Friday, February 19, 2010

Shogi as Art

I have mentioned my dislike of book knowledge in Shogi because I don’t feel the same rush, the same enjoyment playing memorized ideas compared to playing ideas created from my own experiences. I may end up coming to the same conclusions in the end but the process of getting there is so much more enjoyable. As an artist I’m attracted by the creative potential of Shogi but turned off by the obsession with sticking with trusted and tested knowledge over experimentation. The approach may be more efficient but efficiently isn’t what makes Life or Shogi fun.

It might seem right to just imitate others and seek a steady life because "if one was only concerned about efficiency, no one would want to be creative." It might look rational to survive with "adaptability to situations." However, there is no way to survive in the long run other than to continue to be creative even though doing so might seem useless. Ultimately, "it would be creativity which decides who wins,". (Habu, Yoshiharu)

I’m interesting in seeing Shogi move farther away from book knowledge simply because I’d love to see the Shogi world expand to include a larger cast of characters and personalities. What attracted me to Shogi in the first place was the exciting characters and drama of stories like “Shion no Ou” and “Hachi-one Diver” but the reality is that the professional approach to Shogi scares off most of the really interesting people leaving only the most logical and straight forward types.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shogi NubeTube

Earlier I mentioned that Shion no Ou was one of ther best primers I’d found for learning Shogi but even Shion requires a decent attention span and free time to get through the entire season. On youtube theres a great series by Hidetchi called How to Play Shogi which breaks down shogi into small ADD sized portions.

Book Burning

For anyone frustrated with the book knowledge needed to correctly navigate the Shogi opening game there are several Shogi variants that can help. The best way to start learning Shogi is in small pieces. There are several smaller variants of the game that give you a chance to start learning how a few of the pieces move, capture, promote, and drop without being overwhelmed by the larger opening and midgame strategy. Both of these variants below are played with 4-5 pieces on a board so small that you are immediately thrown into an exciting endgame battle.

Dōbutsu shōgi (or animal chess) is a simplified version of Shogi developed to help teach small children. The core concept are the same as Shogi but it uses cute iconic animals to represent the pieces and has icons on each piece that show how they move.

Mini Shogi (5x5 Shogi) is another small variant that accomplishes the same thing but still uses the traditional Koma or Kanji based playing pieces. This has a slightly higher learning curve because you must memorize how the six pieces move but it also helps better prepare the student for a traditional game of Shogi because the pieces you are learning are the same as in the full game.

Changing the face of Shogi

So how do you change the stereotypes of who plays Shogi and how they play it? How do you change the face of Shogi? Well with cosmetics of coarse.

The LPSA, Ladies Professional Shogi-players Association of Japan has started giving cosmetics and jewelry as prizes to attract a new crowd to Shogi. So far it seems to be working!

Shion no Ou

I discovered the Shion comics soon after finishing Hachi-One Diver but at that time it didn't interest me. The story and the world looked so dull compared to the fantasys of Hachi-One. After discovering hayashiba naoko's connection with the comics I just had to read them. The Shion no Ou animated series has been one of the best primers for learning Shogi I've come across. Through the series it slowly teaches you Shogi tactics and terminology without interrupting the stories flow.

I can't recommend this series enough to anyone interested in Shogi. While the story and world are more grounded in reality then Hachi-One Diver it still creates the same levels of danger, passion, and intensity. The series gives players a better idea of what to expect of Shogi though you may be hard pressed to find opponents in the real world as exciting as these characters.

That is one of the goals of this blog to show how Shogi is changing and how those changes are bringing new character, new faces to the Shogi world... Its no longer just for old men in Shogi parlors.

Shogi Sex Scandal

I started playing shogi soon after finishing the 81 diver TV series but quickly lost interest. The real world of shogi was gray and dull… filled with libraries filled with opening that needed to be studied much like chess. When I first played shogi I was shocked by the chaotic potential of drops, the ability to place your opponents captured pieces back on the board as part of your army, but centuries of play have created a huge weight of book knowledge players are expected to understand. This reliance on book knowledge destroyed my excitement for shogi but I realized that with its long history it must have some truly shocking and exciting masters. It must have its seedy and dangerous underside like in 81 diver. So I set out on my search for the Bobby Fischer of shogi - a dramatic controversial character to show me the passionate and dangerous side of the game.

What I found was Hayashiba Naoko. A female pro shogi player famous for her sex scandal with another pro player. What interested me about her wasn’t the scandal itself but how she has been changed by it over the years. The Japanese press showed little interest in her side of the story and she had to leave Japan to escape from the media maelstrom. After the scandal she posed for some nude photobooks taking advantage of her badgirl image.

In the present is where her story really gets interesting. She is the author of a comic book series called Shion no Ou which is about a female Shogi player trying to work through traumatic experience that happened years ago that haunts her daily life. No the story is not about her scandal but her characters definitely struggle with many of the same emotions that she has had to deal with over the years and I proud to see her get her life back on track and achieve such great heights as a creator and storyteller..

81 diver

My first introduction to shogi was seeing Shogi parlors in Kyoto. Seeing those drab environments never made we want anything to do with the game! It wasn’t until I stumbled across hachi-one diver in a used bookstore that I became interested and obsessed with shogi.

What isn’t there to like about hachi-one. You have maids, akiba, gambling, as well as strong emotions and ambitions. What really grabbed me about the comic was the intensity level. The art style isn’t glamourous or beautiful but the passion and intensity of the characters jumps off each page.