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Shirow Shiratori, Author of The Ryuo's Work is Never Done!

by Kim Morrissy,

Shirow Shiratori isn't a new face in the world of light novels. His previous series No-Rin was adapted into a popular anime series in 2014. The Ryuo's Work Is Never Done! is his latest work. Ranked #1 by Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! in both 2017 and 2018, The Ryuo's Work Is Never Done! is also currently being adapted into an anime this season.

The Ryuo's Work Is Never Done! is highly praised by both literary critics and shogi professionals for its thrilling shogi matches and accurate depictions of the professional shogi world. We recently sat down with Shiratori to discuss writing, shogi, and the nature of the light novel business.

ANN: When did you first start playing shogi?

SHIROW SHIRATORI: I started in elementary school when I was about five or six. My grandfather played Go, you see, and he had a Go and shogi set at home.

In Japan, there are a lot of people who can teach you shogi. Still, the rules are pretty hard, and there are lots of complexities the same way chess does. Things like manga make it more accessible.

How did your knowledge of shogi change after you started writing The Ryuo's Work Is Never Done!?

As I was writing Ryūō, I was impressed by amateur shogi. It's very free and unbound by conventions. With pro shogi, the theories that people follow are rigid and set in stone. It's like writing a light novel in that sense. There are lots of fine rules like how you have to include a lot of female characters, or how the protagonist needs to be a teenager. And with shogi, there are things you have to do as well. I became more aware of those things as I was writing the story.

It's mentioned specifically in Ryūō that there aren't many female shogi players, but the series does have a lot of female characters. How realistic are their portrayals?

Currently, there are no female players who are formally recognized as pros. They exist one level below that. But there is a women's league, where many women are active.

The way I portrayed the female characters was mostly true to life. There are a lot of women who get taken on as apprentices and apply for the women's league. A lot of girls also attend shogi school. I really wanted to capture this world where female players work alongside the pros and aim to be the best at their sport.

How realistic is it to see child geniuses like Yaichi and Ai in the world of shogi?

Well, shogi is the kind of world where talent manifests early. Ai has actually picked up shogi quite late compared to a lot of kids who aspire to become pro from a young age. For example, Ginko is a character who is very close to the level of pro, and she reached that level by the age of fourteen because she started very young. There really are people like that in the world of shogi.

On the other hand, Ai may have learned the rules at a later age, but I think the rate she has improved is maybe not realistic for a girl player, although there are boy players who can master shogi within half a year of picking up the game.

Yaichi Kuzuryu has achieved the title of “Ryūō” from a young age but has fallen into a slump because of the pressure. Can you relate to his circumstances at all?

Well, I'm not that young, so I didn't really relate to that kind of pressure as I was writing the story. I do get nervous about how my work is received, though. When you're a light novel author, you might produce one hit, but you never know if your next work will be a hit. There aren't many authors whose names are a selling point, you see. But although I get nervous whenever I release a new work, I've never really fallen into a slump, either.

Is your editor also knowledgeable about shogi?

GO KOHARA (editor): I know the rules, at least.

SHIRATORI: Well, I'm the one submitting the story, so I generally do the research independently. Then my editor looks over my work for me. There's also a supervisor who checks the shogi scenes for me.

What kind of feedback does your editor give you?

He doesn't really suggest that many changes. How do I say it…? He tries to see things the same way an average reader would. Instead of asking for specific changes, he tells me his general impressions, like “This part is boring,” and I'll go home and revise that part myself. I have to think about the best way to change it. I do get advice for how to word things in prose, but other than that, I have to think about it for myself.

How do you make the shogi scenes exciting?

Shogi is a boring sport to watch, even for the fans. Some matches take ten hours. As an author, you have to make sure that people don't get bored and that people who don't know the rules will be able to follow what's going on.

So when I write, I have a few -- I guess you'd call it -- “promises” to myself. In novels, you can only use words to express what's going on. So the action has to be about a clash of principles between two people. In a battle scene, you won't be able to tell characters apart unless they have conversations. First, you flesh out their personalities, and then you work out how a match between them would turn out.

Once you've got that worked out, the shogi scene itself is like an afterthought. The outcome has to make sense and be satisfying for the reader. So the shogi part is actually something that I approach separately from the story developments. I just have to make sure that the details aren't boring to the reader.

So do you take inspiration from manga in that area?

Oh, yeah. Take Hikaru no Go, for instance. You barely see the matches. They take, like, two pages. You just see enough to grasp the flow of the match. What makes it interesting is the characters. When Isumi was playing against Ochi, both players are doing their best, but the manga makes you want to cheer for Isumi. The match itself takes only one page but you see so many pages of Isumi agonizing over what to do.

I think that this is really important, and it's why I used Hikaru no Go as a reference for my own writing. I may not be good at shogi, but it's more important to be a good storyteller, so my level of skill is not an issue. As for writing about shogi specifically, there are a number of shogi writers who have written about famous matches, and I've used those as inspiration too.

How did you feel when Ryūō ranked first in Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi!?

It was a first for me. I never really got the impression that Ryūō would be a breakout hit, so when it beat the big sellers, I did feel kind of strange about it at first. But I felt grateful at the same time, and it did inspire me to work harder. “Now I have to sell more copies!” I thought.

The first time Ryūō won Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi!, it had three volumes, and when it won again this year, there were five volumes. I felt happy knowing that I'd produced a whole set of books that have been appraised so well. It made me think that writing Ryūō was a good decision, and that has given me more confidence in myself.

Your previous series was No-Rin, a story set in an agricultural school. How do you come up with these stories with unusual premises?

With both series, I wrote about things that I thought were interesting from my personal experience. Before No-Rin, I wrote a fantasy story set in the Napoleonic era about sailing ships. The descriptions were long and drawn out, exhaustive even. Not wanting to repeat that experience, I went into No-Rin knowing nothing about agriculture. To this day, I still don't know much about it. But in the same way, a lot of my readers would never have worked in a farm before. I wanted to write novels that would get people interested in a topic they didn't know anything about.

Shogi's the same for me. I'm super bad at it, but it's because I'm kind of an outsider to it that I can convey what's so interesting about it to other outsiders. I think it's important not to get too caught up in the details.

By the way, have you gotten any better at shogi since writing Ryūō?

Nope. (laughs) My skill has not improved one bit. Sorry to say that.

Shogi really is a tough game. Of course, I would prefer it if I could beat my opponents easily, but in the end, winning or losing doesn't matter for me.

That reminds me of a part in volume 2 that talks about the pain of losing when the only thing you know is shogi. Can you relate to that feeling personally?

Ah, yes, I remember that part. No matter which sport it is, you'll want to get to the top if you're motivated to improve. Writing novels is a different field altogether, but in a game with a distinct winner and loser like shogi, the pain of losing can be very profound, especially when you lose to someone you could have beaten. Also, the idea that you'll just keep losing to that same person, over and over again, can be painful as well.

As for how much I relate to that feeling personally… Well, back before I was writing novels, I was into high jump. All I could think of was improving my record, so whenever it was beaten or I got injured, it was very painful for me. It's a feeling I've been familiar with since a young age. It was for the best that I eventually quit, but at the time I agonized a lot over that decision.

How do you feel about English speakers reading your books for the first time?

The English-speaking world has a lot of skilled chess players, so I think English speakers would find it interesting to compare chess and shogi. I'm interested in seeing how they relate to shogi players, and how their lives compare to that of chess players.

Is it possible to learn the rules of shogi through reading Ryūō?

Not all the rules. (laughs) That would be a bit much to ask for, but I did try to write Ryūō in a way that you could get invested in the story even if you don't know the rules of shogi. I wrote it that way for the benefit of Japanese readers.

Foreign readers might still have trouble, though. They won't know what's happening on the board unless there's a picture. I wish there were more illustrations in my books.

You mentioned in your interview with The Anime Man that Ryūō may face problems being accepted by international viewers because of the lolicon jokes. Why do you include that element in your story?

With light novels, you could say there are two main factions: younger girls versus older girls, or little sisters versus big sisters. Childhood friends aren't really that popular when they're around the same age as the protagonist. So when faced with the prospect of choosing between one of the main factions, I decided that I may as well go with little girls this time. I wanted to try something new.

But there are some, well, ecchi parts in Ryūō.

Well, it's like Anne of Green Gables, where a young girl goes to live with an older person. I didn't set out to write Ryūō in a perverted way. It's more like I wanted the readers to think of the characters as cute, in a little sister kind of way. I don't know how the readers will take it, though.

Are there any light novels you've read lately that have impressed you?

I love Babuminator. In Japan, the word “babumi” refers to feelings of motherly affection. Anyway, this novel has wow factor, and it's also really thought-provoking.

How about other light novels similar to Ryūō, which are set in the everyday world?

Hmm… I keep up with things like Eromanga Sensei and A Sister's All You Need. They're about life as a creator, but I think they do have similarities with Ryūō. For example, the idea of victory or defeat is important in the world of shogi, but it's also important for creators. When I'm writing Ryūō, I tend to put my own experiences into it. I think that the authors of Eromanga Sensei and A Sister's All You Need. approach their own stories in the same way. That's why I read those two series to see how they express certain feelings and emotions.

Which character or scene are you looking forward to seeing in the anime?

Of course I'm looking forward to the shogi scenes, but I'm also looking forward to the character-establishing scenes, where they show off how cool they are. And I'm also interested in how people in Japan react to the “bride” scene. When I write, I generally know which scenes will be well-regarded by an audience, but with something like that “bride” scene, I just don't know how people will take it. (laughs)

But yes, I'm looking forward to seeing both kinds of scenes in anime form and seeing how they mesh.

Thanks to BOOK☆WALKER for arranging this interview. The English translation of The Ryuo's Work Is Never Done! light novels can be purchased exclusively from BOOK☆WALKER. Fans who purchase the novel can win a copy of the first episode's anime script signed by the cast. The Ryuo's Work Is Never Done! volume 1 is also 20% off only during the campaign period.

Check The Ryuo's Work is Never Done! Anime Campaign for more details.

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