Shion No Ou, (aka "Shion's King"), is a story about a young girl, named Shion, whose parent's were murdered in front of her while she was a young child. Only instead of becoming Batman, it made her become a Shougi player, because her parents were found with shougi pieces on their foreheads.
Shougi, for those who don't know, is a game similar to chess, though different as well. The series features a number of shougi games, usually between high-level amateurs and pros. An understanding of shougi isn't particularly important (any more than a knowledge of tennis is for Prince of Tennis, or go for Hikaru no Go.) as the tension of the games themselves translates quite clearly, and any truly spectacular move will be mentioned in traditional anime style "I can't believe it! They [insert exposition here] when they should have done XXX". This, actually was my biggest complaint about the series, the fact that it was not, say, outsider friendly, in terms of the games themselves.
However, I suggest you ignore that part of it, for this is a good psychological suspense anime. There is a killer, and we slowly start to learn about who he might have been. And the tension mounts as you start trying to figure out who the killer is, and worry that Shion MIGHT BE PLAYING THAT KILLER RIGHT NOW!
Did I mention that Shion is 12? And she cannot speak? And the killer is after her? And if she speaks he will kill her? Sure, when I put it on paper (or a forum page) it seems a little bit contrived, and even a little overboard in trying to get us to care for her, but when acted out before you, the characters all seem very realistic. Nothing feels contrived, or rushed. All the characters have reasons for what they do, none of them are "good to be good" or "evil for the sake of evil". This is a cast of realistic people, caught in a bad situation. The characterization is some of the best I've seen in an anime. I can think of only a few series where the characters feel more like people than this one.
In fact, it is this realism of the characters that lends to such a wonderful climax, which is so intense that I literally spent the last episode gasping for breath. If you like suspense animes, and/or game animes, this is probably the best you will find this year, and probably for some time to come.
For hard numbers:
Plot: 8/10 Fairly by the book. Girl with tragic past becomes star player, competes to become a pro and catch her parents' killer. A few red herrings, some intense shougi battles and some nerve-wracking detective work. A simple play, but extremely well executed.
Characters: 10/10 These people feel real. Everyone has motives for what they do. Sometimes they're stupid motives, but even then, they're believable, and I think that's what's important.
Art: 8/10 Nothing we haven't seen before. But the characters have a different sort of charm than the usual beautiful girl type, which I really liked. There's almost no visual fan service, but if you're watching this series, that's not why you're watching anyway.
Sound 8/10 I'd like to say good things about it. But it's simply a decent soundrack. I can't think of any songs I felt were particularly out of place, but only one that I felt really belonged. The OP is an excellent track though. I hope to see more good work from Rize.
Overall: 8/10. Not the best anime to come out this year, but it's definitely in the top 3. Suspenseful, believable, touching, and with an adorable leading lady, this series will both make you smile and make you sweat. If you like thrillers you'll love this. It may even make you want to try shougi.
It will never TRULY be Tuesday again. Farewell, Ryan Davis