Shion no Ou
The Flowers of Hard Blood
KATORI Masaru (story), ANDO Jiro (art)
Seinen – Mystery, sports, drama, psychological, gender bender
8 Volumes (complete)
After her parents are murdered, four-year-old Shion is adopted by a shogi player and his wife. However, the trauma has caused Shion to be mute. The years pass, and Shion finds herself walking down the path of becoming a professional shogi player. But could her parents’ murderer also belong to the world of shogi?
Even knowing next to nothing about shogi doesn’t stop me from enjoying Shion no Ou.
Shogi, as I am sure many of you are aware of, is often called Japanese chess. I barely know regular chess, but shogi involves pieces being promoted (like checkers) and also using your opponents’ pieces that you’ve captured. That’s about all I could tell you about the game, but the significance of these two main points play a part in the story. Shion works toward being “promoted” to a professional, but she also wants to capture her parents’ killer.
One of the strengths of Shion no Ou is that it is not too long. Very few characters drop in or out of the series, meaning that the author does not constantly try to fake out the readers a la Arisa. And while the mystery is a central part of Shion no Ou, it is not the only part. Shion herself does not live in the past, and we get to experience not only her current life but the lives of the people around her: there’s the shady business, the kind and concerned parents, the conflicted rival, the maiden in love, and more.
It’s this world-building that makes Shion no Ou so addicting: we get to see quite a few characters’ struggles both during their shogi matches as well as in their personal lives. I really enjoyed seeing how involved her adopted parents are, a refreshing change from many series where the parents are satellite characters who drop in once in a blue moon. You can really feel the love as they worry about Shion’s physical and mental safety. I also must add this series also has one of my favorite subtle romances. The two characters never kiss, but there’s no doubt they are strongly connected to each other. By the end, we see a resolution for all the major characters, but some threads are not tightly tied to leave room for readers’ imaginations. In addition, despite not being a comedy, the manga does include quite a few humorous scenes to help lighten up the story. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the difference between Shion’s and Ayumi’s shoe sizes or Shion’s face when her mother mentions broccoli.
Of course, the series does have its downsides. The shogi scenes can be somewhat confusing, so I pretty much skipped over them and let the characters’ reactions do the understanding for me. The first volume is also the weakest artistically and story-wise, and the timeline also seemed to jump ahead several months at times. The characters kept saying eight years, but I think it’s because eight is a number the Japanese say for a lot. It’s like how we say “a couple” and can mean two to four or “a decade ago” doesn’t mean exactly 10 years ago. I wish one character that disappeared had more of a proper exit, but, more importantly, there is one plot hole toward the end that is never explained. I can force an explanation, but the story should be doing that.
Shion is a character that I just can’t help wanting to hug. While she has suffered a major tragedy and still lives with the after effects, Shion keeps moving forward. She is still young enough to be in the “all kids are adorable” stage, but we get to experience her steps into adolescence. But as I mentioned, while she is the titular character, she doesn’t hog the spotlight. There’s quite a cast for an eight volume series. First is Ayumi, Shion’s main rival whose big secret is revealed in the first chapter. Saori is an oujo-sama who likes the Meijin (current champion). Then there’s Hisatani, her father’s apprentice that worries about being able to become a pro. I also like her parents with the Mom slightly ribbing her husband but loves both him and Shion. And, of course, there’s the Meijin himself as well as other shogi players, the two detectives, and still a few other recurring characters. Phew!
The art is rather interesting. It is…I don’t really know how to describe it…wispy? Like beards and mustaches loom as if they are uncombed, making the older men look their age instead of unrealistically young. Ando uses shading and gradients instead of heavy inking and screentones. Characters’ eyes seem oddly spaced apart, like they are on the edge of the face rather than more centered. The first volume is also the weakest, as the less detailed scenes look off-model more frequently than the rest of the series. At times, the particularly intense scenes almost look like they were done by a different artist. also meant to Despite these downsides, the artwork is rather enjoyable. Panels are arranged clearly and not overloaded with text or action.
Chance of License:
Shion no Ou was serialized in Afternoon, a magazine from Kodansha. Not too many Afternoon series have been released in English. Seinen is still an emerging market in the U.S. Kodansha USA would first have the option to pick it up, but publishers like Dark Horse and Vertical have published Afternoon manga. Hikaru no Go, a manga featuring a game that’s relatively unknown in the West, found a niche, so it isn’t impossible for a manga like Shion no Ou to be picked up. This series trades Hikaru no Go’s supernatural coming-of-age story for a mystery with a subtle romance. At only eight volumes, it is not too long for either a company or readers to invest in.
Unofficial scanlations have released the whole series. The Japanese version is difficult to read, so maybe try the French release under the title Kings of Shogi.
While I’m sure some mystery buffs will identify the culprit right away, Shion’s journey is a heartful read.
The 22 episode anime series is also unlicensed. It features an alternate ending, but I think both the anime’s and manga’s endings have their own merits.
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