Feminism in Shion no Ou

March 10, 2008 at 9:30 pm (Analysis, Anime)

(EDITORIAL NOTE: This blog is not dead. I’m still watching a few shows a season, but not much has felt worth writing about lately. Also, busy with full time job. Expect a post roughly once a month.)

Shion no Ou, if you’re not watching it, is the show about the mute girl playing shougi. It’s also ostensibly a murder mystery. Incidentally this post is full of spoilers, if for some reason you actually wanted to watch the show.

I’m only vaguely familiar with shougi as a game, but it’s pretty much a kill-or-be-killed deal. I play Go, which, when it comes down to it, is also like that, but sometimes even at a high level of play you can have games that would be described as “peaceful”. In Go you are playing to try to take the most territory, and that does not always necessitate capturing your opponents pieces; of course the whole idea of aggression gets translated to something else, as you can certainly shove them around the board if they’re too passive, much like someone muscling for a better place in line. But in shougi, much like chess, I understand the quality of your position is pretty closely correlated with the capturing of your opponents pieces. Ultimately you need to corner the king (checkmate!), but some dudes are gonna get killed along the way. Also, from what I understand, at high levels in shougi an “aggressive” approach is almost always advantageous.

The metaphor isn’t meaningless, because it ties into culture. Women, in much of the world, live in a self-reinforcing stereotype of passiveness. In Japanese culture, relative to, say, American culture, these seem to live on a bit more strongly. Competitiveness would not be a desirable or useful trait in a woman, according to the traditional cultural template. And then you get this chicken-egg thing where people are like “it’s not that we want women that way; they just are that way”. So, given the way the shougi works, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that there are no (or nearly no) female professionals in the male league. They have their own “female professional” league.

This isn’t basketball where physiology is working against you. It’s purely a game of strategy.

So as the show starts, we’re introduced to three female kishi (professionals). One is actually a guy dressing in drag. And of course plays very aggressively. The meijin (like a grand a master) looks at one of his aggressive moves and is like “Ah, with moves like that, we may eventually not need a separate league for female kishi”. Another is a rather proper and traditional (and rich) young woman. She also wants the meijin’s balls. He tries to get her to play more aggressively, and when she does her game improves.

Then there’s Shion. Shion also plays defensively at first, but is able to rapidly adjust and be aggressive when necessary. Of course later we discover that a lot of Shion’s style comes from the person who murdered her parents. So that’s like…oh. So she plays shougi like a MURDERER. Well, that’s not the point they’re trying to make, but it is present there in the subtext nonetheless. I’m pretty sure the direction the story is going to take is similar to several action shows starring women I’ve seen before:

“You can be aggressive enough to succeed without ceasing to be a woman.”

See also: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV)

This is a style of feminist thought that I rather like, because it doesn’t try to pretend that everyone needs to be the same, or that women can’t have things that differentiate them (in the general) from men without somehow becoming inferior.

I expect Shion will remain a “cute girl” but show “fierce determination” at the same time. She’s already said a couple of things along these lines like (paraphrase) “it’s because I’m able to cry that I can smile at times like these”.

They’ve done a decent characterization of Shion in general. Too bad it’s anime, so they can only give her like three facial expressions. Her inner dialog does get voice acting though.



  1. jpmeyer said,

    I expected this to be a troll post.

  2. sethjohnson said,

    I have a hard time mustering the effort for a good trolling these days. Though I did suggest in a chat channel the other day that “not many people know Ayn Rand also wrote lesbian vampire fiction”

  3. Sasa said,

    “Too bad it’s anime, so they can only give her like three facial expressions.” — hahaha! It makes me want to watch Shion no Ou now. I started reading the manga ages ago, but without much enthusiasm, so I wasn’t sure about the anime, but it seems like it’s worth it?

    Very nice post, by the way. You are two days too late *hrr hrr*

  4. sethjohnson said,

    *headscratch* two days too late for what?

    I don’t know if I’d recommend the anime or not. I think I’m mostly watching it because it’s one of the only things I picked up the last two seasons that wasn’t relentlessly shitty.

  5. TheBigN said,

    “I started reading the manga ages ago, but without much enthusiasm, so I wasn’t sure about the anime, but it seems like it’s worth it?”

    Definitely worth it, though as someone who hasn’t read the manga, I don’t know how much stake you should take with that. :P

    “So she plays shougi like a MURDERER.”
    Which probably gives us a definite clue as to whodunit. It’s been an interesting ride so far.

  6. Sasa said,

    But… Kaiji! XD Well, I know why you are reluctant to see it, so it’s fine. But there are some nice shows, like Shigofumi, or Ghost Hound, or Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.

    Two days too late for the International Women’s Day.

    The manga had a nice drawing style and a good premise, but the scanlations were slow at that time. So I dropped the manga at some point and completely forgot what happened. I will give the anime a try :)

  7. sethjohnson said,


    Shigofumi – I keep meaning to watch it actually
    Ghost Hound – I think I lack the attention span
    SZS – I am slowly watching season 2. I realllly liked the first 3-4 eps of the first season but thought it tapered off rapidly after that.

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