Studio SHAFT has a way with making the seemingly mundane into a psychadelic picture show of the most ludicrous level, and March Comes In like a Lion is no exception to that rule. A manga adaptation about a young shogi professional, you'd think that the anime would have trouble keeping your attention or being continually interesting. In that same vein, the show is pretty hard to nail down a classification on, but I think the safest and most apt thing to say about the show is that it's a strong character drama; we get to see how Rei deals with the challenges of being one of the youngest shogi professionals to ever be successful and the struggles of his life despite this. To go into further detail about these aspects of Rei's character would likely ruin the show for many, so I'll abstain and just assure you that Rei's character is a perfect vehicle for the show to convey its themes of family, friendship, and growing up. To foil Rei's overt doom and gloom is a colorful cast of characters, including the sisters, his school counselor, and his more positive friends at the local shogi club. Balancing his dramatic shogi competitor lifestyle and the relationships of those he cares about are one the core conflicts that Rei experiences, and every character is a finely crafted means to that end.
The show unfortunately suffers from a snails pace, and even though it seems to utilize it well most of the time, it can't help but feel like the show was just "being slow to be slow" rather than trying to emphasize some sort of character or story development. More than 50% of any given episode are Rei's internal monologue, fighting with indecision and mulling over his life's problems with long-winded metaphors and some pretty intense imagery. SHAFT helps this along with some incredibly impressive animation and art, employing all sorts of trippy color shifts and detailed backgrounds, but this doesn't change the fact that the actual action and plot is dragged out to a near ludicrous degree. It can be argued that these monologues are more important than the action, but as someone who got pretty invested in Rei's tangible success in shogi (particularly his goal to overcome a specific opponent), I found it marginally annoying. The show also tries to "keep the 'light' sections light" with a heavy shift in visual style that can sometimes feel as if it comes out of nowhere, especially if it happens in the middle of Rei's monologues. It's nowhere near the level of off-putting as something from like, Drifters, but its still worth noting if you're in this one specifically for the "serious".
Visually I couldn't have less of a set of complaints. Art is this beautiful melding of water-color and soft-line styles that I absolutely adore, and it makes every single scene a joy to take in. The backgrounds are beyond gorgeous, and the character designs are simultaneously well-defined but fit perfectly in their world. Facial expressions are also of note here, as the show seems to apply a de-facto frown to everyone then impress with the subtle differences and exaggerated highs from there. For all the times I might have been frustrated with Rei's monologue-ing, the art and animation went almost full Madoka levels of off-the-wall. In particular, the visual motif of Rei drowning or being crushed under his life's pressure is shown many times, but each one is unique and the idea never felt stale now matter how many times I saw it repeated on screen. VA and music here are also superb, as a frequently monologue-ing character better be great to listen to and have some great music to set the speeches to.
Despite its slow pace, March Comes in like a Lion was a great ride. It didn't exactly resolve by the end, which is saying something despite its 22 episodes, but it's already been confirmed by SHAFT to be receiving a second season. Whether or not this show is getting the Monogatari or Niskeoi treatment, where SHAFT will pledge to animate everything as its adapted, but I'll surely keep watching if that happens.