Saturday, September 27, 2014


Otogizoushi is a story in two parts.  The first half of the story takes place in Heian era Japan, and the second half in modern day Japan.  The main character in the story is a young girl named Minamoto no Hikaru.  Her family is involved in the doings of the Court, and the Court requests that her brother Raikou take on a mission for them. Because her brother is ill, Hikaru takes his place on a quest to save the Capital and the country. 

Hikaru, posing as Raikou, is joined on her quest by  a number of companions, including a loyal retainer named Tsuna, a warrior named Sadamitsu, an onmyouji named Urabe, and a young boy named Kintaro.  Their quests involve collecting five Magatamas, glowing stone/gems in the shape of curved teardrops.  These Magatama represent the five elements (metal, earth, water fire, wood), and used correctly they will save the Capital and the country, which is increasingly in the throes of drought and starvation.  The Magatamas are scattered in different places among different enemies, so recovering each one is a small quest in itself. 

During her missions, Hikaru’s brother Raikou dies.  Once again at home, she mourns him by playing her flute, and attracts the attention of a court dancer named Mansairaku.  During the story, Mansairaku comes to care for her and Hikaru falls in love with him.

When all the Magatamas are collected, Hikaru-tachi learn from Urabe that Abe no Seimei, the great court onmyouji, is planning to use the Magatama to destroy the Capital and country, not save it.  Urabe dies bringing them this information, and the companions set out to stop Abe no Seimei.  They discover they must first battle their way to where he is casting the spell.

Hikaru manages to get to him and confront him, only to find out that he is none other than Mainsairaku, the man she loves.  No matter what she says to him, he will not stop his spell, believing that the Capital must be destroyed.  Hikaru cannot bring herself to kill him, so when he completes the spell, she begins playing her flute and walks into the center of the spell.  Mansairaku embraces her, she drops the flute and it breaks the Magatama of fire, ending the spell.  Hikaru and Mansairaku are engulfed in the spell’s remains and disappear.  Only Sadamitsu and Kintaro survive the battles and destruction.

The second half of the story finds Hikaru as a high-school girl who happens to also be the landlady of an apartment building.  She wears the broken piece of the magatama on a necklace around her neck as a family heirloom, of course not knowing what it is. Her companions from the Heian era are reincarnated also as boarders and friends in this age.  Hikaru’s brother, Raikou, has been missing for a year and she begins to start looking for him, with her all friends adding their various talents to help her. 

Weird occurrences begin happening around her and a mysterious man, who is Mansairaku, shows up and alternately leads her into trouble and gets her out of trouble.  Hikaru doesn’t recognize him, but occasionally feels like she knows him.  Mansairaku apparently has lived all those years since the broken spell, waiting for Hikaru to be reborn so that they can together make right the balance that was messed up by the broken Magatama, and prevent the unbalanced forces from once again destroying Tokyo.  Hikaru and her friends, with Mansairaku’s help, manage to fix everything, Raikou comes home and Mansairaku finally is able to end his life and disappears.

So.  This was an interesting story and kept me watching, but I seriously didn’t like the ending – either ending.  Of course, being a “happily-ever-after” person, I wouldn’t like the fact that Hikaru and Mansairaku never do get to be together.    And I didn’t like the fact that he so badly betrayed her in the first half of the series after acting like she was important to him.  The premise was interesting though and I suppose I’m glad I watched it. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Shion no Ou

Shion no Ou is another series built around a game, this time around the game of Shogi. The main character in the series is a junior-high girl named Shion, and she is a shogi player.

Shion has an odd history.  She comes from a family of shogi players, and when she was 5 years old, her parents were murdered.   Shion was found with no memories of what happened, unable to speak and holding a bloody shogi piece, the king.  (thus the title, Shion’s king).  Shion is adopted and raised by a neighbor family, the head of which is also a professional shogi player.  So Shion grows up communicating by writing on a tablet and learning to play shogi despite her history.  Her parent’s murder was never solved and both Shion and the police involved in the case are still trying to solve it.  Shion is pretty sure it was a shogi player who did it, which is part of the reason she plays.
The characters in the story include other shogi players and masters, Shion’s adopted family, and the police involved in the case.   The shogi players who are Shion’s rivals and sometimes friends are Saori and Ayumi.  Ayumi has a secret, in that he is actually a male shogi player, but he pretends to be a girl and plays in the female league to earn money to help care for his sickly mother.  The top shogi master is a player named Hani Makoto, referred to by most people as Meijin.  A number of plot elements revolve around Meijin, including a rivalry with his younger brother Satoru, who plays shogi, but not professionally. 

The plot line of this series surrounds the game of shogi.  Shion qualifies as a professional shogi player at the series start, and because she’s very good, she begins to be stalked and threatened.  The plot follows her progression as Shion and her friends strive to advance in their standings and play in tournaments.  It also follows Shion’s attempts to find her parents killers and as she gets closer, her slowly remembering what happened that night. 

A large part of the series involves an unrestricted shogi tournament being held, which allows males to play females and non-professionals to play professionals.  The plot advances through the games of this tournament.  Along the way the police are working to solve the murders too and building a case against the murderer with the help and interaction of the various shogi players. 

In the final game of the tournament, Shion plays Meijin.  He works to unnerve her and as the game progresses she remembers the night her parents were murdered.  It was Meijin himself who murdered them.  He apparently removes anyone who could threaten his position as Japan’s top shogi player.  When Shion remembers and beats him at shogi, she regains her lost voice and the police arrest Meijin for the murder of her parents.  

Although as a rule I’m not fond of series built around games, this one doesn’t go overboard into the game of shogi itself, so it’s very watchable.  In addition, the side story of the police unraveling the mystery surrounding Shion’s parent’s murder is interesting in itself and keeps you guessing throughout the series.  Also the series music is really gorgeous.  I recommend watching this series.