Rei Kiriyama: The Coocoo Bird (The Mind of a Character)

Alright, I’ll say this one time for all y’all that have been sleeping on it! If you haven’t watched March Comes in Like a Lion yet, you are missing out! It is one of the greatest anime of all time, with stellar characters, gorgeous animation, perfect pacing, and more effective tear-jerking scenes than you could imagine! Go watch that shit right the fuck now!

Because I’m about to spoil a fair chunk of it.

Out of all the sad anime boys we’ve discussed thus far, Rei Kiriyama is quite possibly the saddest of them all. His entire backstory boils down to ‘everyone hated Kiriyama and the only people who didn’t died a long time ago’. He is one of the most emotionally drained and depressed characters I’ve ever come across in fiction!

Let me break down exactly why.

The Wound: Where do I start?

I legitimately don’t know where to begin with this one.

As a kid, Kiriyama didn’t have the happiest life. He didn’t have any friends and was often picked on by his peers. The only quality time he had with his father was spent playing shogi. Then, just to make things really suck, his entire family died in a car accident, leaving him alone to be raised by a friend of his father.

And his woes don’t stop there. He quickly became hated by his two adopted siblings, driving a wedge between them and their father and unintentionally forcing them out of shogi. Worse yet, his adopted sister (whom he has some odd, confusing feelings for) went into an unhealthy relationship, which Kiriyama blames himself for.

I could pick any one of these things as Kiriyama’s major emotional wound. The emotional injury that drives every other aspect of his character. But honestly, none of these beats in his backstory really stand out as the wound.

His entire backstory is his wound. Not just one particular event.

The Want: To Find a Want

This is where Kiriyama becomes a rather unconventional character. See, he doesn’t exactly have a clear goal of his own. He’s spent so long doing the same thing and doing it without joy that he’s forgotten what it even means to have a goal.

But make no mistake. He has one.

One scene perfectly encapsulates his want. While eating with Akari and her sisters/grandpa, Kiriyama accidentally states that he wants to go somewhere. This launches a conversation with everyone around the table about places they’d want to go to. When it comes back to Kiriyama, however, he doesn’t have an answer. He knows he wants to go somewhere. But he has no clue where.

That’s the thing about Kiriyama’s character. He’s lived his life as a pro shogi player for years and it has brought him much more misery than it ever did joy. He wants to find something that will bring him actual joy in life. His goal is to find some sort of goal.

This doesn’t sound like it would work. But in a story like this, it is a perfect motivation to have. Kiriyama as a character wants to find something to do that brings him actual happiness. What he’s been doing now clearly hasn’t been doing the job.

But this leads me straight into the next point.

The Lie: A Joyless Career

Here’s the thing about anxiety, especially when you put it together with severe depression: it fills your head with lies. It makes you believe everyone around you hates you. That everything is somehow your fault. That a passive-aggressive jest is actually not a joke at all. If you aren’t careful, these thoughts can expand like balloons in your head until you firmly believe they are, in fact, true.

I could pick any one of those things for this section. Frankly, I could just put down ‘real-ass anxiety’ for Kiriyama’s lie. But I’m going to go with the one lie that ties the most into his want.

When coaching his friends in the science club in shogi, Kiriyama is asked whether he finds shogi fun or not. Upon hearing this, Kiriyama falls into a deep place of contemplation. How long had it been since he actually had fun playing shogi? Answer: it never did. It was what he had to do in order to survive.

Kiriyama firmly believes that shogi cannot make him happy. That his natural, refined ability has forever put him in a cage, forcing him to do something that makes him miserable in order to pay his bills. In his mind, the only way to find greater joy in life would be to abandon shogi and find something else to do.

Except here’s the thing: if not for shogi, Kiriyama wouldn’t be friends with Nikaido or any of his other friends at the shogi hall. He wouldn’t have moved out of his adopted father’s place to live in town and meet Akari and her sisters. He wouldn’t have met his teacher or any of the lads in the science club. And biggest of all: he wouldn’t have faced off against Souya in a match that would change his life.

Sure, shogi itself hasn’t made Kiriyama happy. But if it weren’t for that, he would never have met the people who bring him happiness. The people that help him through his depression.

The Need: To Live in the Moment

Kiriyama lives his life consumed by his woes. So much so that he doesn’t often pay any attention to the people around him and their problems. Which may, in fact, be his greatest flaw.

His highest moments are those shared with others. A simple meal with the Kawamotos. An odd experiment with the science club. A game of shogi with Nikaido. These are the moments where Kiriyama is at his happiest. When he isn’t consumed in his own head, trapped alone with his thoughts.

It’s when he lives in these moments with his friends that he notices their problems. Hina being bullied at school. Nikaido’s failing health. So on. When he finds his friends in trouble, Kiriyama finds himself with a proper drive. In his urgency to help them, he manages to banish the dark thoughts, if only for a time, and find something to push himself for. Then, when all is said and done, he finds that he’s become a much better and more emotionally mature person.

He needs to live in the moment. Not the past. Not the future. All he needs is to live in the now.


Here’s the thing about characters that are unbelievably broken inside emotionally. When analyzing them, you have no shortage of things to talk about. In fact, you have so many things to talk about that it can be difficult to pick out which ones are or are not necessary for your analysis. It’s a very good problem to have, sure. And few characters have this problem quite like Kiriyama does.

Oh, and did I mention that he’s far from the only character in this show just like this? Because every character that isn’t a very small child or a cat is like this.

Watch March Comes in Like a Lion. It’s a beautiful show. Watch this damn series. Right now. Go. That is all. Good day.

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