Once upon a time there was a remarkable anime that turned thousands of crazy otaku into go players. Can the 12 episode Shion no Ou (しおんの王) do the same for shogi? Tune into Fuji TV, Saturdays at 26:15 JST to find out.
The original manga is a collaborative work between artist Andou Jirou and and writer Katori Masaru. The latter is actually a pen name used by former female professional shogi player Hayashiba Naoko, whose personal history is quite fascinating, particularly the part where she published a photobook with nudes in 1995. Moving on, the manga has been running since 2004, with a 6th volume out at the end of the month, and the anime is being produced by Studio DEEN. The director is Kawase Toshifumi, who most recently has been busying himself writing scripts for Higurashi no Naku Koro ni and CODE-E, but also directed shows like Tenjou Tenge and Dragon Drive. Series composition was handled by Yamada Takashi, who curiously seems to have worked on one of the very first anime I ever watched, Blue Noah (aka Thundersub), some 20 years ago. Since he just finished Lovely Complex, it’s an interesting choice for a thriller.
Shion no Ou tells the story of Yasuoka Shion, an 11-year-old girl gone mute after a traumatic event where an unknown man murdered her parents, yet left her alive some seven years ago. She was then adopted by a neighbouring family, where her new father was a professional shogi player. Finding solace in the game, her skills were cultivated to a frightening degree in this environment, and as the show begins Shion is nearing the end of a tournament held to qualify the winner as a professional female player. In the very final battle, she plays against the exceptionally strong Saitou Ayumi, whose motivation for becoming a female pro lies with an ill mother requiring urgent and expensive surgery. Overseeing the match is a wealthy young lady by the name of Nikaidou Saori, who seems to be very fond of our little heroine, but the authenticity of her affection is dubious. Yet Shion has a bigger threat – the mysterious blond man who stalks her and keeps an extensive photo collection. He bears a creepy resemblance with the man in her memories.
Here’s another production with the Hi Vision logo stamped all over it, and it looks very pretty, despite the lolified character design that seems to have driven readers away after getting used to the manga visuals. As a newcomer, I have no complaints, apart from the choice to use gray rather than black outlines, which gives it a somewhat hazy look. The shogi board and pieces are computer rendered, and strongly remind me of Hikaru no Go and Akagi, but it works out well. Yamashita Kousuke is composing the music for both this and Dragonaut, and it’s pleasant fare that doesn’t steal attention. Solid performer Kawasumi Ayako (Mahoro in Mahoromatic) has an amusing job voicing Shion, because the girl doesn’t actually speak. Instead she gets to do inner monologues, which are seemingly few and far between. More lines were given the androgynously voiced Paku Romi (rock-Nana in Nana) as rival Ayumi, and relatively unknown Mizuno Risa (Suzunari-sensei in Twin Spica) as Saori. I was also amused to find Kouda Mariko (Nayuki in Kanon) as Shion’s mother.
This is not the new Hikaru no Go. There are certainly many familiar scenes, especially when they’re at the shogi institute commenting on moves made, but where Hikaru no Go was happily educational, Shion no Ou is darkly serious. It has blood and plotting and blouses ripped apart, and less attention seems to be given those of us who’ve never been in contact with shogi before. Don’t feel down, though, because instead of rehashing a successful concept, we get a fascinating new thriller with an unusual setting. Just make sure you read this Wikipedia entry first.
Reminds me of: Akagi, except with cute little girls.