First impressions can lie sometimes.
Shirow Shiratori, the author of The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done!, wrote this in the afterword of volume 3:
“This is the story I want to write from the bottom of my heart.”
Out of all the books Shiratori has ever written over his ten year career, including the popular NO-RIN series, The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! is the first story he has ever felt this way about. He didn’t need to say as much—despite knowing nothing about the subject matter of the story, I could sense Shiratori’s passion keenly. He has an impeccable sense of pacing too; his short, terse sentences capture the sheer intensity of shogi, painting a vivid picture of a world I’d never seen. The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! has some of the finest prose I’ve ever read in a light novel.
And yet, truth be told, I didn’t like Ryuo very much when I first read it.
The reason will be obvious to anyone who has read the first chapter of the first volume. It has questionable jokes about underage girls. Honestly, the whole thing reminded me a lot of the Ro-Kyu-Bu! series, which is also a story about a teenage boy mentoring underage girls in a competitive sport/game. The premise sounds skeevy, but the story itself is clean and innocent—something that both series like to joke about by constantly including innuendos and seemingly sexual situations that turn out to be innocuous. These jokes, as you may imagine, are not terribly funny.
It therefore came as no surprise to me that a Ro-Kyu-Bu! director (Shinsuke Yanagi) is directing The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! too. But for what it’s worth, Ryuo speaks to me more than Ro-Kyu-Bu! ever did, and that largely comes down to how it portrays the fascinating world of professional shogi.
Ryuo is multifaceted in its portrayal. It doesn’t just focus on the elementary school-aged girls who are attending shogi school. The male protagonist Yaichi is a pro who even has a title to his name—we follow his matches at the very top level. We also follow his childhood friend Ginko who plays at the very top of the women’s league, and his older sister figure Keika who struggles to make it into the big leagues. The focus on different players with varying levels of skill and experience gives the world of shogi a surprising level of nuance and depth. I’m particularly impressed with how this portrays the intensity of women players in a professional game that has long been male-dominated.
I don’t even know the rules of shogi, but that doesn’t matter. After a time, Ryuo becomes less like Ro-Kyu-Bu! and more like Hikaru no Go, the classic shonen manga about the traditional Japanese board game Go. You don’t need to know the rules to get invested in Hikaru no Go, either. The matches are written in such a way that the characters’ emotions come first in every situation. The specific strategies used matter less than the imagery they evoke, and Ryuo is extremely good at using visual language to make a strong impression.
This is the main reason why I’m looking forward to the Ryuo anime. I want to see the kinds of visual tricks and metaphors that the series employs in animated form. As evocative as the novels are, I do want to actually see the images too. It’s the kind of appeal you can only get through anime. The trailer already gives some hints about the kinds of imagery that the anime will use, and it’s just as cool as I hoped.
I’m writing this article straight after finishing volume 3 of the light novel. This volume includes numerous scenes that, in my opinion, make the entire series worth it. The English translation of the novels from Bookwalker only covers the first volume so far, so you’ll just have to wait until the anime comes out to see what I’m talking about.
In short: first impressions can lie sometimes. If you can look past the off-color jokes, please do pick up The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! next season. Even if you have no interest in shogi, I promise that you’ll find it fascinating.
Kim Morrissy (@frog_kun) is a freelance writer and Tokyo correspondent for Anime News Network.