Final Thoughts: Shion no Ou

Is it a woman? is it a man? No, it’s SuperTrap!

Eight years ago, Yasuoka Shion witnessed the bloody murder of her parents- and since that day, she has never spoken a word. Under the tutelage of her adoptive parents, however, Shion has learned to express herself through the game of shogi, even going so far as to enter the world of the professionals whilst still in middle school. But as the police continue their investigation into the death of Shion’s parents, it seems that the world of shogi might hold the answer to that particular mystery as well.

As a fan of the intense gaming action seen in Hikaru no Go and Akagi, it only seemed right that the time had come to add a similar series to my viewing in the form of the shogi-centric Shion no Ou. With a female protagonist and a brand new board game to add to my repertoire, I was certain of one thing- this series was going to fit the bill on all counts.

Unfortunately, the truth wasn’t to be quite as rosy as expected, for rather than purely being about shogi, Shion no Ou also chose to devote its time to a murder mystery, and in the end, it suffered for splitting its focus in this way. The murder side of the story was never much more than tiresome, starting off with a suspect too dislikeable to possibly be the culprit, before making it obvious who the murderer really was several episodes before a proper revelation. Worse yet, the motive for the murderer was so paper thin and ridiculous as to be laughable, based on the flawed logic that having your parents die at a young age will somehow make you a skilled shogi player. Then again, my parents are still alive and I can’t play shogi at all, so maybe there’s something in that theory after all.

Fortunately, although it didn’t start off too well, the shogi side of things was at least partially satisfying. In the early episodes, the hurried pace of the games and my general lack of idea as to how shogi is played left me floundering, but the arrival of the tried-and-true tournament arc helped matters greatly. As with Hikaru no Go and Akagi, Shion no Ou gradually learned how to compensate for the viewer’s lack of knowledge about game details by manipulating the tension and atmosphere of the match. Certainly by the end of the series I was more than ready to see Shion progress in the world of shogi.

Whilst much of the supporting cast is rather bland and one-dimensional, Shion no Ou does present us with some potentially interesting main characters, from Shion herself, a girl who cannot talk (although we hear her voice her inner thoughts) and thus communicates via a notepad to Ayumi, a young man who dresses as a woman so that he can make money out of competing in the female shogi league (the male league being much harder to get into). Unfortunately, none of the points of interest are really developed properly, with important revelations often being forgotten or resolved within the space of an episode.

Visually, Shion no Ou is rather unremarkable- character designs and animation are decent enough, but hardly eye-catching or overly appealing (after all, even the one attractive blue-haired meganekko turns out to be a trap). The same can be said of the limited but functional background music.

Final Thoughts

Although it suffers from a split focus and a general drift into mediocrity, Shion no Ou is the kind of the series that becomes an acquired taste- the more you watch of it, the more you genuinely want to see what happens next. It may not be worthy of standing beside the oft-mentioned Akagi and Hikaru no Go, but until a better shogi-based series comes along, this one will plug the gap.

Tier: Bronze