While the first two volumes of popular light novel series Ryuuou no Oshigoto! (The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done!) was mostly an introduction to Yaichi’s two disciples, the third volume went on to establish the development for one of the characters that is mainly overlooked before. Being a volume that heavily brings up the theme of talent and hard work, it still remains one of my favorite parts of the series.
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The volume’s prologue contained a small letter that a 10-year old Keika wrote in the past.
Dear 20-year old me,
I’m writing this letter as a commemoration for the me who has finally become 10-year old.
What kind of person have the 20-year old me become?
Have I got married? Do I have children yet?
Is Master still playing shogi? Am I still living together with him?
Have I become a female pro?
Or maybe… Have I attained a title!?
Learning shogi is hard, and it is a bit stressful for me.
Master is always so strict with me, and he yells at me a lot.
I don’t like getting yelled at, and I really hate losing, so I always ended up crying.
But, I love shogi.
I love a lot of things, but shogi is the thing I love the most.
Being able to be together with Master even more after I started learning shogi made me so happy.
That’s why, I want to become a female pro.
Becoming a female pro and doing shogi work together with Master is my dream.
Dear 20-year old me,
Did my dream come true?
Keika Kiyotaki. 25-year old. The sole daughter to 9-dan Kousuke Kiyotaki, Yaichi and Ginko’s master who has managed to challenge the Meijin twice in the ranking battle. Losing her mother when she was little, Keika lived alone with her father before he took Yaichi and Ginko as disciples. Keika has earned the place of being the household’s older sister, treating the two as if they were her own siblings and often brushing off Yaichi’s advances on her. Another one of her defining features is her huge breasts, with Yaichi calling her “The Hidden Big Boobs” (her measurements are 95-62-92, by the way).
However, Keika isn’t as bright as the two in regards to shogi. In fact, she didn’t even like shogi at first. While she was taught by her father when she was a child, she ended up hating shogi and stopped playing. She returned to shogi on her third year of high school, officially becoming Yaichi and Ginko’s younger sister disciple. Despite her attempt to become a female pro, she has been suffering from the failure to achieve a promotion into class C1 in the training group as the age limit approaches. With her sister and brother far ahead of her, it’s hardly a pleasant situation.
Leaving the prologue, the scene right after that is a flashback to Yaichi’s match a year and eight months before, which was his debut official match right after he became a pro. His opponent at that time was Jin Natagiri, who was a 7-dan and ranked B1 for the ranking battle; certainly not a balanced opponent for a rank C2 player who just turned pro. However, people had extremely high expectations for Yaichi at that time, what with him being a middle school pro in the recent 25 years. After suffering a crushing defeat from that match, Yaichi ran away from the Shogi Hall in Sendagaya all the way to Chigasaki while crying for a total of eight hours and 61.4 kilometers. He jumped into the sea and attempted to swim all the way to Osaka Bay, but he got mistaken for attempting suicide and got picked up by someone from a nearby surfer shop. He was discovered by Ginko a week later working part-time at the surfer shop and was dragged back to Osaka.
“I’m quitting shogi! I will work here and become a surfer!!”
“I’ll kill you.”
Going back to the present, it turned out Yaichi was facing Natagiri as an opponent again, who has now reached 8-dan and became a rank A player since then. Natagiri is an all-rounder who is known by the nickname “Dual Sworld Wielder”. Always researching the latest openings and excelling in all types of strategies—he masters both Static Rook and Ranging Rook, semeshogi and ukeshogi, and can play as good whether he’s going first or second. Natagiri is also a research partner of the current Meijin, something Yaichi came to know from Ayumu. Despite his qualities as a player, though, Natagiri speaks in onee kotoba (Japanese feminine speech pattern usually used by transvestites) when he is playing, which often makes Yaichi wonder if this side of him is the actual origin of his nickname. Natagiri also likes to make questionable remarks throughout the match like asking Yaichi if he really likes girls or offering to accompany him to the toilet.
Anyway, cutting things short, Yaichi lost the match and quickly ran away before Natagiri dragged him to a hotel nearby for a “personal post-mortem”. With this being Yaichi’s three consecutive defeat against Natagiri and another match with him coming up in three weeks, Yaichi was worried that he’s worried of having a bad matchup against a specific player. Coming back home, Yaichi was however welcomed by the sight of Ai collapsing on the tatami.
“Ai! What’s wrong!? Ai!!”
It turned out Ai had a “bath withdrawal syndrome” since she haven’t bathed in a huge bath in the last two months, so Yaichi took her into a bathhouse near his master’s house with Keika and Ginko tagging along.
“Ai. How is it? Are you feeling better now?”
“It’s been two months since Ai came to Osaka… Maybe all the stress have been piling up. I guess it’s necessary for you to enter a huge bath once in a while… You’re a daughter of a hot spring inn owner, after all.”
“But, to think that Ai-chan has been restraining herself from entering a huge bath all this time… It would have been fine if you told us earlier. I’m so surprised when I heard you collapsed, you know?”
“I, I am sorry…”
“Such thing is a luxury for someone in training. For a grade school uchideshi like you, taking a bath in the kitchen sink should be good enough.”
“Oh? Didn’t you often say ‘I want to enter a huge bath!” when you were little too, Ginko-chan?”
“Didn’t you always cry whenever there is no ice cream for you after a bath?”
“Keika-san, bringing up that topic right now is a bit…”
“Pfft! Even though you talk big, looks like you are just a brat, huh?”
“Huh! Aren’t you the brat here? You little flat-chested grade school kid.”
“Aunti… Sora-sensei, aren’t you flat-chested too!?”
After some more fanservice scenes (which I won’t be going over), Yaichi and Keika were having a conversation while Ginko and Ai were playing shogi. As they were reminiscing about the past, Keika pondered how she is going to turn 26 soon. Declining Yaichi’s invitation for a yakiniku treat, Keika left, saying she’s already got a high school reunion planned right after.
As Yaichi and Ai were walking back home, Yaichi lamented how Keika never takes his advances seriously. Ai comments that it’s most likely because she only thinks of him as a little brother, followed by her explanation on how statistics have proven that women prefer older men to have as a possible love interest (which she apparently researched for her “school assignment about declining birth rates”). Ai presented a theory that the most ideal age difference between couples is seven years (which is basically her and Yaichi’s age difference; t̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶l̶o̶l̶i̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶s̶o̶ ̶s̶c̶a̶r̶y̶,̶ ̶n̶o̶ ̶k̶i̶d̶d̶i̶n̶g̶). Yaichi who didn’t understand where Ai was getting at said he’s going to work harder to make Keika notice him, which got her mad.
Yaichi later talked with Ayumu about his recent loss and any information concerning Natagiri when they were holding a research group online. From there, Yaichi realized that his research has been lagging behind Ayumu’s, and there won’t be any merit for Ayumu to hold a research group with him if things go on the way they are. Recognizing Natagiri as a “wall” for him to become stronger, Yaichi resolved to surpass that wall—by going to a certain bathhouse.
Yaichi invited Keika to the bathhouse with Ai right after that, but he was met with a surprising answer.
“I am sorry. I won’t be contacting you for a while.”
“Sorry, but I don’t want to see you. Neither you or Ai-chan.”
Even though his mind was still left puzzled by the last phone call with Keika, Yaichi still went to the bathhouse together with Ai. The said bathhouse, “Gokigen no Yu”, is actually one owned by 9-dan Mitsuru Oishi, the current Oushou/Gyokushou (lit. King) title holder and one of the top players in the shogi world known by his nickname “Maestro of Handling”. Welcomed by Oishi’s shy and soft-spoken daughter Asuka at the register, Yaichi quickly went to the shogi dojo on the second floor and was greeted by Oishi’s jazz piano performance. After a couple of friendly talks between them, Oishi invited Yaichi into a practice match to see if his own skill hasn’t rotted and ascertain Yaichi’s strength after becoming a Ryuuou.
Just as his name implies, Oishi is famous for being proficient at “handling”, which is one of the cornerstones of Ranging Rook. While the term is pretty difficult to explain, the JSA’s Shogi Guidebook describes it as the following: “moving ineffective pieces to a favorable spot and exchanging pieces with the opponent’s to improve efficiency.” Being the only class A player and title holder who purely utilizes the Ranging Rook strategy, Oishi’s ability to dominate the board with just a single move of his rook is what earned him his nickname.
Oishi challenged Yaichi with his best opening strategy, the Cheerful Central Rook, with Yaichi responding in kind by employing the Super High Speed. However, when Yaichi thought he had succesfully seized Oishi’s rook, Oishi deliberately sacrificed his rook and even his bishop to throw Yaichi’s strategy into disarray, proceeding to defeat him using minor pieces.
Finally confirming that learning this kind of shogi is what he needed, Yaichi begged Oishi to teach him about the Ranging Rook strategy. His request surprised Ai, who was always taught by Yaichi that Ranging Rook is a strategy that only relies on luck and is inferior to Static Rook. Yaichi who was troubled by Ai making a fuss of his request explained that he believed Ranging Rook possesses something that Static Rook doesn’t, and that he wanted to make it his own.
However, Oishi declined Yaichi’s request. He pointed out how Yaichi had lost three times in a row to Natagiri who, according to him, was very weak in his generation. As Ai kept sending a patronizing look towards Oishi and trying to defend Static Rook, Yaichi explained to her that it’s very dangerous to be a specialist who only focuses on perfecting a specific strategy, since people are simply going to avoid it and utilize a countermeasure. For Yaichi who had always favored Double Wing Attack when going first and Tempo Loss Bishop Exchange when going second, learning a new strategy like Ranging Rook would be able to expand his plays and serve as a surprising element.
The conversation soon turned into a showdown between Static Rook and Ranging Rook, which left Ai confused about which strategy is better. Yaichi told her that the person who can equally play both strategies is the strongest, and the current Meijin is one of the few who has accomplished the feat, which was why Yaichi wanted to become an all-rounder. After Oishi discovered Ai’s talent and took interest in her, he finally agreed to train the two of them as a compensation for having them work part-time at his bathhouse without getting paid.
While Yaichi and Ai started training at Oishi’s place, Keika consulted Ginko about her lack of progress and inquired her about what she is lacking. Ginko told her that she was getting weak because she always played a shallow kind of shogi which only follows the norm without thinking by herself. It’s a weakness that Keika herself understood very well; with the way she was, her dream to become a female pro will never come true.
“Ginko-chan, can I have another request?”
“Please hold a research group with me.”
Keika knew that a relationship between shogi players are always give-and-take, and her request just now is essentially a one-sided deal that only benefits herself is something unacceptable. However, Keika still chose to take advantage of Ginko. It was something she could never refuse.
Only one more year; she doesn’t have any more time.
Besides Keika’s inner conflict, we also come to know about Asuka’s interest in shogi which was heavily opposed by her father. While he had initially taught her shogi, Oishi later judged that she doesn’t have any talent in shogi and stopped teaching her. For Oishi who worked his way up to the top through both talent and effort, he was aware that the difference that separates people who work as hard as the other is talent.
There was a saying: “if you work hard, your dream will come true.” This saying is definitely true; no matter how much talent you have, you won’t be able to accomplish your dream without working hard. However, there are things that will never be possible only through hard work.
After two weeks of rigorous training (along with other occurences like Yaichi holding a JS-Ken meeting at the bathhouse and him taking a bath with the lolis), the day for Yaichi’s match with Natagiri finally came. Challenging him with the Cheerful Central Rook that he learned from Oishi, Yaichi was quickly taken aback by Natagiri’s “Super Rapid Attack” which is the direct counter to Yaichi’s strategy that he devised with Meijin. As the game’s pace increased and Yaichi kept trying to attack Natagiri, the moment he thought he was winning, Natagiri evaded it by taking Yaichi’s attack directly with his king.
Yaichi who was on the verge of despair was terrorized by the pain of facing defeat. But the more he thought of giving up, the stronger it gets. At the end of the road, in which a counterattack is impossible, Yaichi steeled his resolve—to challenge the impossible. Focusing his mind to read all the possible moves that will lead him to victory, Yaichi finally stumbled upon the one and only possible path. Reading 30 moves ahead, Yaichi trapped Natagiri with a “three consecutive limited pin” and overturned the whole situation, winning the match. This is a tribute to Toshiaki Kubo and Yoshiharu Habu’s 6th game for the 59th Oushou title match, which is the reference for this match.
Keika who saw Yaichi’s match on TV with Ginko was at a loss of words, as she had a hard time believing Yaichi was able to find the single correct solution from over a trillion possibilities; a feat that not anyone can accomplish.
Despite his victory, Yaichi who visited “Gokigen no Yu” right after the match still got scolded by Oishi for the way he played Ranging Rook in the match. However, with his head over the clouds from all the positive comments on the internet, the scoldings hardly got into his head.
“RYUUOU IS SO STRONGGGGGGGGG!!”
“Is that three consecutive limited pin a miracle or something!?”
“To think he completely defeated a class A pro by playing Ranging Rook for the first time… He’s a genius alright.”
“This is the true dragon king.”
“That shitty dragon king sure is waking up lately, huh?”
“Seconded. Seems like he leveled up ever since he took a disciple.”
“His second one seems to be a JS too, I heard.”
“Guess he’s leveling up in that department too.”
As Oishi was beginning to appreciate Yaichi’s talent though, Yaichi responded:
“…I do believe talent is really important, and so as effort. But—”
I laid my eyes on the corner of the dojo.
There, I saw my little disciple playing shogi with the other customers.
“There is something more important than talent and effort. I believe that I was able to win today because I have found that something.”
“Huh. And that is?”
“The more we accumulate experiences, the more we come to know about reality, we start becoming cowards. We start fearing losses and minding about what other people see in us, as we start running around… and stopped challenging the impossible. But I thought, it’s fine to straightly and genuinely chase after what we are aiming for. That’s what I feel.”
While the two of them were talking, Asuka entered the room and made a surprising declaration: she wanted to learn shogi from Yaichi, since his father didn’t want to teach him. Intent of making her stop thinking about shogi once and for all, Oishi pitted Ai against Asuka. Asuka added a condition that if she wins, her father will give her a permission to continue playing shogi. During the match, it turned out that Asuka was able to proficiently utilize Ranging Rook since she learned it from the dojo’s customers. Defeating Ai in the match, Asuka finally gained Oishi’s approval to play shogi. Oishi also proclaimed that he himself will be the one teaching her.
It was time for another regular meeting of the training group, which was also Keika’s chance to get promoted. With her resolve to retire if she suffers two consecutive defeats this time, Keika faced both of Yaichi’s disciples one after another. Completely different from her usual self, Keika started pressuring Ai even before the match started. As the match went on, Yaichi and Ginko could only look at the sight of their family fighting against each other.
In her first match against Ten-chan, Keika intentionally taunted her by calling her “a warming up before fighting Ai-chan” and playing Ten-chan’s favorite opening, the Tempo Loss Bishop Exchange. Driving her into a corner with each move, Keika decisively defeated Ten-chan, breaking her previously undefeated record in the training group.
In her second match against Ai, Keika employed an Ishida variant of the Third File Rook formation, a Ranging Rook opening which has a very high chance to initiate a quick offensive. Ai, on the other hand, attempts to form an Anaguma castle while using the Central Rook formation, but her incompatibility and inexperience with the tactic put her into a disadvantage. However, when Keika thought Ai’s will was broken, it was actually the opposite.
“I… I… I didn’t know what to do… Just like my heart, my shogi had started staggering… I, I really like Keika-san… Even now, I’m thinking about a lot of things… My heart gets all messy… as I keep playing messily… But… I… here… at this place…”
“I don’t… want to lose anymore!!”
Just like what Yaichi did at his match against Natagiri, Ai challenged the impossible. Retaliating against Keika’s offense, Ai turned her formation into tatters. In fact, she had predicted Keika’s attack since the start of the game, and she reformed her formation into the Anagume because she had predicted this development.
In the face of Ai’s otherworldly talent that couldn’t be defined by any other word than “magic”, Keika… didn’t run away. Getting even more fired up than before, she threw everything she had against Ai. Inside her mind, Keika reflected on how all this time, she had been fixated on thinking about other people when playing shogi—worrying about how people evaluate her, about the future, about money, about her social standings.
It was Ai’s pure passion for shogi and her admiration towards Yaichi that made her realize it. A 9-year old girl who, just because of her love of shogi, left her own house and came to Osaka to become the disciple of the player that she admired.
Keika understood that her loss was inevitable. She also understood that maybe, she could never become a female pro anymore.
However, she also knew that she has finally grasped something bigger than that.
Through this match I have with this child… with Ai-chan, I was made to realize.
That I truly love shogi.
That I want to keep playing shogi.
Ai-chan has made me remember the pure feelings that the 10-year old me had embraced.
Even though our talents are completely different… Maybe, this child is my childhood self that the god of shogi has sent to me.
If the me who had sent that letter saw the 20-year old me, maybe she would be disappointed.
But it was not because I wasn’t able to fulfill my dream.
It was because I had lost sight of it.
I corrected my sitting posture, put my hand on the shogi piece stand, and bowed my head, as I said with a clear voice.
The words that I have been repeating over thousands of times up until now.
And the words that I will keep on repeating over a million times, from now on.
Dear 10-year old me,
The 25-year old me is still chasing my dream, even now.
A week after that, a shogi competition sponsored by the Kiyotaki household to celebrate Ten-chan officially entering the family as Yaichi’s disciple was held at Oishi’s place.
“Thanks for your work, Yaichi-kun.”
“You see, I had wanted to quit the training group.”
“But I ended up not quitting.”
“D… Don’t surprise me like that…”
“Please take care of me from now on too, senior disciple.”
“It’s getting hard for me to reach C1 at the training group… But there are still other chances for me to become a female pro. No matter how unsightly it is, I will struggle however I can.”
“It may not be my place to say this as someone who is raising Keika-san’s rivals, but—”
“You will definitely make it. If it’s Keika-san. I… Ryuuou will guarantee it.”
“For real. Of course.”
“If you are wrong, take responsibility, okay?”
“Responsibility? Well… If it is something I can take.”
“Then if I don’t become a female pro, will you take me as the Ryuuou’s wife?”
“O, OF COURSE!! OF COURSE I WILL TAKE RESPONSIBILITY!! WITH PLEASURE!!”
“Oh, I… I really love the Keika-san who always work hard…!”
“I love you too, you know? Yaichi-kun…”
“But sorry. Yaichi-kun is my number two.”
“Eeeh!? Then, who is the number one!?”
“The number one is of course, my first love.”
“Yep. The one that always stays with me ever since I was little, and I always loved. There were times when I started hating it and we were separated… But I guess, it’s really a special existence that I love the most.”
“It’s not just me; Ginko-chan, Ai-chan, and Ai-chan too… And even Yaichi-kun too, love it the most too, right? It’s the first love of everyone here right now, and no matter how much one hates it, it still remains a special existence.”
“That is… shogi!”
As thanks for reading until the end, have a smiling Char.