March Comes In Like a Lion Is One of Anime’s Best Portrayals of Depression

TV and film unfortunately don't have the best track record when it comes to depicting mental illness -- and anime is no exception with varying levels of success in providing realistic portrayals. For example, in too many scenarios, a character who commits horrible acts is deemed "crazy," with their motivations often chalked up to mental health issues, consequently perpetuating the negative stigma surrounding real struggles that many people live with. Luckily, there's been some positive change over the years.

From To Your Eternity portraying the changes in behavior with dementia to Horimiya conveying aspects of social anxiety that aren't usually talked about, anime is slowly starting to showcase accurate representations of the symptoms associated with different forms of mental illness. Some of these characters are even taking center stage as the protagonist. While some illnesses are more difficult to show visually than others, such as depression, March Comes In Like a Lion effectively manages to capture what it's like to live with depression.

The story follows 17-year-old Kiriyama Rei, a professional shogi player who moves out on his own to escape the tension of his adoptive family. Now left to himself, Kiriyama fails to take proper care of himself, often hiding at home to practice shogi, a game that provides him a means to be independent despite holding no affection for it. A reclusive character, Kiriyama barely attends school and is ostracized from society except for those at the shogi hall and the Kawamoto sisters -- Akari, Hina and Momo. Akari in particular is eager to support Kiriyama through his struggles as he develops an unfamiliar familial bond with the sisters.

What makes March Comes In Like a Lion a great depiction of depression are the visuals and keen attention to detail that provide insight into the inner workings of Kiriyama's mind. As the series never explicitly name-drops depression, this creates a stronger focus on Kiriyama's symptoms, including how they affect him both mentally and physically and how he deals with them.

Instead of writing these symptoms off as simply 'depression,' the audience gets a deeper look into his perspective and gains a better understanding of his hardships. His mental state is also not played for comedic effect, but paints Kiriyama in both an extremely realistic and sympathetic light, while not being so melodramatic as to be over-the-top or feel disingenuous. The series achieves this in two ways: visually and through dialogue.

The striking visuals are loquacious and go beyond shrouding Kiriyama in a dull color scheme in comparison to the bright colors of other characters. For starters, Kiriyama's affinity for water is commonly used to depict the intense pressure he feels from the shogi community and his adoptive family. This manifests as him being plunged into water, giving in to the currents and drowning, often during a shogi match where this visual re-surfaces most. Additionally, when Kiriyama is shown from either his own perspective or that of another character, he is depicted in black and white, usually standing in a void, isolated from the world.

During Season 1, when Kiriyama loses more than one shogi game in a row, the image of his peers transforms into something more sinister as their words of encouragement are heard as insults. These are his insecurities interfering with his perception of reality. In addition to metaphoric visuals, Kiriyama's lifestyle is also incredibly telling. He keeps his apartment empty save for the absolute bare essentials and a shogi board, and he declines invitations to interact with others, attempting to isolate himself at any given opportunity, especially when he feels the weight of the world on his shoulders.

While Kiriyama is a fairly quiet individual, his emotions are frequently expressed through dialogue, especially his monologues. In Season 1, Episode 1, he explains how besting someone in shogi feels like beating them to a pulp, making him feel like a monster when he wins. This is a feeling Kiriyama consistently battles with; wanting to win despite focusing on his opponents' dismay when they lose. In Episode 3, Kiriyama watches Hina cry in grief over her dead mother and realizes that chasing his emotions away has made him numb to his own feelings and those of others.

In Episode 1o, Kiriyama screams out to the river that shogi is his survival and that it's all he has. His adoption and independent lifestyle are because of shogi, and he'll continue to win even if it brings misery to others. In Episode 12, Kiriyama monologues how the Kawamoto house is like a kotatsu -- a low table covered with a heavy blanket -- in the sense that it's warm and comfortable, a place he never wants to leave and his solace. However, he always does leave -- a painful reminder of the frigid cold that is his own life. Yet still, like a kotatsu, the Kawamotos and their welcoming home always draw him back.

These are merely a few examples of how Kiriyama's sadness, loneliness and insecurities are portrayed. They are excellent depictions of his mental state in an especially difficult time as he navigates life, trying to find meaning in a game that defines his life and developing a support system of people he loves, all while battling his inner demons.

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