The Bullies

I picked up “March Comes In Like a Lion” again on Netflix this week. I had stopped midway of season 2 before and now I realise why I did.

This slice of life anime is about a Shogi prodigy who becomes a professional player whilst still in high school. We follow Rei who experiences both personal hardships and societal pressure of being a professional sportsman. He has no friends at school and lost his family at a young age.

However, it is not Rei’s story, or lack of, that made me stop.

The Kawamoto sisters are a notable family that Rei interacts with regularly. Several episodes feature side stories of the sisters, who also lost their parents early on and responsibility of the household falls to Akagi, the eldest.

In the middle of season 2, Hina, the middle child in her final year of primary school experiences severe bullying. The bullies pick on her best friend forcing that friend to move to a different school and out of the city entirely. Hina tries to defend her friend and attempts to talk to the teachers but it falls on deaf ears. Her classmates are afraid of becoming the next victim, the teacher wants no part of this and Hina ends up being the new target.

We watch Hina cry and struggle and try to stand up for herself repeatedly and her efforts are met with failure over and over.

The situation escalates and their teacher resigns. A new homeroom teacher arrives and quickly arranges a one-on-one parent-teacher meeting with each student individually.

Akagi attends the meeting but quickly crumbles under the pressure of promising to take care of her sisters, branding herself a failure. This results in more grief for Hina who is surprisingly able to recover and be the bigger person to ease the pressure off her sister.

This.

This part was difficult for me to stomach. So much that I had to drop the anime for months. Resuming this week, I had to pause multiple times in the short 20-minute episodes.

I have experienced bullying in every stage of my educational life – Kindergarten, Primary School, Secondary/High School and University. It was different each time, but each time I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong to deserve it. Why was I such an easy target?

Each time, after the bullying was over and my classmates would start talking to me again, I would often ask why it happened, they would always shake their head and say sorry. So, til this day, I don’t know why I was bullied all those years.

I can guess.

I know I did stupid things before like telling a senior boy this girl had a crush on him. If only I knew that would bring such severe consequences..

And I once plagiarised someone’s website because I thought they were cool. That caused unreasonable amounts of bullying and negative attention for YEARS. Yes, I know plagiarism is bad but I only did it out of admiration for that person. I’ve often heard in my older years “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery”, I hope my bully realises that now that I never had any bad intentions and I think back on those days and still think my bully was cool. Of course, I should have asked for their permission and expressed my intent and admiration instead of outright copying – but heck I was 13 or 14, I didn’t know shit, why was the world so punishing to me at that age?

Hina is able to talk to her sister and her teachers about the bullying, I never did. Perhaps it was my family environment at the time, home didn’t feel particularly safe, we didn’t communicate well. I turned to video games and online friends instead. I must say I’ve been incredibly fortunate to not experience too much cyberbullying despite how rampant it is and that I literally spend most of my life online since 2016.

Hina’s best friend who moved towns due to the intense bullying writes her a letter about her new neighbourhood and how she’s recovering. Her new teacher gave her three steps.

  1. Make friends with animals
  2. Make friends with people older than you
  3. Make friends with people similar to your age

There is a huge pause in the show between 2 and 3 and it took Hina’s friend almost half a year to write this letter to her own best friend because of the trauma she experienced. This is extremely true of my own experiences. I remember standing outside my neighbour’s house and talking to her two golden retrievers after school each day. I remember the friends I made online were 5-10 years older and I desperately wanted to be an adult.

Step 3 was a huge leap of faith.

I’m not yet a parent but I already know, my biggest fear as a parent would be whether my child experiences bullying. If they do, will my child be able to talk to me? Would I be able to help? Or will I fail like Akagi did? Will I feel threatened by my child’s bully’s parents?

What if my child becomes the bully?

Having experienced so much grief in my school years it’s permanently made me afraid of new friends. I struggle consistently to please other people, what do I need to say to make them like me?

It’s tiring. It’s fake. I don’t like it.

Recently I’ve just decided to try to be invisible so I don’t become a target again. I do my own thing, I talk to my family, I talk to my couple of friends, I talk to Marty and that’s about it.

I want to have more friends, but it’s just very difficult for me.

March Comes In Like a Lion can come off as boring and pointless for some. It’s slow with lots of monologues and barely any explanation of the game Shogi. But if you commit, you’ll see a beautiful and powerful coming-of-age story about overcoming hardships, anxiety, loneliness, and depression.

Give it a go and prepare a box of tissues 🙂

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