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"I am a cuckoo, standing on top of the lives that were pushed aside. As they sing of spring, I hear a voice calling in the distance... And I think, if I ever really were a bird, then at least I would pass through the days oblivious to such agonizing torment as this."
Rei Kiriyama is the narrator and protagonist of the story. He is a teenage professional shogi player, currently ranked at 5th-dan. He is widely lauded in the shogi community as the fifth shogi player to become a professional in middle school. Using his salary combined with his life savings, he lives in own apartment while juggling between his official matches and high school. By the time the story begins, Rei is also a frequent visitor of the Kawamoto residence, where the family treats him as one of their own despite his initial reluctance to become close with them.Outside his days with the Kawamoto family, however, Rei has many issues and emotional scars that plague him every day. His social skills leave much to be desired, and he typically spends time in school alone due to his inability to interact with his peers. His biological family's deaths from his early childhood still haunt him, and his strained relationship with his foster family is one of the main reasons of his early independence. Shogi itself is also a primary source of his problems, from problems of the present, such as the stagnation in his climbing of the ranks, to deep-seated issues relating to his past such as the bitterness it has caused between him and his foster siblings. Much of the story involves him coping with these issues and slowly moving past them.
- Broken Bird: Rei's complicated childhood has left him with a strained relationship with his adoptive family, socially reclusive, and thrust into adulthood and out on his own when he's not truly ready for it.
- Classical Anti-Hero: Rei, with all of his meek personality, personal problems, and insecurities, fits this role to a T.
- The Eeyore: While Rei is capable of showing other emotions such as shock or anger for more than a few seconds, he spends much time and narration in the manga contemplating on his issues and describing his emotional lows.
- Enraged by Idiocy: While initially sympathetic toward Yasui's impending divorce, Rei becomes incensed when Yasui doesn't learn from his mistakes both inside professional shogi (choosing not to learn from his losses) and outside (opting to once again drink his loss away instead of spending his last Christmas with his daughter as a family and initially pretending to forget about the presents he bought). Implicitly blaming Rei for the latter is what sets it off.
- Extreme Doormat: Rei is a bit lacking in the ability to stand up for himself, especially when it comes to Kyouko, who regularly belittles him and attempts to manipulate him into losing. His narrative heavily implies it's because of his affections toward her.Rei: ...what I can't stand about these words fraught with poison is me who wants to hear them.
- Heroic Self-Deprecation : One of Rei's major flaws is his lack of self-esteem. His family issues that he blames himself for and his struggles as a professional shogi player despite being lauded as one of the few players to become pro in middle-school serve as few of the many factors that exacerbate his extremely low opinion of himself.
- Minor Living Alone: Rei started living in his own apartment at the age of 17, after starting high school a year late. Unlike most examples, he has a foster family to go back to, however he left after he found his presence damaging to the blood-related family members. His earnings as a shogi player are enough for him to sustain himself, even if he sends a portion of it back to the Kouda family.
- My Hero Zero: Rei's name uses the kanji for zero and nothingness. This case is subverted in the sense that this hasn't been played for the Rule of Cool. The story has yet to tell his parents' reasons for giving him the name. In fact, it just gives Kyouko more fuel to taunt him with.Kyouko: "Your name is Rei? What a weird name! But it suits you ... No home. No relatives. No school. No friends."
- No Social Skills: Rei isn't particularly good at socializing with people, especially at school. He opts out of class events, and makes no visible effort to make friends with any of his classmates during his spare time at school. Hayashida is about the only person he has conversations with at school on a regular basis, and even then, they tend to get fairly one-sided.
- The Unfavourite: Due to the story lacking a narrator until Rei himself takes the mantle at the end of Chapter 1, Rei's initial recollections of his childhood earlier in the same chapter are presented in a way that leads readers into believing that he was the least favored of the three children raised by Kouda, as Rei recalls images of what looks like him and his progress in shogi being neglected in favor of attending to the other two children. However, a series of more detailed flashbacks later invert this perception and reveal that Rei himself became the favorite through being the best of the three in shogi, and that the other two were not given as much attention as him.
- Teen Genius: Rei is a genius primarily in shogi, where he is the fifth person ever to become a professional shogi player during middle school. However, being this is actually detrimental to his already weak ego.
Akari is the eldest of the three Kawamoto sisters. She essentially acts as the surrogate mother for her younger sisters and Rei, in place of their real parents. Appropriately enough, she has a kind, motherly air about her and is generally the most mild-mannered and practical of her sisters.She has a tendency to take care of animals she finds in poor shape and nurse them back to health. As her sister Hina notes, she encounters Rei in pretty much the same fashion, with him being the first time she's "brought a person back home." Finding Rei in a drunk state after being forced to drink by a bitter opponent that abandoned him afterward, Akari brings him into their home to recover, and it is at that point where Akari and the rest of her family are formally acquainted with Rei.
- Chubby Chaser: As a result of her love for round and plump things, she appreciates people with a "full" figure. Her first meeting with Nikaidou shows a comical, quirky attraction to him, and clear dismay is shown in her face and monologue when he attempts to limit the amount of food he eats at her place.
- Little Black Dress: Akari wears dresses like these while working at Mikako's Ginza Bar. Along with a hairstyle change, this completely changes her image compared to when she's at home.
- Parental Substitute: Besides her sisters, Akari also serves as a surrogate mother figure for Rei, even lecturing Rei when he does things like not answering the phone when he's sick.
- Promotion to Parent: With the death of the Kawamoto sisters' mother and the absence of their father, Akari more-or-less serves as the parental figure for her two younger sisters, caring for them and even arguing with them as a mother would, as noted when she realizes she had a similar argument with their mother as she did with Hina.
Hinata "Hina" Kawamoto
"Usually, she would become spirited with a clap, depressed with a sigh, or outraged with a snap. However, you look at it, she's very lively. I think that's her unique personality trait."
Hinata is the middle child of the Kawamoto siblings.
- Cordon Bleugh Chef: Hina's initial, unguided attempt at making bento for Takahashi results in a bad tasting meal, partially because of bad seasoning and partially because she mix-and-matches a lot of ingredients in an overzealous attempt at making an extravagant meal.
- The Cutie: Hina's probably one of the cutest members of the cast, second only to her little sister. She lives her life with cheer, and approaches Rei's problems with a mild hint of optimism.
- Deuteragonist: Despite assuring Rei that Akari would "nurse him back to health" (read:help him through his emotional issues) like she did with the many animals she brought in, Hinata has the most significant interactions with Rei and a more proactive approach to his problems, as opposed to Akari's more passive stance. Starting from Volume 5, she has her own story arc that's not intrinsically related to Rei.
- Genki Girl: This is essentially how Rei describes how Hina normally is in contrast to how she behaves around Takahashi.
- Girlish Pigtails: Hina, who's at the age where she's going through the many follies of youth, sports these most of the time.
- Joshikousei: Hina's middle school uniform is pretty standard. She graduates later on, though, and goes to Rei's high school, which doesn't have Sailor Fuku.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Since she's referred to as "Hina-chan" most of the time by the other characters, readers tend to just refer to Hina, forgetting that her full name is Hinata.
- Skirt over Slacks: Hina's casual style of dress mainly consists of dresses she wears over her jeans.
- Smitten Teenage Girl: Toward Takahashi, a boy she's known since elementary school. She can barely manage small talk with him, often unable to speak properly when he shows up. Whenever she's at one of his baseball games she acts a pure fangirl.
Momo is the youngest of the Kawamoto siblings, being around preschool age. Despite growing up with neither of her parents - her father having abandoned the family for another woman and her mother dying during her infancy - she is well-cared for with her eldest sister and grandfather being her caretakers.
- Cheerful Child: Just about anything she says and does is adorable.
Someji KawamotoSomeji is the Kawamoto sisters' grandfather.
- Doting Parent: Someji Kawamoto is particularly soft on his youngest granddaughter, Momo.
Mr. KoudaKouda is an old friend of Rei's biological father from his shogi days and the eventual shogi teacher and guardian of Rei when his entire family dies from a vehicular accident. Though Rei is not formally adopted into his family, Kouda is essentially his foster father and allows Rei to call him as such whenever they are not focused on shogi.
- Parental Obliviousness: Kouda has shown no signs of realizing how badly his upbringing has damaged his three children emotionally. At least, as far as Rei's narration is capable of showing the readers, anyway.
"No matter how you looked at her, she was like a vehement, angry tempest... in shogi... in temperament... and in beauty."Kyouko is Rei's elder foster sister by four years.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Kyouko has a lot of pride in herself that causes her to react this way. She verbalizes this to Rei when she attempts to leave the Kouda house; by that point, she is sick of being treated delicately and people feeling sorry for her.
- Femme Fatale: She's been called "as beautiful as a demon", even as a child.
- Hypocrite: After a chance encounter with the Kawamoto sisters during one of her meetings with Rei, she taunts him about what she assumes is a relationship of dependency from Rei toward the family, insinuating that he's bound to ruin another household like what happened with the Kouda's. She's saying this, mind you, when moments before, she was complaining about how her father halted her credit card for being secretive; Kyouko is still financially supported by her father while Rei struggles to be independent.
- Manipulative Bitch: Kyouko has made at least two attempts to get Rei to take losses in his professional matches by appealing to his good nature through the sob stories of his upcoming opponents and baiting him with two possible scenerios that depend on his victory or defeat, with the implications that they'll be better off if he lost. She succeeds in at least shaking him up, but he's never gone so far as to contemplate on purposefully losing.
- Master of the Mixed Message: Kyouko often jumps between signs of dislike and hate toward Rei, such as verbally belittling and goading him into failure in shogi, and showing signs of at least concern for the more general aspects of his well-being, such as recommending that he visit his adoptive father more often and checking his face for past scars.
- The Resenter: Kyouko resents Rei for being the best in shogi (and by extension, gaining the attention of their father), and that resentment is carried with her attempts to lead him into failure, even when she's being fairly cordial to him otherwise.
- Stalker with a Crush: Gotou openly referring to Kyouko as a stalker, even if half-jokingly, indicates that their relationship is not reciprocal, and she just shows up wherever he is without necessarily getting his approval. Apparently, he just allows her to follow him around for unknown reasons.
Ayumu KoudaAyumu is Rei's foster brother whom he shares the same age.
- Hikikomori: Rei heavily implies in the narration of his childhood that Ayumu became one (or is slowly becoming one) after realizing he could no longer keep up with Rei in shogi, mentioning that he holes himself up in his room and drowns himself in video games.
"Even though this person in front of me was sweating bullets and was in a dire position, he still persisted on sitting there. All because he wanted to win..."
Nikaidou is a man that Rei has known since childhood due to frequent meet-ups at youth shogi tournaments, and is the closest thing Rei can call a childhood friend.
- Determinator: Nikaidou's approach toward shogi, even when he's playing during a hot day and is about to faint due to anemia.
- Fat Best Friend: He's a Type C for Rei, not that much reference is made about his body weight.
- Idiot Hair: Nikaidou is the only character that has one on a fairly consistent basis, only for it to go away during more serious scenes. Its existance is lampshaded when his appearance shifts back to normal from his temporary realistic-style Art Shift.
- Ill Boy: Despite all of his gusto, Nikaidou is sickly, and takes regular visits to the hospital. His illness is mentioned often by the cast, and it has manifested several times in the story in the form of anemia.
- No Indoor Voice: Particularly as he's speaking with or addressing people he's familiar with, the man shows no restraint in the volume of his voice... even in places where it isn't exactly appropriate, at one point even forcing Rei to cover his ears during an entire conversation as Nikaidou follows along.
- Unknown Rival: Nikaidou treats Rei as the greatest rival he's had since childhood. Meanwhile, Rei, while acknowledging his determination in respect, does not show any signs of taking Nikaidou's claims of being his rival all that seriously.
Tatsuyuki "Smith" Misumi
- Only Known by Their Nickname: "Smith" is revealed to be a nickname long after the character's introduction. His real name is unceremoniously revealed to be Tatsuyuki Misumi.
"You could say he doesn't do anything except attack. I often debate whether he's a boar or a ball of fire."
- Hot-Blooded: Issa Matsumoto is about as hot-blooded as one could be as a shogi player, vowing to defeat Kiriyama in an early match using his "Way of Shogi." Doesn't quite pan out like that.
- Spiky Hair: His hairstyle consists of large, slightly exaggerated spikes, in contrast to just about everyone else in the cast with normal hairstyles, making him the only character with a somewhat silly, though still plausible, hairstyle,.
Touji SouyaHe is the current Meijin of professional shogi, and he is also the holder of several other titles as well. Like Rei, he is also one of the players to become a professional in middle school. It is his achievements, as well as those of the other players to turn professional at that age, that set the high expectations that Rei struggles to live up to.Rei himself has only encountered Souya once, early in his professional career.
YasuiYasui is one of Rei's opponents that he faces near the end of the year. Like with the case of Matsunaga, Kyouko tells Rei of his sob story in a petty attempt to convince him to lose on purpose.
- Drowning His Sorrows: Yasui has an alcohol problem that's tied to his losses.
- The Gambling Addict: Along with the alcohol he drinks when he loses, he also gambles away the money he has.
GotouGotou is a 9th dan player known for his heavy play style, as well as his rather frightening expression, among his peers. He was, at one point, a pupil of Mr. Kouda, like Rei. He supports Kyouko in a fashion that's not immediately made entirely clear by the narrative. Rei regards him with a great deal of scorn due to his relationship with Kyouko, despite having a hospitalized wife. In return, he taunts Rei whenever they meet, being one of the few people shown to be capable of infuriating Rei.
- Face of a Thug: Both Smith and Shimada comment on how scary Gotou's face is, the former even earlier stating that he has a Yakuza vibe to him.
- Narcissist: In an attempt to to insult him, Shimada accuses Gotou of being one, due to having a well-built physique that one would not expect from a professional shogi player.
- Smug Smiler: Gotou gives taunting smiles whenever he is taunting Rei and purposefully provoking him.
Shimada is an 8th dan player with a long-standing stay in the A-class. He initially appears as Rei's semi-final match in the Shishi Ou Cup, serving as an obstacle for Rei's self-anticipated match against Gotou. Unfortunately for Rei, Rei grossly underestimates Shimada's abilities before and during their match, only to realize it too late and lose the game in an anticlimactic fashion.
Hina's Middle School
Chiho SakuraFrequently appearing in flashbacks once Hina's bullying story arc begins, she is one of Hina's childhood friends. Bullied throughout their third-year in high school by a particular clique of girls, she's eventually driven to transfer out of school and move out of town. Defending Chiho before she leaves is what causes the shift of the bullying from her to Hina.
Takashi HayashidaHayashida is Rei's homeroom teacher in high school. He was already quite familiar with Rei and his professional career when he transferred into his class, being a fan of shogi himself. Quickly noticing how Rei is very much like a normal teen with problems despite being a shogi genius, he becomes intrigued and frequently eats lunches with him up on the roof whenever he gets the chance.
- Brutal Honesty: Hayashida does not have any subtlety whenever he's openly discussing Rei's social ineptitude.
- Psychologist Teacher: Hayashida tries to be one for Rei, at least. Aside from talking about shogi-related matters with him, he tries to help Rei out with some of his issues when given the opportunity.
- Named After Somebody Famous: His namesake is Hideyo Noguchi (né Seisaku), a famous Japanese bacteriologist. Eisaku's appearance originated from him as well.
- Younger Than They Look: He's a highschooler despite sporting a thick mustache. Lampshaded in the first chapter he appears in with notes constantly pointing out that he's a 2nd-year.