I doubt that I can write a review to do this series justice, but here it goes. Shion no Ou is an anime about shougi, the Japanese form of chess. The rules are quite complicated, but you don’t need to be able understand them if you want to enjoy this series. What’s much more important for Shion no Ou is the general strategies, and the mind-games that get played between the two players.
And don’t ask me how they did it, but the writers are true masters in terms of storytelling. While this series does take place mostly in a tournament-arc, they take everything that gets handed to them to spice things up. Every single character has his or her own style of playing that gradually evolves throughout the series. The police and the press often play a big role, as they support the main storyline and the main cast of characters.
And let me say that the story and characters are nothing short of incredible. The heroine, Shion, is one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever seen. Every single character is well-defined and developed. Every single episode pushes the plot forwards, without any exceptions. The original manga was also written by a woman who used to be a female shougi-player as well, and she made sure to show all the ins and outs of a shougi-tournaments.
The animation definitely is different from usual. You’ll either love it or hate it, and it does fluctuate from incredibly bad to incredibly good, due to a limited budget. But in exchange, everything looks unique, and you can see that the animators are trying everything they can to make the art stand out. The animation itself is messy, but the poses and camera-angles are creative and yet incredibly life-like, that turned this series into a visual feast for me.
Great anime usually have one or two aspects that turn out very polished, like a cast of terrific characters, or an engaging storyline, but the outstanding anime really deliver in every single department. Shion no Ou has it all: terrific storytelling, a great storyline, a cast of deep and amazing characters (both the villains, main and side-characters) that really comes to life in the second half, a terrific art-style and animation, excellent music and a good sense of realism, although you should note that Shougi is serious business in this series, and at times the characters do tend to take Shougi a bit too seriously. ^^;