality. The encoding is top notch here with a high bit rate that lets the colors really shine with all their variation while also keeping all the details in both characters and backgrounds looking great and problem free. There’s a real richness to what we get here and watching this on a large screen just makes it so easy to be absorbed in it all with what it does. This is a fantastic looking show made so by a fantastic encode.
The packaging for this release comes in a really sweet heavy chipboard box that holds the oversized clear Blu-ray case. The box has some of the really appealing character artwork on both sides that we’ve seen where the front has Rei Nikaido and his older brother, which is the core group for these episodes, while the back side gives us Rei with Souya in a very appealing deep of winter key visual. Within the box we get the case that’ done up with a pencil sketch image of Rei for the front cover set against a white background with it wrapping around with the other two characters from the front cover. The reverse side handles the back of the case key visual with the character artwork with essentially headshot views of the two getting their own panel..
The set also comes with a really nicely done square bound booklet included where across the thirty-six pages we get character profiles in full color, reproductions of the end cards, and a nod toward the credits at the end.
The menu design for this one is nice as we get some good soft visuals of backgrounds that are lighter in color tone for the background. The foreground brings in various circles that bubble in and rotates various character moments through those in more vibrant colors while the rings around them flow in shades of blues as well, making for an active but natural looking design overall. It’s one that definitely works better than a static menu and gives you something that draws you in because of the quality of the animation and designs. The navigation strip along the bottom is a soft white that breaks down the standard selections while also noting the volume and disc. Everything functions well both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback.
The extras for this release are pretty straightforward as we get the clean opening and closing sequences along with the promo and commercial for the show. We also get a whopping nine pieces of the Meow Shogi bit and they’re certainly cute and worth having separate from the show so you can show it off to others easily enough. Also included in this set is the announcement of the second series, which I can’t wait to get my hands on.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Keeping in mind that this is a much larger work, I found myself struggling with aspects of this half of the first season of March Comes in like a Lion than I did the first. In a way, it’s not that anything truly changes with what’s going on but it works a narrower focus in order to draw from Rei some of the key things it wants to position for later. These are good things but it felt like we had blinders on to other aspects of the world that Rei lives in and his retreat made it all the more claustrophobic at times. Once again, the show looks great with its attention to detail and the impact of the emotional beats that it’s hitting so well. I just adore the details to the characters and backgrounds while the performances are spot on in bringing that emotion to just under the surface so that you know it’s there and it can make an impact on the viewer.
Much of this set is focused on one particular area but I wanted to talk about the smaller pieces toward the end that felt more connected to the larger world. One of them dealt largely with the confectionary shop where we see Akari and the girls working on coming up with some new seasonal creations they can rotate out alongside the strong selling moon cakes that they came up with. With their grandfather providing the wisdom and experience side and motivating them as a team, an important thing since Akari wants to take over the shop someday, we see them work through all of this and the sheer joy in what they do. It’s an important piece because through Akari and her grandfather we see people who have found what they want to do with their life, for their entire life, and are excited and inspired by it all. It’s a fairly traditional Japanese character piece but it runs alongside Rei essentially struggling with his own place in the shogi world.
Another piece that I really liked as part of Rei’s overall growing up is that we get some time during one of the tournaments where Kda talks with him a bit about what Rei’s been doing with his stipend as a player from the association and various winnings. We know that Rei lives a meager life – one I’m quite envious of in many ways – and that he’s made some good money through his progress so far. But it turns out that beyond his expenses and a small allowance he gives himself to get by, he’s put everything in Koda’s account. One can suspect that Koda separates it and that it’ll find its way back to Rei at some point, but I really liked what we get from Koda as he told Rei that he has to get past this mindset of trying to pay him back for taking care of him. It’s hard for Rei to understand because of how distance he’s kept himself, though things with Kyoko continue to unfold in awkward ways, but Koda did what he did for the loss of his friend and because it was the right thing. Rei’s simply too wrapped up in self to really grasp it.
Where the bulk of this set focuses is less on Rei’s own playing than that of others. He does continue to play here a good bit and he’s on top of things but he slowly but surely ends up in Kai Shimada’s orbit more than anything else. Shimada’s not Nikaido’s actual brother but they view each other that way because of the time spent together in training under Nikaido’s father. What’s interesting about Shimada is his style of play that comes across as overly defensive but works in a way that really subverts what his opponents are doing. He’s in a string of tough losses and that has him working with a study group of sorts that forms with a couple of others. It’s a great learning experience for Rei because he’s always spent his time alone, cue the montage of him as a child with all sorts challenging him and largely losing, and seeing him trying to adapt there while Shimada eases him into it and guides him as a quasi-mentor is really nicely done.
Shimada’s an interesting character type, one we see in any number of shows, where he looks like he’s on the verge of death by exhaustion. He has some medical issues that are stress induced which is understandable because of the real competitive nature of shogi and the rankings, but it does just make him look like he’s falling apart. That has Rei really taking care of him a lot when it comes down to just the two of them for a while and that allows Rei to show another side of himself. I thoroughly enjoyed the dynamic between the two of them and everything that Shimada’s presence brings to the screen. But it also just felt like it was a little too focused there and that so many other parts of the show from the first half that clicked for me were pushed to the last couple of episodes. It certainly wasn’t a slot to get through but it was something where when it wrapped up with what it wanted to get across I was glad to be able to move onto other things and a different set of emotions and interactions.
March Comes In Like A Lion covers some interesting ground here, perhaps a bit too long, that serves to expand what we know of shogi and some of its more well-known players. The result is something that has Rei opening up new parts of himself and his life as he makes more connections to people than he ever expected to. I was glad with that but also when he touched upon his own previously made connections a little more – even Nikaido. There’s a lot of good character material here and some intriguing shogi play going on and I really liked how it closes out with more personal pieces and a new path going forward with some shogi at school as his advisor has figured out why it is that Rei actually came back to school. As we said with the first set, this is a strong looking release from Aniplex with a great looking show, a fantastic package, and a solid dub to drive it all home with. Very recommended.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Textless Opening & Ending, 9 “Moving Meow Shogi” Specials, Second Series Announcement Video
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: April 10th, 2017
Running Time: 275 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.