March comes in like a lion (Sangatsu no Lion) is often quickly categorized as a shogi (Japanese chess) manga and anime. However, the shogi is merely a catalyst for the manga’s main focus: protagonist Rei’s emotional growth.

It can be daunting to begin a new series, especially when that series is about a topic you don’t understand. And, as I am utter crap at board games, I didn’t think I’d be able to fully grasp the story without knowledge of the rules of shogi. However, unlike many manga and anime focusing on a certain topic–whether that be rugby in ALL OUT!! or karuta in ChihayafuruMarch comes in like a lion is rather a tale of the protagonist’s everyday life that just happens to have shogi in it.

Hikaru no Go is a manga and anime with a similar setting. It’s about a boy named Hikaru aiming to become a champion of Go (a traditional Chinese tabletop game). There is no doubt that the focus of the story is Hikaru’s climb to the top in the world of Go, not his relationships with others. Even his relationship with his rival is almost completely competitive, not personal. Heck, the manga and anime go so far as to cut out a large number of characters that Hikaru did form a bond with early in the manga–including his childhood friend and possible love interest Akari–all so he could focus on becoming a Go champion.

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On the other hand, March comes in like a lion is about the protagonist creating bonds instead of sacrificing them for his sport. After losing his parents, Rei is taken into a household that considers skill in shogi to be more important than anything.

In order to not be sent to an orphanage, when he is asked by the master of the house–Masachika Kōda–whether he likes to play shogi or not, Rei replies that he does. This, of course, is a lie. When he wants to leave the house and live on his own for high school, Rei uses the winnings from his games as a professional player to make ends meet and support himself. To Rei, shogi is not a game. It is not a pastime. It is a method of survival.

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This is why the majority of the manga and anime takes place off of the “battlefield.” The place where Rei feels that he belongs and where he finds his happiness is with the three sisters that live in the Sangatsucho neighborhood. The eldest sister, Akari (seen above), loves to pick up stray cats and dogs and take nurture them. Similarly, she serves as a mother figure for Rei, providing not just a warm meal for the young man, but also emotional support. The middle and younger sisters Hinata and Momo are cheerful balls of energy who don’t allow Rei to remain silent for too long.

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Ever since losing his family, Rei has lived isolated emotionally from the world. Little by little, however, Akari and the other sisters provide a warm change of pace for the boy, allowing him to show more emotion and open up to others. However, it isn’t all rainbows and candy–when confronted with this warmth and human contact, Rei is forced to remember the bonds he once had with his family that is now gone.

Facing both the pleasant and painful moments that come with forming connections with others, Rei grows as a person. While the anime features shogi games and quickly explains some strategic moves made in the game, it’s not the shogi he plays that makes Rei mature–it’s the people that he encounters that push him forward.

Anime Basics: March comes in like a lion

March comes in like a lion began airing in Japan in October, and is available to watch on Daisuki and Crunchyroll now. You can read up on the details about the show on our Anime Basics page for the series. If you’re interested in checking out the Hikaru no Go anime, you can watch it on both Hulu and Viz Media’s official website. Viz Media also publishes the Hikaru no Go manga in North America.

© Chica Umino, HAKUSENSHA/March comes in like a lion Animation Committee

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