Note: This article contains spoilers for episodes 25-35 of March Comes in Like a Lion.
March Comes in Like a Lion is an anime that has continually impressed me with its realistic, often understated depictions of issues such as depression, loneliness, ill health and finding family. But one storyline that has gone above and beyond is ‘Ladybug Bush’, which addresses middle schooler Hina dealing with bullying.
The storyline begins with Hina trudging home despondently, with a shoe missing. When she finally makes it home, she collapses and begins to cry, and her older sister coaxes the truth out of her. Hina reveals that her friend Chiho, a quiet and kind-hearted girl, was being bullied by the popular girls of her class. Unable to look the other way like the rest of her classmates, Hina becomes a friend to Chiho. When she finds out that Chiho is being transferred to another school, Hina is distraught and eventually lashes out at the bullies for laughing and shrugging off the matter, and becomes their new target.
So what makes this storyline so brilliant? For me, it’s not the events that take place but the incredibly human and realistic reactions to them.
Hina of course, is angry and upset that the bullies have ‘won’, forcing Chiho to leave the school, and leaving Chiho with the fear that she will be bullied again at her new school. The injustice is further magnified when Hina goes to a teacher for help and support, and is told that she is being ridiculous and creating problems where there are none. Not only does Hina feel that she has nowhere to turn, but she has to suffer the isolation and cruelty the bullies have imposed on her every day, as all her classmates are too afraid that if they speak out, they’ll be targeted next.
Not wanting her family to see how upset she is after she tells them the truth, Hina runs out into the night and is chased by their family friend, Rei. When he catches up with her, she breaks down, admitting how terrified she is about how alone she’ll be at school now, but defiantly stating through her tears that even though it hurts, she can’t regret it because she knows she did the right thing.
For me this is an incredibly moving reminder that the world doesn’t always reward you for doing the right thing, sometimes it even punishes you for it. But it’s still the right thing to do, and Hina knows this even though a teacher much older than her contradicted this.
It’s hard to watch how powerless Hina seems from this point on. She knows that anything she says against the bullies will not be believed as she has already had her actions dismissed out of hand. When an older boy she likes shows kindness to her at school, the bullies write cruel things about her on the blackboard. Hina expects to finally have a moment of justice, but instead it is her that is called back after class and reprimanded.
Hina’s older sister admits to Rei that she feels powerless to help and guilty for not having a solution. Rei seeks a practical solution, and confides in his own teacher, Mr. Hayashida, who tells him that despite pages and pages of internet forums about bullying, there is no obvious answer. To bring in the parents and engage them in an angry dispute might make the victim feel even worse, and would not necessarily bring a stop to the bullying. It becomes clearer and clearer that there is no magical solution, and it’s impossible not to feel increasingly for Hina in just trying to get through each school day when the injustice is allowed to continue.
March Comes in Like a Lion also shows us the long lasting effects of bullying. We see Hina suffer from multiple stomach aches, one of which is the night before a class trip that she’s afraid to go on. The show has always used its medium of animation well, and we see the emotional effects of bullying depicted in everything from a subtle crosshatching of glazed, depressed eyes, to a murky ‘black mist’ that threatens to engulf an entire classroom. We see Hina battling through oppressively silent classrooms and barely audible insults.
In spite of the injustices and uncertainty, Hina presses on, determined to show her face at school every day and show the bullies that they haven’t won. She continues to bravely push back against their cruelty until finally, the situation begins to unravel and the truth comes out. With the help of a new homeroom teacher, things begin to return to normality, and Hina is able to re-engage with her classmates, and even receives a letter from Chiho who is slowly healing and wants Hina to visit her.
March Comes in Like a Lion doesn’t try to wrap everything up in a neat little bow, and in keeping with the intensely emotional story it has created, Hina says unapologetically that she won’t forgive the bullies, because ultimately, their being made to apologise for their actions doesn’t undo the torment that she and Chiho have gone through, or the fact that Chiho had to leave. But like Chiho, she begins to heal and move on from her experience.
Although this storyline is a powerful tool in itself, I have to applaud Japan for also using it as part of a campaign to raise awareness about bullying, by sending 18,000 posters to junior high schools and colleges throughout Japan. Each poster features Hina and Rei, and also features the message ‘I’ll be your friend through it all’ and the phone number for MEXT’s helpline.
March Comes in Like a Lion is now on Crunchyroll and I would urge you to watch it for this beautifully nuanced storyline, and every other brilliantly handled human emotion that this anime so delicately and gracefully depicts.