When I think about Rei Kiriyama from March Comes in Like a Lion, I think about a shining star. His whole life he has been clouded in tragedy and a never-ending stream of self-doubt, as do many of us. The passing of his parents and the general disdain of his adopted family members soon became the norm for him. He didn’t question it until things started to change. He made friends, and slowly joined a new family of three sisters: Momo, Hina, and Akari. However, one of those old family members always seemed to linger in his mind even when at his happiest.
Kyoko, Rei’s adopted sister, is often a reminder of the terrible family life Rei lived before he was able to move out using the money he made from pro shogi. She is a symbol of the hatred his adopted family has for him, and to some extent, their anger is justified. When Rei was adopted, he was often encouraged, as were his brother and Kyoko, to learn Shogi. This was because his new parent was a major figure in the world of Shogi, so it only makes sense that he would want a successor. Soon it became fairly obvious that Rei was the best among the three, and so their father began spending all his time with Rei while ignoring the rest of his family.
While Rei’s brother and adopted mom largely faded into the background as no more than an afterthought in the back of Rei’s mind, Kyoko was different. She continued to make herself known, to be around Rei when she could. She haunted him like a ghost, and Rei was already scared enough as it was. In this way, Kyoko is more than just a sister, or something much darker, as the show’s flashbacks imply, but rather, in a much broader sense, Kyoko is a vampire.
Rather than a literal vampire, Kyoko best represents a kind of vampirism described by Thomas C. Foster in “How to Read Literature like a Professor,” where he says “[Vampirism] is also about things other than literal vampirism: selfishness, exploitation, a refusal to respect the autonomy of others…” While the third one there isn’t as relevant to Rei, the first two, selfishness and exploitation, are at the heart of who Kyoko is. Much of their interaction in the story is Kyoko’s attempts, both consciously and unconsciously, to use Rei as a way to make herself feel better.
One example of this is when Kyoko shows up late at night to Rei’s apartment. It is easy to tell that Kyoko knows that Rei will give and let her stay, despite him wanting otherwise because the train stops running late at night. When she is done warming up her feet in the bathroom, she tells Rei that he should come home, and mentions multiple times that “its what dad would want.” In this way, she is continuing to make him feel guilty even though he’s already moved out of the house. The next morning, the two wake up, and Kyoko reminds him about his match against Mr. Matsunaga and compares Rei beating him and ending Matsunaga’s pro career to “killing a senile, old dog” all while walking out the door. In both of the cases, Kyoko exploits Rei’s emotional instability in order to make him feel bad and herself feel good.
However, the times when Kyoko isn’t there were still probably painful for Rei. As Foster points out later on, “Here’s where it gets a little tricky, though: the ghosts and vampires don’t always have to appear invisible forms.” Even when Kyoko isn’t passive-aggressively insulting Rei to his face, her hatred of him can be a constant drag. Throughout every episode of the series, it is hard to imagine that a day didn’t pass where Rei wasn’t thinking about Kyoko. Not only that, but despite him having no reason to do so, Rei still cares for her sister because of the fact that she is with Gouto, which acts as a further vampiric drain on himself.
When all is said and done, though, Rei struggles on. He lives his best life, despite a hatred fueled sister constantly on his mind, and every reason to believe that she will continue trying to torment him. Kyoko is a vampire, pure and simple, and it's hard to find much in the way of redemption for someone as awful as her.
Who, or What, is Kyoko?
Ya Boy Jack explores the world of March Comes in Like a Lion by looking at one of the more controversial aspects: Rei's sister Kyoko. Who is she,...
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