When Shion was four her family were killed and the murderer was never found. Now 13 years old, Shion is a female shogi player who does no speak but is determined to continue getting stronger. However, as she continues to play clues about the past begin to surface.
At 22 episodes, this anime is a slow moving piece of drama that at times feels more like a slice of life except that all of the characters continue to push toward their goals throughout. At the centre of the story is Shion and while her Shogi is apparently amazing her characterisation isn’t. You end up watching events unfold from a distance but, for me at least, emotional investment never actually occurs which leaves you cold to the revelation of who the murderer is (assuming you didn’t figure it out at around the half-way mark).
I’m going to approach this review in a plus/minus format. It’s been awhile since I’ve done it and it’s the best way to organise my thoughts on this show. I’m also trying to avoid obvious spoilers about the identity of individuals but if you like to be surprise maybe you should give the review a miss.
The support cast of this anime manage to hold up the show. While Shion is a fairly passive protagonist (about the only thing she actively does is play Shogi), the other characters are all very driven individuals. They make life choices, work to protect Shion, continue to seek self-improvement and generally are fairly entertaining to watch. That said, there are no big personalities here (with a few notable exceptions and most of these are characters you are not supposed to like). Still, it’s a large cast and you still feel you’ve gotten to know the characters pretty well by the end of the series.
The animation looks stagnant and dated (even though the anime is from 2007). Normally I don’t criticise the animation but in this case there are far, far too many still shots of characters staring at shogi boards or close ups of that character closing is fan again, or that one clenching their fist, etc. When the characters are actually in motion it looks truly bizarre and you realise early on why they never bothered to actually animate the murder itself or anything to do with the crime other than the game of Shogi played between Shion and the murderer. Even then, there were more close ups on fingers and eyes than anything else.
We have a male who cross dresses as a female (for well explained motives and reasons) and not every character is totally oblivious to it. Early on several key characters figure out what is going on though few of them ever directly confront the issue. Probably the weakest part of this is when they finally cut their hair and show up as a male and a few characters can’t immediately see what has happened. Still, this was interesting and played well early on in the series. The show also puts the distinction between male and female Shogi players front and centre for a large part of the series so while it doesn’t really make many inroads in challenging accepted stereotypes it at least addresses that they exist.
You are going to be watching a lot of Shogi matches and that characters are going to discuss the tactics a lot so if you go in with no knowledge of the game, prepare to google and learn. Admittedly, the overall plot still makes sense without knowledge of the game but I’m thinking your missing out on the vast majority of what this show is about.
The mystery is resolved. Everything in this anime stems from Shion’s parents getting murdered and everything links back to it. Okay, things might be a little too nicely tied up and connected in a way that only happens in television mysteries but it leaves you with an absolute sense that things have come to an end and now everyone can move forward. I also like that it isn’t just Shion who has been crippled emotionally by the murder. The event sent ripples through the Shogi community and so many characters were ultimately touched by it.
The police investigators that just seem to hang around waiting for clues about an eight year old crime. While they might get some time to investigate new threats and the like, it seems really unlikely that two people would have that much time to move around the association just casually inquiring about things that may or may not significant. For a large part of this series that police are clueless and useless and what little they do manage to solve is all too late because the other characters have pieced things together by then for us so the investigators don’t even get to explain what has happened. They just get to march the criminal out at the end.
All and all though, Shion no Ou is an interesting if slow watch. The series has its issues but with a likable cast and clear end point it is certainly bingeable. Whether you like it or not will probably be determined by how many games of Shogi you can stand watching and whether you find Shion herself completely bland in the main role. Clearly they were trying for cute and determined but mostly she comes off as an empty doll that occasionally smiles to show that she can emote (okay, that was harsh and she does actually exhibit a larger range of emotions toward the end of the series but early on she’s pretty one note).
If you’ve seen the show, what were your thoughts?