The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Shion no Ou

Title: Shion no Ou
Genre: Drama
Company: Studio DEEN
Format: 22 episodes
Dates: 13 Oct 2007 – 22 Mar 2008

Synopsis: Ishiwatari Shion’s parents were brutally murdered eight years ago and the only clue to the murderer’s identity was a shougi piece. The shock resulting from the event left Shion unable to speak, but nevertheless, she found happiness after being adopted by the Yasuoka family. Under the tutelage of Yasuoka Shinji, Shion has become a rising star in the shougi world. But her rise carries with it a price as she experiences harassment from jealous rivals and her parents’ murderer, who still remains at large and slowly emerges from the woodwork to begin actively pursuing her for his inscrutably malicious ends.

The Highlights
Saito Ayumi: Had the most compelling story of the lot.
Ishiwatari Shion: Charming though a bit unrealistic.
Cliffhangers: Expect one at the end of every episode.
Mystery: Mostly competent until the very end.
Animation and artwork: Definitely not this series’s strong suit.

Game/sports anime have had a tendency towards being predictable, which usually results in the series being bereft of drama and tension because the match’s outcome is never in doubt. Shion no Ou‘s shougi matches have the aforementioned predictability, which seemingly removes the purpose of having a competition-themed series in the first place. But by using the shougi games as a means to move the plot along and to develop the characters while adding a mystery on top of it, Shion no Ou manages to deliver an enjoyable experience even if the execution is questionable at times.

It bears mentioning that Shion no Ou‘s brisk pacing is a welcome change because the series doesn’t drag out the shougi matches for the sake of dramatic effect. This decision is a boon, especially for the Western anime viewer, many of whom are not familiar with shougi to be able to understand its intricacies. So by using the shougi matches as a way for the characters to express themselves and philosophize, the series is able to develop the characters without bogging the audience down in minutiae.

In developing its characters, this series offers mixed results. While most of them receive decent treatment, Shion herself occupies a grayer slot. She is sweet, charming, and affable while exhibiting a tough and resolute interior that can withstand the rigors of competition without suffering a crisis of confidence. The problem with this picture is that it doesn’t feel real because she is passive about taking her lumps, which include harassment, without taking action to combat it or seriously pondering over whether it’s worth playing shougi in spite of it. Because of that issue, her character isn’t as interesting as Ayumi’s. The two facets of Ayumi’s personality are intriguing because her ruthless devotion to winning versus her ability to care for others makes for a good contrast. Eventually, the series reveals Ayumi’s travails which are painted in a sympathetic light and have the effect of making her character far more compelling.

Finally, the mystery itself is a mixed bag. Shion no Ou does manage to keep the viewer interested by throwing red herrings around while maintaining a dark, ominous atmosphere. The flashbacks that show the murder are appropriately grim and the harassment is fairly unnerving, both of which serve to keep the viewer on edge and involved in the story. However, there are moments that border on the comical. For example, Shion’s parents’ murderer is often shown walking around in public wearing a trench coat, a large hat, sunglasses, and a scarf in such a way that looks so suspicious that you wonder why no one’s called him out on his choice in silly attire.

More problematic is when the series reveals the murderer and rationalizes his behavior because his motives make no sense and his explanations are tough to swallow. Rather than make this character transition feel natural, the series makes use of a bizarre personality change that requires one to muster a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief for it to pass. The end result leaves the viewer to conclude that the villain is either totally deluded or is completely insane, neither of which makes for a satisfying ending.

In a saturated genre with heavy hitters like Akagi to niche series like Initial D(1,2), Shion no Ou occupies a middle ground. Although there are a few glaring issues with this series, it’s still competently done as to be enjoyable. After going through many series where it comes down to battle after battle and game after game, it’s nice to see Shion no Ou add a mystery to the mix to ultimately make the series more engaging.

The Rating: 7
7/10

Reviewed by: zzeroparticle

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