Monday, December 10, 2007

Shion no Ou 1 - First Impressions

Let's get one thing straight: I don't do boardgames. Sure, I used to play chess. I was even a player for inter-school competitions once but I don't do that anymore. The closest thing to a board game I play is online poker and that's really stretching it.

So when I first heard about Shion no Ou (Shion's King - The Flowers of Hard Blood), a Studio Deen-produced anime adaptation of mystery manga of the same title, I was not particularly drawn to it. But then through a series of mysterious circumstances, here I am blogging about it.
Shion no Ou Episode 01: Shion's Path

The series opens with the murder of Shion's parents, which Shion -- still a child -- witnesses. The only clue to the murderer's identity is a single shougi piece: a king.

OPENING CREDITS. The song is called "LADY LOVE" by RIZE [Sample @ 4shared].

Present day -- A now grown-up Shion is watched over by a couple of police detectives as she runs towards the Japan Shougi Association building. The two talk about Shion's experience eight years past, witnessing the death of her own parents and how the shock of the incident caused her to lose her speech. The younger cop comments that Shion does not look like someone whose parents were brutally murdered.

Meanwhile, inside the building, Shion talks with an old acquaintance at the counter. They are approached by Hani-meijin ('meijin' is used to denote a highly-ranking shougi pro), who is taking a break even as his match is still ongoing. Hani-meijin seems to find Shion interesting, but soon leaves.

At this point, we get an explanation of how shougi players move up in rank. First, a shougi player must become a member of the shougi association, after which s/he is required to win a requisite number of matches for a six-month period. The player who emerges with the most number of wins has the honor of becoming a kishi ("pro player"). Among kishi, one can go up several ranks but let's leave that for later. Right now we are more interested on how Shion can become pro.

In her first match of the day, Shion wins easily. That leaves her with only one win in order to become kishi. While marking her name on the scoreboard, she meets the kishi, Nikaido Saori, a seemingly cheerful and overly affectionate older girl. Saori has heard of a lot about the youngest member of the association, Shion.

As the two girls talk, another girl wearing glasses arrives to mark her name on the scoreboard as well. This new girl is curt and does not seem to like to socialize. Saori identifies her as Saitou Ayumi, a contender for the kishi rank. Shion seems to react to Ayumi.

Later, Shion and Saori are sitting by the vending machine, getting more acquainted. Saori seems genuinely friendly but reacts in a hostile manner to Hisatani's arrival. She accuses him of being an otaku (usually refers to an anime fan, but here Saori means it in a derogatory way, like someone with a kind of fetish for young girls). Even after Shion explains that Hisatani is a 3-dan shougi player and her fellow apprentice under Yasuoka Shinji (also her adoptive father), Saori inspects Hisatani's hand, stating that shougi players tend to have beautiful fingers.

The remark triggers a memory of Shion during the night of her parents' murder.

Meanwhile, at the Yasuoka household, Yasuoka Shinji gets a call from the Association where he learns that Shion is going to fight one more match. If she wins, she will become kishi. Shinji's wife expresses concern that Shion might not want the match enough to win it, but Shinji is confident that Shion will play her shougi.

Back at the Association, the match between Shion and Ayumi is starting. Several male players, including Hani-meijin and Hisatani, are watching them from a monitor, trying their damnest to explain the game to us, philistines. Saori and a random guy are scoring each player.

The game is pretty intense. Ayumi has the advantage at the onset of the game but Shion is holding her own. In the middle of the game, Shion notices a strange feeling in her chest and for the first time, we hear Shion's voice (inner monologue, that is) as she remarks that it is because she wants to win the match and defeat Ayumi.

But despite this realization and the new determination to win that comes along with it, Shion loses the game. Remarking about the match and the winning move that Ayumi made, Hani-meijin says that if she can make a move like that, then perhaps there is no need for the category of "female shougi players," and thus, giving us a huge clue as to Ayumi's true character.

After the game, Saori, Hisatani and Shion are preparing to go home. Shion does not seem adversely affected by her defeat and still manages to be graceful about it. Ayumi passes by them but more or less ignores Saori's congratulations. A black car then arrives; it's Saori's ride. She leaves with the parting message that she looks forward to pitting strengths with Shion.

As Saori's car drives away, we are treated to the sight of a conspicuously red ferrari parked near the entrance. The driver (blond but with half his face hidden) seems to be watching Shion as she and Hisatani leave for home.

The next scene shows Saori asking her driver where her parents are. It turns out Saori comes from a rich family whose parents are always busy with either business or parties. The scene ends with her asking her driver to find out all he can about Yasuoka Shion and Saitou Ayumi.

Speaking of Ayumi, she is on a train. Even though she won the match against Shion, she does not look jubilant about it. We are treated to a flashback of how she became a shougi player in the first place.

She is playing with an 11-dan player but just when she thinks she won the match, the man suddenly lunges at her, ripping her clothes off (!!) and revealing her very flat, very masculine chest. The man then says that whenever he (Ayumi) thinks he is making a checkmate, his eyes turn into that of a man. He asks why Ayumi, with his abilities, is playing in a weaker league and Ayumi answers that he needs the money to pay for his mother's hospital bills. After hearing this, the man agrees to let Ayumi be his apprentice, on one condition: that he only play shougi for money.

Back at the Yasuoka house, Shinji and his wife are trying to talk things over with Shion. Again, Shion seems like she's handling herself well, but once Shinji asks her whether she is satisfied with her shougi, she suddenly erupts into tears.

After tucking her to bed, Shion's adoptive parents talk her. The wife especially is worried since it is the first time she has ever seen Shion cry since her parents' death. Shinji, again, is however confident that Shion's crying means she's beginning to have true drive in her shougi: she wants to win.

In another part of town, the blond man from the car is busy cutting a picture of Shion in a newspaper article. In front of him is a wall filled entirely of Shion's photos.

The next morning, the same man is stalking Shion as she goes home from school. At about the same time, Ayumi, now dressed as a boy, is making his way out of the hospital. He recognizes Shion and witnesses the blond stalker grabbing Shion from behind.

END CREDITS. "My Dear Friend" by Teruma Aoyama [Sample @ 4shared].

Well, that is certainly a boat load of info for a first episode. Unfortunately, even if the show tries to explain the game to non-shougi players, I still can't quite grasp the mechanics of the game. I'm more interested in the mystery aspect though, and Shion's character development.

The blouse-ripping scene made me go "ZOMGWTF lol." So dramatic. I suspect there was a little fan service in there too.

Saori's personality weirds me out. The cheerful disposition does not match her character design. So it was a relief when it was shown later in the episode that Saori is not what she seems.

I don't like the art style very much, although the 3D shougi board and pieces are a joy to watch. Most especially when the characters make their move with so much flourish and intensity like they're playing tennis or something instead of some boring board game. :)

Hmm, this seems interesting. I'm picking this up but I'm not sure if I'll blog about it. It's only 12 episodes long, so dunno.

More Shion no Ou Ep.01 Screencaps
Official Anime Site

Wikipedia Article