I haven’t watched Sangatsu since its resumption after that three-week break, and I finally got around to watch a couple of episodes, which coincidentally make up a whole character arc, so here are my thoughts on them.

March Comes in Like a Lion had returned with a fresh character perspective on Sakutarou Yanagihara (Saku-chan), and the presentation of this character arc had an extra-poetic finesse to it. It’s a story about someone being alienated and an eventful slice of his journey to find meaning and not giving up on hope, hope that you get from others.

Episode 17

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The episode starts on a light-hearted note, with Shimada rehashing some stuff about the dire publicity situation the Kishou Shogi match is in, and how Rei and Nikaidou will help with their live commentary of the match. Shimada thanks them for taking the responsibility and that prompts Nikaidou to prod Shimada on why is he being so grateful- to which Shimada answers- “You’ll see.”

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And it becomes pretty apparent why- it is revealed that Shimada feels alienated in the midst of the Match Eve Party where Yanagihara looks like he is very much at home among the reporters, who look like they are pals with Yanagihara. So Shimada feels this formidable home game feeling going into the match. Nevertheless, he wants to bring down that monster of a shogi player and thus cause an upset.

The character limelight now falls on Yanagihara as he realizes that one of his buddies disappeared from sight. And he finds him in the lonely corner of a corridor, smoking and after prodding him on his situation, Yanagihara learns that his friend got laid off from his newspaper job. The conversation steers towards how a person who worked on a single thing all his life feels that he is nothing without it when retirement time comes. Then Gan (the friend) drops the pivotal line of this character story: “Without my work what is left of me?… I am scared, it’s like I’m in a burnt field.”

With a brief insert scene of Rei and Nikaidou fussing over how to do their commentaries, Yanagihara gets transported into a flashback where he recalls his peers quitting shogi one by one. Smoke (from a brning field) trails the screen vertically as Yanagihara continues to lose his friends from the world of shogi, and soon enough, another instrumental visual metaphor kicks in: white sashes.

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White sashes represent the entrusted hopes and dreams of Yanagihara’s friends who quit shogi. Even in the presence of these ornaments of hopes and dreams, Yanagihara feels alienated, inhibited and burdened- being the oldest player among most pro shogi players and that his demotion and eventual retirement is on a highly sensitive tipping scale.

He wakes from his vision of being immobilized by the sashes, and it is revealed that Yanagihara is really putting up a fight by just… not acting old- he has medicines ranging from cataracts to stomach problems.

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The match starts after some prolonged insert pre-match shots. Yanagihara, apparently, immediately goes offensive in his play, but Shimada stops him effectively. And as the episode ends with Shimada on the advantageous side, Yanagihara returns to the burnt field analogy- claiming that if Gan is standing in a burnt field, he is still burning.

Episode 18

Leading off from the idea of Yanagihara being a burning human torch, he further claims that he will be submitting himself to his suffering of being that to win this match.

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The rest of the episode is mostly shogi tactic sequences- which I don’t really care for. Some of the shots, especially those over-shadowed impact frames where the bewildered expressions of Rei and Nikaidou were displayed got rather off-tone and took me out of the anime completely for some reason I can’t pinpoint to, but thankfully that’s for only for a few seconds. Also, the rehashing of the ideas established in episode 17 was a bit too prevalent- hence, the pacing could be much tighter. Other than those gripes, the whole sequence of this high tension match is presented with really well-timed dialogue from Yanagihara, with really well-drawn shots of him- which served as good portraits of his mental fortitude throughout the match.

There’s this moment when Yanagihara realizes that his burdens (the sashes representing hopes from others) have become more than just burdens but something he must deliver for the sake of others. So after a long time of back and forth, he reaches steadiness- he realizes that burnt field regrow with a flourish of evergreen and he needs to keep fighting and holding onto others’ hopes and dreams to see that green field… together.

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Soon enough, Yanagihara’s burning playing style seeps through and Rei realizes that it resembles something like molten lava- slow but penetrating.

And Yanagihara wins. He revisits the sashes, they are still tightly bounded against him, but he realizes that it gives him the strength to stand and endure his fear of being a human torch in this endless cycle of burning fields and regrowing grass.

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