Shion no Ou

Every season on Unwound, we (read: I) go through a rigorous selection process of what anime series and films we should review on the show. It doesn’t involve darts with anime titles stuck to a wall or paper fortune teller/cootie catcher. Usually, I choose anime series that garnered a lot of hype like Code Geass or Gundam 00, mainly because they are hyped. However, I also choose anime series that no one wants to talk about, much less watched at all. Shion no Ou is a perfect example of one of the best anime series nobody watched.

Shion no Ou’s story revolves around a gifted middle school shogi (Japanese chess) prodigy named Yasuoka Shion. When she was five years old, she witnessed her parents’ brutal murder. The ordeal was so shocking, Shion lost the ability to speak and can only communicate through writing on a notepad. The one part that Shion remembers about the tragic event was that the murderer took her father’s shogi piece, a king, which leads her to believe that the murderer is a shogi player. Following the event, Shion’s neighbor, the Yasuoka family, adopted her and has taken up the game of shogi. Under the tutelage and influence of her foster father, Shion is in love with the game of shogi and is fast becoming a professional player. Shion’s love for shogi is also a double edged sword, as she discovers that shogi is not child’s play at all.

The beauty of Japanese animation is that anything under the sun can be told in an interesting way. It’s proven with Hikaru no Go, and it’s a similar case with Shion no Ou. Even though Shion no Ou’s story seems like it’s a “been there, done that” situation, it is different and interesting enough, that it can stand on its own legs, despite Hikaru no Go’s existence.

What got me hooked with Shion no Ou is the titular character herself. Shion’s bubbly attitude and roller coaster experience with the game of shogi and the other characters are captivating. Also, she’s a character who’s easy to root for, since many of her opponents, mostly adults, are just plain cruel to her. (Come on! She’s only a kid. Pick someone your own age!) Some of the other characters have extraordinary back stories. In the first episode of the series, we learn that Saitou Ayumi is a male shogi player, who crossdress because earning money in the female competition is easier and more lucrative. On the other hand, other characters are missed opportunities, like Nikaido Saori, a female shogi player who came from a rich background. The only interesting fact about her is that she plays shogi for self-respect and to be respected as a player.

My only complaint about Shion no Ou, was that even though the writers somehow combined a compelling story about a cold case and shogi, I wish they somehow explain about the basics of playing shogi. But then again, perhaps the writers and producers of Shion no Ou probably didn’t account for this series to be viewed by people outside Japan.

Even though it seemed like it ended so quickly, Shion no Ou was a surprising ride. Just when you think Japanese animators are running out of ideas, they keep churning out more of the good stuff. It’s without question that we like Shion no Ou and we hope that you’ll give it a try as well.