What’s it about? Urushi and Ayumu are the only members of the school’s shogi club—and clearly have a crush on each other. However, unbeknownst to the easily-flustered Urushi, Ayumu has made a silent vow that he won’t confess his feelings to her until he beats her in a game.
I admit, I have a soft spot for what we might call the “the feeling is mutual, they’re just both dumbasses” romance trope. Watching two characters who you know are into each other, but who just can’t bring themselves to realize and/or admit this for various goofy reasons, can be a delightfully frustrating fiction experience. That being said, it takes a certain flair to pull this off. The tension between the characters has to be tangible enough that you want to see their relationship arc play out, and the tension within the characters has to be believable… otherwise the audience is going to be left fidgeting in their seats asking “Well, why don’t they just tell each other how they feel?”
Unfortunately, I’m not sure Ayumu has the flair. Because… well, why doesn’t he just tell her how he feels? Perhaps his reasons for the shogi pact will become clearer further down the track, but as of this first episode it feels like a contrived device to draw out the plot rather than a believable character motivation.
I’m sure some people will enjoy the contrast between deadpan Ayumu and expressive Urushi, but it was hard for me to get invested. They’re both as flat as the board on which they play their shogi games, and are clearly playing out a humiliation fantasy in a very boring and obvious way.
There’s no fanservice or sexualized imagery, but this show knows what it’s doing: Urushi is haughty and capable, but easily flustered and embarrassed. She enacts elaborate mind-games to get Ayumu to confess his feelings for her, he gives her some sort of matter-of-fact response without showing any emotion, and she dissolves into a freaked-out blushing mess.
This happens several times like clockwork across the episode. It’s the classic plot of setting up a competent and intelligent woman who will inevitably be reduced to a wobbly, lovey-dovey puddle by the explicitly less-skilled male hero. Granted, Ayumu can’t beat her at her own game (shogi, that is) yet, but I assume he’s going to at some point.
In the meantime, he’s casually admitted to looking up her address and following her around school to “make sure she’s okay”. Urushi makes a baffled, pink-cheeked complaint that this qualifies as stalking. So, you know, don’t worry—the show acknowledged that his behavior was creepy with a one-second-long comedic response from the female lead. As we all know, that means it’s okay if he keeps doing it!
Honestly, while there are plenty of tired, crummy tropes at play here, the premiere of Ayumu manages not to feel skeezy by virtue of being so boring. The shot composition is samey and flat, the characters are bland and stiff, and there’s barely a whiff of background music or detail to make this world feel lived-in.
Hot off the season finale of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, I know that a show about teens not wanting to admit their feelings to each other can be visually striking, taking something as mundane as a classroom conversation and making it feel epic and hilarious through use of dynamic storyboarding, expressive animation, music, and voice acting. Ayumu makes no such attempt to elevate its interactions—it doesn’t even attempt to make their shogi games intense and interesting!
I wish I knew more about shogi so I could make some sort of shogi-based pun about how little this show succeeded in getting me interested. If anyone can think of one, please drop it in the comments! In the meantime, for its combination of casual tropey sexism and blandness, I’m giving this one a hard pass.