Don’t we all want to play video games, watch films, and read books and still get paid for it?
As we grow older, we find time and money being siphoned away for school and work. We daydream and imagine ourselves blogging or streaming on Twitch and getting revenue that way. Transforming our hobbies into work and being self-sufficient that way would be a nice dream for many of us.
Of course, we tell ourselves it’s unrealistic because we won’t get a lot of money for this. It’s why some of us take jobs to fund our own hobbies. It’s a meaningful sacrifice of time and many people can still live happily that way immersed in their subcultures. So we slap ourselves silly and get back to filing accounting papers.
But a few people can’t. They need to transform their hobbies into work. We often call them by many names — artists, creators, athletes, novelists, painters — but they all share one common trait:
Ryuuou no Oshigoto (translated as The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! in English) follows Kuzuryuu Yaichi, a 16-year-old shougi master, in Osaka. He has a title — the title of Ryuuou or Dragon Lord — but he never feels like he deserves it. Down on his luck and disliked by 2ch, Yaichi wonders if he can continue playing shougi. He sees Sora Ginko, a 13-year-old girl who was under the same tutelage as he was, as a legendary shougi player in the women’s league and wonders if he can be as good as her.
His life takes a turn when Hinatsuru Ai, a 9-year-old elementary school student, appears in his home and asks him to be her mentor. Ai once saw him play an intense shougi match which would later win him the title of Ryuuou. Now, she wants to learn the game from the master himself. She is a genius and Yaichi feels compelled to teach her everything he knows about shougi and the world around him.
And so begins the story of two geniuses on their journey through the shougi leagues.
Shougi is not for everybody, not in the sense that it is easy to pick up and play but as a life to commit to. Yaichi, Ai, and Ginko dedicate their lives to shougi. They don’t have any social life, their thoughts are related to chess pieces moving on the board, and they spend their free time researching their future opponents’ moves. We read about the world of shougi and nothing else. Their biological family has been replaced by the family of shougi masters and students. Shougi is their life and if they blink or look at something else, they may lose their only meaning to life.
Indeed, the series documents that many people who have a chance of becoming a professional shougi player are usually people who have practiced shougi at a very young age (around 5 or 6 years old). They may still go to school, but once they have decided they want to go pro, there’s no turning back. These people do not have any recourse to go back to their former lives. It is a do-or-die situation and many do fail.
It’s why shougi can be portrayed as something painful in the series. People hyperventilate during matches, think about the urge to go to the bathroom, or break down in the middle of the game when they perceive they might lose in the next turn. Everyone loves the game, but their livelihoods are on the line. If they win, they have a better chance at becoming a professional. If not, they may drop out of the league, or worse, realize they have wasted their whole life playing shougi.
That’s where the stakes in Ryuuou no Oshigoto come from: Are you willing to risk your life for an activity deemed by many people as a hobby? Because if you fail, your life amounts to nothing.
That’s how Kiyotaka Keika — the daughter of Yaichi’s mentor — sees it. Every day, she is reminded she isn’t getting any younger and she will soon be too old (26 years old) to join the women’s league as a professional. Keika thus views her birthday not as an event to celebrate but as a deadline for her own life. Even her father seems to question if she could make it.
Meanwhile, her friends are becoming mothers with good-paying jobs while she remains single and still trying to make a living out of shougi. Keika is trying, but she realizes her skills aren’t up to par and she has been going down the drain since.
It goes without saying that the world of shougi is competitive, but Ginko tells her that reality is far worse. There are what she calls “shougi aliens” in the playing field; they are monsters who could pick up the art of shougi in days and make any amount of hard work feel like a genuine waste of time and effort. Yaichi and Ai are two shougi aliens. They may not realize how much they are making Ginko and Keika suffocate, but they can destroy anybody if they work hard on it.
They can make anyone feel worthless and Keika and Ginko feel that the most. They can’t believe Yaichi and Ai are fellow students studying under the same master. They feel threatened and that’s why geniuses are both loved and hated.
No one wants to be anywhere near these monsters because then we all realize we’re just wasting our time and life.
That’s how Shiratori Shirou felt when he was writing light novels like Nourin. He never felt he was a good writer, despite all the experience he had accumulated. Other writers, more fortunate than he was, found bigger successes with their lives and he can’t help but be jealous of them.
In various interviews and afterwords, he has said that his grandfather who loved him dearly had abandoned him when he revealed he was going to write light novels for a living. His relatives look down on him and he lives alone with no contact from his family.
Shiratori sacrificed everything and tried to put all of his life into his works. Yet, he never saw an ounce of success.
Until Ryuuou no Oshigoto came along and changed his life.
With permission and help granted from a shougi federation called Saiyuuki, Shiratori is able to write about the world of shougi through the eyes of many people in the book. Ai learns about the hangouts expert shougi players in Osaka go to and the importance of good shougi boards. Ryuuou has won a general shougi literary award and is often praised for the inclusion of women’s shougi league, something that is often considered too minor to be depicted in mainstream shougi literature. The seventh volume has completely dominated the mainstream novels’ rankings for weeks too. Shiratori has now become a celebrity in the shougi world, even appearing in NicoNicoDouga shougi matches as a guest commentator.
But he admits that while his life had changed for the better, he suffered a lot writing the series. He kept asking himself what was the value of hard work. His only living relatives, his grandfather and mother, passed away while he was writing the series. Shiratori began writing the beginning of the fifth volume at his mother’s funeral and deprecated himself over the value of his writing and contribution to the world.
That’s why Ryuuou no Oshigoto feels real to me. It is a work of blood, sweat, and tears by the writer as he tries to find a reason to write. His characters too find reasons to play shougi, even if it means they have to cut corners and ruin their own lives. Once in a while, lolicon humor tries to break up the pace. But we’re right back into the world on the next page and you realize everything about shougi is serious. You feel the tension and stress of the characters as they place their rook on the board and hope they made the right move. You can only gasp for air like the people watching the match. It is pure entertainment written in tears and anger for the public and I can’t help but feel for the characters and the writer of the work. People suffer a lot, but they still want to live and pursue their dreams. That’s not just admirable, but makes them worthy of being called a genius.
Ryuuou no Oshigoto is an earnest search for the meaning of hard work in the face of the monsters around us. Effort does have meaning regardless of how “meaningless” it may end up becoming. We may not see the fruits of hard work and think we have wasted our life pursuing it, but there’s still meaning somewhere.
That is the wisdom of the genius.
Kastel’s Rating: Extremely Recommended