The best thing about The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! is the afterword, where the author reveals just how much research he did to write a shogi-themed light novel. Usually, light novel authors use the afterword to thank the book’s illustrator, editor and the readers (in that order), but Shirow Shiratori goes out of his way to thank dozens of people involved in the professional Shogi world. He even recounts a personal story from his high school days, when he played Shogi against “the high-school Ryuo.”
The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! is a novel that takes a traditional Japanese board game seriously. It took four years of research before the first volume was even published. Think of it like the Hikaru no Go of light novels, except with unfunny lolicon jokes and the worst opening chapter in the world.
Seriously, it cannot be overstated just how bad of a first impression this light novel makes.
The prologue opens with a nine-year-old girl saying to a sixteen-year-old boy, “Master… It’s rock hard…” In the Japanese version, the innuendo is even more explicit; she tells him that his tama (玉) is hard. In shogi, that would refer to the king, but it can also mean balls, as in testicles.
The rest of the prologue isn’t much better. The characters are panting, and the guy makes a big show of “violating” the girl’s territory. Even when it’s revealed to be an innocuous shogi match, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
In the next chapter, a fifty-year-old man whips out his penis in public and pees on his apprentices.
“This ranked first in Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi!?” I thought incredulously. “I shouldn’t have trusted the Nourin author not to write trash.”
The thing is, The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! was a critics’ darling. The way Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! was set up last year gave more weight to the critics than the popular vote, and the list wasn’t just filled with titles that had popular anime adaptations. I thought that The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! had real potential, and was disappointed to find out that it sucked big time.
Fortunately, the novel does recover from it nadir. Honestly, I would have lost my faith in humanity if it had gotten worse. In the end, it manages to deliver some interesting matches and get me engaged in a game that I had no prior knowledge or interest in. Does that make up for it being so shit at the beginning? I dunno.
I guess the good thing is that you can read the free sample from Bookwalker. If you can tolerate the worst elements from the beginning, then you should find the rest of the book worth reading. I just wish that I had been given content warnings before reading this, because “Let’s only pretend we’re perving on elementary school-aged girls!” is still disturbing as hell.
If you do want to read one of those exclusive English light novels from Bookwalker, though, go with The Combat Baker and Automaton Waitress. It has none of the skeevy elements of The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done!, and it also delivers an interesting fantasy/sci-fi story in a postwar environment. Of course, the genre is very different from The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done!, meaning that some people might like one and not the other, but on a technical level, the prose and translation quality is superior. Overall, it is just a better release from Bookwalker.