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by Rebecca Silverman,

Ryuo's Work is Never Done!

Novel 1

Ryuo's Work is Never Done! Novel 1
At sixteen, Yaichi Kuzuryu is one of the youngest professional shogi players on the scene. He's given up going to high school in order to pursue the game, but he's unfortunately been in a slump, even after defeating his master. Enter nine-year-old Ai Hinatsuru, a shogi prodigy who fell in love with the game (and Yaichi) after watching his decisive Ryuo title match. Ai has run away from home to become Yaichi's live-in disciple, which doesn't make Yaichi or his childhood friend and fellow shogi pro Ginko happy, but teaching Ai might just be what Yaichi needs to get back in the game…

If Book Walker's release of Shirow Shiratori's The Ryuo's Work Is Never Done! isn't the first official translation of a novel starring an elementary schooler, it's certainly among them. Combining the world of professional shogi with adorable little girls is an interesting choice, one that frankly feels as if it was made deliberately to make shogi (a Japanese form of chess) more appealing than it might otherwise be to the light novel readerbase. Unfortunately, this results in a book that feels like two novels crammed into one, either of which might have worked better on their own: the story of a young shogi professional going through a rough patch vs. a story about little girls playing the game.

The protagonist of this tale is sixteen-year-old Yaichi Kuzuryu. He's the youngest holder of the prestigious shogi title “Ryūō” (dragon king), but ever since he won it, he's been going through a slump, suffering one defeat after another. He has managed to beat his former Master, the man who trained him to be a professional shogi player under an old-fashioned master/apprentice system, but on the whole he's faltering, sitting at home and reading nasty comments about himself on the internet. One day he comes home to find a little girl waiting in his living room: Ai Hinatsuru, a third-grader who has run away from home to become his apprentice. Ai learned shogi from her grandfather but truly fell in love with the game when she saw Yaichi play, and she's determined to live with him as his student. While Yaichi isn't thrilled with this, through the machinations of others he ends up allowing Ai to live and learn with him.

This is where the uneasy marriage of plots begins. Ai is an amazing shogi prodigy, with skills beyond even those of Yaichi and his childhood friend Ginko, a champion in the women's league. Yaichi is impressed with Ai's playing, and when the book is detailing their matches or their love of the game, it feels like it's on a completely different track than when Ai suddenly comes out of the bathroom naked (with the excuse that she's comfortable with nudity because she lives at a hot springs resort) and Yaichi is protesting that he's not attracted to her. Not only does it feel unnecessary for him to harp on this to such an extent, largely because he's been pretty clear that he has a crush on his master's twenty-something daughter, but it also calls attention to the fact that Ai is supposed to represent both sexuality and shogi for Yaichi. That doesn't really doesn't track with the way he's been looking at either the girl or the game up to the point, leading to a disjunct when the lolita complex elements are introduced. Ai is an inspiration to him because of her skills and her admiration for his playstyle; adding a Yaichi-doth-protest-too-much sexual attraction to her muddies the waters.

This is not to say that a game plot cannot coexist with a romance plot. It's entirely possible that later novels in the series will bring these two ideas together more harmoniously as Shiratori grows more comfortable with his subject matter. At this particular moment, however, the romance elements rely too much on formulaic conventions. The character who actually suffers from this the most is Ginko. She begins the story as a tsundere, but she still could have been a perfectly sympathetic character. The problems arise when she begins spreading rumors about her supposed friend and crush, obviously meant to be Yaichi. Once Ai moves in with him, Ginko begins publicly spreading rumors that he's got a lolita complex, which could have very real repercussions for him as a shogi professional. While this is fiction and should be treated as such, Ginko's actions still go beyond the pale, particularly given that we already know that Yaichi's reputation as a pro is under attack online. While destroying his career would take him out of Ai's life, it seems extreme under the circumstances.

Despite plot issues, Book Walker's translation of The Ryuo's Work Is Never Done! is very readable. While there are a few places where the phrasing sounds awkward, it does a nice job of getting the general emotional content of the story across, particularly Yaichi's troubled feelings about both his game and his new apprentice. Shirabii's illustrations are very attractive, and Shiratori's included shogi puzzles and diagrams have retained their places in the text, which should add some value for those interested in the mechanics of the game. At times the story can get very technical about gameplay, which again may be a bonus for readers with shogi knowledge.

The Ryuo's Work Is Never Done! feels like it hasn't quite gotten its feet under it yet. With its uneasy balance of romance and shogi, as well as lolita elements that really feel like they were thrown in to ensure that people would want to read a book about a shogi player, there's something that doesn't entirely work about the presentation. This may even out going forward, however, so if neither of the major draws (shogi and lolita) are turn offs for you, it'll be worth giving this one more volume to see if things settle into a more comfortable combination.

Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B

+ Yaichi is a relatable character, shogi puzzles and diagrams are both helpful and interesting, attractive art
Lolita complex elements feel smashed in just to pique interest, Ginko's character devolves as the story goes on

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