Love, Shogi, and World Domination: 81 Diver


At long last, after many years and 35 volumes of manga, I have finished the exhilarating, hilarious, ugly, and beautiful shogi manga known as 81 Diver. Its bizarre narrative and even stranger art work captivated me from the very beginning, and now that I have seen this series to its end (one of the three series I followed intently that have concluded recently), I want to write to confirm that 81 Diver not only ends strong but in many ways either matched or exceeded my expectations.

81 Diver is the story of Sugata Kontarou, a failed shogi [Japanese chess] player who has taken up gambling through shogi to make ends meet and to fulfill his love of the board game. One day, he decides to order a maid service to clean up his apartment, and discovers at his doorstep an absolutely voluptuous redhead as if out of a fantasy. However, this maid has another identity as Akihabara’s strongest shougi player and a gambler just like Sugata. Known as “Ukeshi,” what translates loosely to “master of defense,” Nakashizu Soyo (as we later learn her name) has her own mission in life: to avenge her brother and father who were both killed by shogi.

As the series progresses, the characters wind up not only challenging and befriending a variety of powerful shogi players and for some reason martial arts experts (actually it’s because the author Shibata also wrote Air Master), but end up in a tournament to save the world from the Kishoukai, the “Demonic Shogi Organization.” The amounts of ridiculous twists and turns this series goes through are almost too many to count. As crazy and as strangely epic as this sounds, however, what really makes 81 Diver special is that the art looks like this:

When discussing the character Kiryuuin Satsuki in Kill la Kill, I once wrote that she has so much presence and so much inner strength that it is the very first thing you notice even as she’s wearing the most ridiculous and revealing outfit possible. I find 81 Diver‘s portrayal of Soyo to be of a similar vein. Sometimes there will be pages of her character where half of it is occupied by a shogi board and the other half is taken up by her enormous chest. At the climax of the manga, her breasts become one of the central points of conflict. And yet, her raw shogi power level is what stand out most about her.

The difference is that, while Kill la Kill achieves this through incredibly well-rendered, stylized, and intense artwork, I ended up including 81 Diver as one of the many titles at my Otakon 2015 panel, “Great Ugly Manga.” On some level, this is clearly on purpose, but it’s also clear, especially given Shibata’s guest essay manga in Gundam: The Origin, that he’s making the best out of what he has, and what he has is a lot of spirit and not a lot of conventional drawing talent.


I would not call 81 Diver an intentionally feminist or progressive work, especially given all of the attention given to girls’ bodies, but it is notably diverse in its cast. There’s an admirable homosexual character who isn’t stereotypically flamboyant, who also dresses like a tokusatsu character and shoots rocket punches. There are also numerous romances between unlikely individuals, and what stands out most is the strange romance between Kontarou and Soyo that portrays them as equals above all else.

When you look at many shounen and seinen manga, there is often something of a lopsided relationship where love interests aren’t allowed to be as prominent in the particular subject focus of the manga (be it sports, fighting, or whatever). Not so with 81 Diver. Though Soyo is dressed in maid outfits throughout the series, and though she will sometimes playfully call him “master” as a callback to how they originally met, at the end of the day they are bonded by their mutual skill and passion for shogi. In fact, when the series begins Soyo is clearly Kontarou’s superior, and when they are able to play again much later in the series, it is one of the most satisfying duels I’ve ever seen in manga.

As mentioned by the characters, the characters fight as if they’re communicating their love through the game of shogi itself. When you see the two of them play, you genuinely don’t know who’s going to win because, even if you set aside the idea of skill in favor of narrative progress, both characters have convincing reasons why they need to win. Ultimately, I love the way they resolve all of this, but I won’t say more so that it remains a surprise for readers.

I could probably write a whole series of posts on 81 Diver, and in fact I’m quite tempted to do so. Suffice it to say, 81 Diver comes highly, highly recommended from me. If you can get past or even embrace the terrible (or perhaps terribly endeaering) artwork and style, it becomes one of the funniest, surprising, and involving manga you’ll ever read.

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Three of My Favorite Manga are Ending Soon

It’s come to my attention that within the next couple of months or so, three of the manga I love and have kept up with for many years are concluding. These titles would be Mysterious Girlfriend X, Fujoshissu!, and 81 Diver, and each of these titles has a special place in my heart.

Mysterious Girlfriend X

Each work appeals to me in different ways, though they all have the recurring theme of “bizarre romance.” However, of the three, this concept applies to Mysterious Girlfriend X the most, and it might very well be Mysterious Girlfriend X which first introduced me to the genre. Mysterious Grilfriend X is a work that I find to be often misunderstood as some drool fetish extravaganza, and once it ends I’ll definitely be writing a review of the whole thing. In the meantime, you can read it online at Crunchyroll.


Of all of the manga starring fujoshi main character, Fujoshissu! is my favorite outside of Genshiken. I’ve mentioned it on Ogiue Maniax in the past, but I regret not talking about it more actively. What I like is that it’s a fun shoujo manga about three friends at various stages of their respective romances and how they (mostly) comfortably incorporate their personal lives into their otaku selves. Like Mysterious Girlfriend X, I’d also like to write a more extensive review when all is said and done. Though not available in English (by any means), you can read the first (and last!) chapter on Comic Walker in Japanese.

81 Diver

81 Diver is possibly the most hilarious manga I’ve ever read, at least Kinnikuman-level. Fortunately, I’ve already written a review of it which I still stand by, but might still do a final wrap-up (though I’m many volumes behind so it’ll take a while). It’s a shougi-themed manga that is great because, and not in spite, of its ugliness.

In a way, it’s like he end of not just one era but rather multiple ones. I feel as if I came to each of these manga at different points in my life, and they’ve rewarded me by being unique, unusual manga that make me feel good to be a fan.



81 Diver is Amazing

Sometimes I can’t believe how much I enjoy the ugly, ugly, ugly art of 81 Diver. Just look at this page for a moment.

I don’t know about you, but when I first saw that kick I simply couldn’t hold my composure. This scene, among many others, actually gets me to burst out laughing.

81 Diver is the work of Shibata Yokusaru, the same man who created Airmaster. It is a manga about Sugata Kentarou, a gambling shougi player, and the woman he loves, “Ukeshi,” an excessively well-endowed maid who is also known as a legendary shougi player renowned for her defensive and reactionary play. I have never played a game of shougi in my life, so much of the terminology goes straight over my head, but the terseness of the dialogue and the sparseness of text in the word bubbles combined with the frenetic line work makes each match extremely tense and exciting, especially given how absurd the characters are.

Let me tell you about what I believe is one of the defining moments in 81 Diver. Sugata is playing a hobo/shougi hermit. Money is on the line. Sugata’s stipulation is that if he wins, he gets the shougi hermit’s money (he’s a hobo but he isn’t poor). The hermit agrees, but in exchange, he demands that his prize be to get a handful of Ukeshi’s breasts. The hero, hearing this stipulation, demands that this be a serious match, but rather than forcing the hobo to change his prize, he takes the reward of touching Ukeshi’s chest as his own incentive, even foregoing the money to do so. As the two of them play an incredibly intense game of shougi full of blood, sweat, and tears, both of them have one thought on their mind: “I’M GONNA GRAB EM!” Spoilers, I guess, but in the end neither gets to grab them. That’s the kind of manga 81 Diver is.

I know there’s a J-drama based on 81 Diver, but I’ve yet to take a look. I do worry that the basic veneer of attractiveness that all live action Japanese manga and anime adaptations undergo with its actors would take away from the appeal of the manga. Related to that point, I honestly think that if the art were prettier or sexier or even had a more solid grasp of anatomy, then it would fundamentally change 81 Diver for the worse. The premise, a shougi-playing maid with gigantic breasts, could easily become another Ikkitousen or Queen’s Blade where the content of the manga practically bends and warps to the will of the women’s curves. And certainly there are plenty of cleavage shots of Ukeshi and the like, but the artist’s style instead manages to shift emphasis away from her attractiveness despite how much time is spent on describing her as a voluptuous woman. It’s ugly and outrageous, and the result is that when I think of Ukeshi I think of her unbelievable shougi skills first. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s shown to be in most ways Sugata’s superior in their chosen game, which makes their absurd romance all the more fun to read.