Pay no attention to the crazy stalker in the corner.
Many people will argue that Ryuuou no Oshigoto! is Saki for lolicons. I think that’s unfair. There’s plenty in Saki for lolicons to enjoy too.
Wait. What was I talking about?
The point is, I do think that Saki is the best barometer for whether someone will enjoy this show. Its general feel is the most similar—a focus on comedy hijinks and fanservice, crazy high-powered matches, a general lightness of tone—but the two shows are actually fairly dissimilar when you pick them apart. So let’s do that, shall we?
The thematic core of Ryuuou no Oshigoto! is growth. It might seem at first that the gravitational center is loli antics, and—okay, yeah, there’s plenty of that. But what younger characters give a writer—the grade schoolers to be sure, but main characters Yaichi and Ginko are only 14 and 14, respectively—is the chance for explosive changes in a relatively short period of time. The point of this series is not the titles or the shogi, which is good because I still don’t really understand shogi. (I’m shaky on Japanese mahjong, but I’m a damn sight better at it than shogi, that’s for sure.) But that never mattered because shogi is the vehicle by which these characters growth, not the be all end all itself.
Compare this to Saki, which is at its core a team sports anime. There is certainly character growth, but the core there are these big team battles and winning tournaments, whereas in Ryuuou it’s always about personal growth. That makes sense when you focus on who is competing and who wins the matches—the team versus the individual. But, to both shows’ credit, they embrace that difference. Saki is more like a battle anime, whereas Ryuuou is a coming-of-age drama.
This shows in how much the characters in Ryuuou change over the course of the story, and none so much as the one person who isn’t a teenager or younger. Keika is the stand out surprise of the series, because her story of continual failure followed by redemption was so well executed. You really feel for Keika because she goes through so much for her love of shogi, and yet keeps getting nothing for it. She’s outclassed, but also standing in her own way, and it breaks the heart to see it—just as it makes the heart sing when she finally got over it. The changes in Keika, Ai #1, Ai #2, and Yaichi are the whole point of the series, so thankfully they do them relatively well. Not flawlessly—only Keika and Yaichi experience changes that are more than just the natural consequence of growing up—but pretty good.
For me, the biggest weakness in Ryuuou is that, while the anime did a pretty decent job of explaining when the big swings in momentum were happening, the staid world of shogi doesn’t lend itself as well to drama. That meant that it could get boring when the characters were placing tiles and I only kinda knew what was going on. Partially that’s a fault of mine for not knowing jack about shogi, but it’s also just harder to make this kind of thing work with shogi, since the price of entry, knowledge-wise, is higher than with other games. It’s also relatively silly through most of its run, and whether that works for you will depend on your tastes; it was light and airy enough to make it an easy watch for me, but it probably lacks the impact to keep others watching. I’d understand either way.
One of the best things Ryuuou did was the ep10-11 descent into despair by Yaichi, because it was actively unpleasant to watch—which made his recovery and eventual victory against the Meijin all the sweeter. It was also wise to hold that off until that late in the season, because if a viewer was put off by the uncomfortable, frustrating ending of ep10, it’s likely they’d watch the final two episodes because it’s almost done anyway. Better to make that play later on, when the buy-in is already there. I also really liked how they only started showing the Meijin’s face during ep12, because it showed that Yaichi no longer considered him some unbeatable god, but rather a a man to be defeated. Good job on the run back, Ryuuou.
Ryuuou was a pretty fun, and pretty silly, anime that mostly delivered on its message of growth through shogi. Stand outs like Keika and Ginko (who I felt sympathy for as well, with how she was always chasing the gifted behemoth that is Yaichi) made up for weaknesses in the blow-by-blow of the actual shogi. That and there are lolis, if that’s your thing. I won’t deny that it was pretty funny to hear Hidaka Rina put on her best yandere loli voice and make it clear who’s Yaichi’s future wife. Though her mother was the best at the latter. Poor boy! Despite his occasional feints toward Keika, we all know where your inclinations lie. Good luck in your next matches, Loli Ryuuou.
My SECOND novel, Freelance Heroics, is available now! (Now in print!) (Also available: Firesign #1 Wage Slave Rebellion.) Sign up for my email list for updates. At stephenwgee.com, the latest post: Book 3 Progress Report.