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The Chessmaster / Anime & Manga

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Chessmasters in anime and manga.


Chess Motif Examples:

  • Black Butler's Ciel Phantomhive exudes this, despite the fact that he's only 13 years old - he's a keen observer, a strategist, and knows precisely when to strike his enemies - or, more often, when to send in his demonic Battle Butler to strike. And he's very good at making people think that he's just a cute, innocent little kid to lure them into a false sense of security, despite the fact that, behind closed doors he's a Deadpan Snarker crossed with a Magnificent Bastard with a pinch of Crazy-Prepared. We see him playing chess quite often during the manga - he's even undefeated.
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  • Osamu Dazai and Fyodor Dostoevsky from Bungo Stray Dogs. Dazai has been planning out every event surounding Atsushi since the day he met him by the river. Fyodor has a similar ability to manipulate the events taking place in the story to the point that the mangaka drew out one of their enounters with each other as a chess game in their minds. The mangaka also drew a color splash page for the manga of Dazai and Fyodor playing chess against each other with the other characters as pieces on the board.
  • Lelouch, the Hero of Code Geass, is almost a textbook example of the good-guy Chessmaster: highly intelligent Well-Intentioned Extremist who excels at chess. When Mao gets the advantage on him, the point is emphasized by his clobbering of Lelouch at chess (by reading Lelouch's mind and revealing every single strategy Lelouch was thinking of at a single moment...including ones to misdirect Mao's telepathy).
    • The "almost" comes from the fact that, rather than sitting on the sidelines, he fights in the field with his men, and that Word of God, Lampshade Hanging, and direct statements from Lelouch himself ("I can't win if I abandon my people",) demonstrate that he actually cares about the well-being of those he commands.
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    • Though just to add to the "chess" metaphor, Lelouch is compared to a king more than once. Like the king piece, he's the most valuable piece on the board but extremely poor at combat, being one of the most physically weak characters in the show. This is even partly why he's on the field, actually: his own personal chess strategy seems to have the king move around a lot more than his opponents consider 'normal'. "If the King doesn't lead, his men won't follow." His Mind Control power is even referred to as, "The Power of the King"
      • And to drive the point home even further, the King piece used in the series' chess set was explicitly modeled on Lelouch's alter-ego Zero (the Queen was modeled on his partner C.C., incidentally).
      • And to further drive it home, Lelouch is also an actual chessmaster, able to defeat most opponents in the actual game of chess itself with relative ease.
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    • Lelouch carries this to the hilt by using standard chess notation to designate his soldiers in battle - his most trusted ally Kallen is "Q-1" (Queen), second-in-command Ohgi is N-1 (Knight), and The Fool Tamaki is "P-1" (Pawn).
    • He even uses novelty trigger switches shaped like chess pieces to set off traps and explosives.
    • His brother Schneizel is also a competent Chessmaster in his own right, and is the only one who can take Lelouch on on an even footing.
  • One of the bounties in Cowboy Bebop, appropriately named Chessmaster Hex. He set up a revenge plot for a company he worked for by supplying plans for defrauding their customers to several dozen random people on the internet (and provided each of them with a chess piece so the company would know he was behind it). The twist is that he set it up fifty years ago to just happen now and he has since become a senile old man that just plays chess online all day. Despite his senility, he still plays a mean game of chess, and his match with Ed lasts a week before Hex puts her in checkmate.
  • Chessmaster vs. Chessmaster example: Light vs. L in Death Note, creating a Gambit Pileup to no end. Unlike most chessmaster stories, this one usually lets the audience in on each move of the game. When we're suddenly denied this privilege, you can bet something hardcore is about to go down. At one point, a Chessmaster is drawn moving figurines of the dramatis personae around a chess board. L is even seen to toy with chesspieces when contemplating.
    • Near and Mello.
    • L, Near and Mello are clearer examples of Chessmasters, as all three of them carefully and deliberately set the board in the first few episodes from their introduction. Light had to scramble for pieces to put immediately into play; what saved him was that he was a quick study of his opponent and had powerful and unpredictable gambits.
      • It helps that his "pieces" were supernatural in nature and impossible for L, Near, and Mello to plan around without foreknowledge. L had to battle Light and figure out the rules of the game at the same time, all while being denied a full view of the pieces and the board. His discoveries and observations allowed Near and Mello to wage war against Light without the handicap of ignorance.
    • Similarly, in one of the Film adaptations, L and Light actually play a game of chess with each other while having a discussion, with Light winning.
  • An almost literal version in Durarara!!. Izaya is a Manipulative Bastard who has pretty much played everyone in the series. He deliberately singles out specific individuals in order to manipulate them and create chaos for everyone involved- all for the sake of his amusement. This is illustrated by the fact that he represents the events around him through an odd mix of of board games (including chess, among many, many others). Meaning he sees the characters as literal pawns. Not helped by the fact that he also happens to be a Psychopathic Man Child with a habit of setting his pieces on fire.
  • Fairy Tail villain Jellal uses a circular chessboard with custom-shaped pieces to note when certain players are taken out of the game and new ones put in.
  • Father in Fullmetal Alchemist has a chessboard, and actually uses it as the activation point for his plan.
    • Also Roy Mustang: he often plays chess, and when his loyal team is taken from him, he laments their loss by putting away the corresponding pieces in his chessboard. Although he is definitely not gonna sacrifice anyone for his plans. It should also be noted his plans usually don't work.
  • Gundam:
  • The entire third season of Hell Girl can be viewed as a desperate chess game ... perhaps even a deadly game of speed chess. It slowly grows over the season and when it culminates in the very last episode the unspoken central question is who won? The Lord of Hell, finally trapping Ai Emna into the Hell Girl role for eternity .... or was it Ai Emna's final victory ... saving a soul from an eternity in Hell?
  • Several characters in Liar Game. One of the antagonists, while not playing chess, uses chess pieces to demonstrate headcount in a Minority Rule game. The three pieces (rook, knight, bishop) all representing the same person are then dramatically replaced with a king, complete with grand sweeping gesture.
  • Kabuto, from Naruto does this with a board more resembling of the game "Go", to keep track of all his Edo Tensei pawns.
    • Far more so than Kabuto is Shikamaru whose only passions are playing shōgi with his teacher (there are several scenes of his games with Azuma) and lazing about. He's also the second most cunning strategist in the Leaf village (beaten only by his father) and his battle with Temari in the Chuunin exam makes a lot of references to his anticipating her moves and using misdirection to lead her into a trap. He was the only one to get promoted in the entire exam group despite forfeiting his match.
  • One Piece's anime-only G8 Arc has the Straw Hats trapped in an island fortress that happens to be a Marine Base. The base's commander, Jonathan, makes several allusions to chess as he strategizes on how to capture the now-infamous Straw Hat Pirates, having the board in front of him many times. In fact, this guy is so good of a chessmaster that if it hadn't been for a visiting vain Marine official's interference, he might have actually succeeded in capturing the Straw Hats.
  • Vampire king Akabara Strauss as well as others from The Record of a Fallen Vampire.
  • Taikobo from Soul Hunter is the most heroic Chessmaster you'll ever find. He acts like a complete idiot and failure, but uses that to manipulate every single person he knows. Dakki also matches up as one, just in the more pure evil style, causing the two to constantly butt heads as their pawns clash.
  • Yugi in Tenchi in Tokyo has a floating crystal formation in her evil lair that represents the relationships between Tenchi and all the other major characters.
  • Kaname Kuran of Vampire Knight. In the opening credits for the first series, there's even a massive chessboard, and Kaname is often described as "moving all the pieces into place", that Zero is a pawn, and he says "checkmate" at least once in that series... He's also been seen playing actual chess.
  • Seto Kaiba during the Death-T arc in the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga. He gets extra points for having an actual chess board right in front of him during most of the arc.

Examples Without Chess Motifs:

  • Attack on Titan: Erwin. He doesn't hesitate to sacrifice hundred of his soldiers in order to capture the Female Titan, declining to tell them about what they're fighting. Lampshaded by Armin, who says that a person needs to be one to change something in the world.
    • Also shown to be the case with Eren Kruger and Zeke Yeager, the Beast Titan, both of whom are more than willing to attack and kill soldiers on the side they claim they're trying to save. Zeke, at least, is shown to be extremely intelligent and good at working out his opponent's moves. As a royal, also has the ability to transform and control titans that were created with his serum. Not much is known about Kruger, on the other hand, but he used La Résistance as a bunch of Unwitting Pawns and gives the impression that he knows a lot more than the audience.
  • In Black Lagoon Rock is getting to this point. Depending on your interpretation of the Baille de la meurte arc, he is either a budding chessmaster who set up nearly the entire ending with a few choice words and a really accurate prediction of how people would act, or he was a Manipulative Bastard playing on a Batman Gambit. However, considering that he seems to have deduced that Eda is a CIA agent and used that to his advantage to shape the end-game....
  • Sousuke Aizen of Bleach. Also of the Manipulative Bastard variety and a proven master of the Gambit Roulette.
    • For that matter Kisuke Urahara fits the role well too, though on the non-villainous side. Aside from being opposed to Aizen, it's not really clear what endgame he's playing toward, but that could just be proof of how good a Chessmaster he is.
    • Vandenreich The Emperor Yhwach fits the role as well also being a Manipulative Bastard.
  • Amshel Goldsmith from Blood+ is Diva's chevalier, but he is the one who organises most of Diva's plan to replace humanity with Chiropterans. To reach that end, he uses everyone, including Diva's other chevaliers who are on his side. In fact, it is completely plausible to argue that he, instead of Diva, is the main villain as he and the original Joel's experiments on Saya and Diva completely drove Diva insane and made her into a bloodthirsty monster that she is.
    • There are a couple of people who know Amshel's game. Nathan plays along because he feels like it. Diva just doesn't care, being too insane to focus on anything that takes so much time to develop.
  • In both the manga and the anime versions, Aion of Chrono Crusade is shown to be a Chessmaster — in the anime, he manages to manipulate Chrono into giving him exactly what he needs for his plans: the Holy Maiden, Rosette. He dies in the end, but manages to come back from the dead (and/or become a symbol of evil—it's hard to tell exactly). In the manga, he manipulates not only Chrono and his True Companions, but the entire demon society to completely obliterate the entire demon race, and nearly the world along with it, so that the world can be rebuilt without the "systems" he despises. The only thing that stops him is that Rosette is the living personification of Chaotic Good, and his biases against humans stopped him from realizing what a pain in the ass she'd turn out to be.
  • Dietrich, one of the younger warriors from Claymore qualifies. Figuring out Helen and Deneve's identities within seconds was a foretaste of her analytical abilities. Figuring out the only way to defeat the Luciela-Rafaela spawn for good by siccing the Abyssal Feeders on them was a grandmaster move.
  • Amber/February from Darker Than Black is an example of this trope; however, instead of simply using world class intellect to manipulate outcomes in her desired direction, she uses her ability to rewind time in order to correct failed gambits.
    • She even pulls off a Gambit Roulette, managing to place Hei at the exact place she needs him to be, at the exact right time, in order to allow him to have an epiphany which leads him to the course of action she needed him to make. And all before she ran out of power (just).
  • Myotismon from Digimon Adventure 02. All the main things that happened in the series were plotted by him in his own designs, both directly and indirectly, and his plans worked so well that the writers were forced to use some half-assed Deus ex Machina just to make sure he wouldn't win.
  • Rosalie of the Samura Hiroaki oneshot Emerald plays this astoundingly well. In only sixty odd pages, she saves a young girl from a life of prostitution, orchestrates the death of a legendary criminal, brings an invincible gunfighter out of retirement and brings down the local prostitution ring without once firing a gun. Paying for a tombstone for the aforementioned criminal just might bring her into Magnificent Bastard territory.
  • Shigure Sohma from Fruits Basket manages to manipulate everyone up to and including his love interest, as well as several innocent teenagers from basically the first moment he steps on the page. He does eventually succeed in getting what he wants, which is to break the Zodiac Curse.
  • Other than Father, Fullmetal Alchemist has a large number of heroic Chessmasters, including Olivier Mira Armstrong, General Grumman, and of all people, Hohenheim, who is revealed to have been planning a counter to Father's moves for years.
    • The 2003 anime version's villain, Dante, is also a pretty classic example, having manipulated Amestris, its military and above all its alchemists, behind the scenes for centuries.
  • Fushigi Yuugi's Nakago was not only good at directing his own men, he was a master when it came to misdirecting and manipulating the heroes. (Not that the heroes were any sort of brain trust...)
  • Kazundo Gouda from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, who manipulates all of Japan in service of his own convoluted plans.
  • Gundam:
    • In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Alejandro Corner thinks he's the Chessmaster, hijacking Aeolia Schenberg's century-in-the-making Gambit Roulette and arranging to dispose of the late Aeolia's loyal followers so he can take command of the newly-forming Earth Sphere Federation. He's wrong. Alejandro was actually being manipulated himself every step of the way by his apparent lackey, Ribbons Almark. The first hint Alejandro gets of this comes seconds before his death when Ribbons radios him to gloat.
      • Aeolia Schenberg, managed to accurately predict the events of everything that happened during the first season, and developed effective contingencies for it. What makes him different from all the other different chessmasters? He's been dead for two hundred years.
    • Rau Le Creuset of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED nearly destroyed the world by manipulating nations into slaughtering one another. He gains a chess-motif in the sequel.
    • Treize Khushreneda of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, though that's just par for the course when you're that magnificent.
  • Nagi Sanzenin's grandfather, Mikado Sanzenin, has proved himself one of these in chapter 249 of Hayate the Combat Butler. In past chapters he essentially plays with Nagi, making her a target for people after the inheritance, which is reason enough. In the latest, he forces Hayate, her butler, into deciding her lifestyle, forcing him to choose between protecting a stone which has become the symbol of the Sanzenin inheritance, or breaking it to save his former lover's life. And to make it even worse, he admits to manipulating the boy's life ever since he can remember by posing as innocuous figures. The only good thing about him is the fact that he genuinely loved his daughter, favors his granddaughter's maid, and taught said granddaughter how to invest.. so she's not rendered completely poverty-stricken ''when'' the inheritance gets taken away from her.
    • He also engineered a plot to steal 'the power of the gods' before the story started. Possibly his first, since it failed and got the three who worked together on it cursed.
  • Naraku of InuYasha manipulates, schemes, lies, cheats and cons every member of the cast, pitting hero against hero and tricking them into doing his dirty work. The only time the heroes get to confront him face-to-face is when he wants them to, or when he think he's gotten strong enough to finally finish them off. The heroes spend a lot of time seeking out Cosmic Keystones that could weaken him, but by the time they get there he either knows and has destroyed or is about to destroy it, or doesn't care because he's too strong for it to work against him anymore. The pinnacle of Naraku's plans comes when he plans for the heroes to kill him as part of a scheme to exist forever. His schemes finally fall apart here: he wanted Kagome to make a selfish wish on the Shikon-no-tama, which would allow him to draw her into the jewel and the two of them would exist inside it in eternal battle. He didn't count on Inuyasha making it to her and convincing her otherwise though, so once Kagome made an unselfish wish, Naraku's plan was broken and he stayed dead at last.
  • Irresponsible Captain Tylor may or may not be Obfuscating Stupidity, but many both amongst the series characters and the fans believe that he is actually working some master plan of his own, given how he always comes off on top in the end and his opponents invariably find him a Spanner in the Works. A Fanon theory is that Tylor has somehow become enlightened as a boddhistava, and that the beginning and end of the opening trailer showcases both his enlightenment and his plan for the Soyokaze; to lead the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits into enlightenment.
  • Satsuki Kiryuin from Kill la Kill is a good example of this trope — Dark Action Girl, Magnificent Bastard, Good Is Not Nice and Anti-Villain all rolled into one. To start, she permits Ryuko Matoi to start her own club to fight the other club presidents, ends with her able to weed out dozens of weaklings and gain an excuse to rebuild and fortify her system with a "Naturals Election". Even if that failed, it still would have ended with Ryuko being either destroyed or integrated into the system, and the one to cause it would have proven to be a worthy addition to the Student Council's inner circle. Next, after pitting the students of Honnouji Academy against each other during the Naturals Election, and later having Ryuko fight the Elite Four, Satsuki was able to assess any weaknesses in their Goku Uniforms. Even though Ryuko beat her inner circle, she now possesses an upgraded arsenal capable of taking over Japan. On her next plan: Though her armies are forced to withdraw from the Kansai region thanks to Ryuko's efforts, Satsuki uses the duel as a distraction for Jakuzure to locate and destroy the hidden Nudist Beach command center. Her enemies are left in a significantly weaker position, and the respite is much more beneficial for her to regroup and rebuild. However, Satsuki turned out to be a rare benevolent example; she revealed that she was planning everything to rebel against her mother Ragyo. In the end, everything benefited her.
  • Too many to count in Legend of Galactic Heroes. Often overlaps with Magnificent Bastard.
  • Liar Game is all about games of Xanatos Speed Chess between opposing Chessmasters. Akiyama stands out as the first and the most prominent heroic example, joined later by Fukunaga, though he's not nearly as good. Opposing him is Yokoya, and as of round 4, a cult leader assigned the Code Name "Robes".
  • Michio Yuki, the main villain of MW plans to use his killings in order to get to the titular chemical warfare and use it to end the world.
  • My Monster Secret: Principal Akane, of all people, turns out to have be one of these. Ultimately, through copious amounts of trolling and benevolent manipulation, most of her actions over the course of the series are intended to prove that humans and non-humans can coexist peacefully, specifically by setting up a situation where Youko's secret ultimately gets revealed, but her friends accept her regardless.
  • Several people from Naruto, such as Shikamaru, Orochimaru, Kabuto, Itachi, Danzo and Tobi. However, Black Zetsu is the champion of Chess mastery in the series, having orchestrated the entire History of Shinobi for the purpose of resurrecting Kaguya.
  • Gendo Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion even though he was out gambitted in the end by Rei who also out-gambitted Seele.
  • Toua Tokuchi from One Outs (an earlier work by the mangaka of Liar Game) is a baseball player version of this; an adept user of gambits. He uses so many in the index, andn so well, that he crosses over into Magnificent Bastard territory. (And no, he's not the catcher!)
  • One Piece has Sir Crocodile. The country of Arabasta sees him as their greatest protector, while he secretly controls the criminal organization Baroque Works, who likewise do not know his real identity. Anything strange that happens in Arabasta can be traced back to Crocodile's plans: from sandstorms to a countrywide drought to the formation of a rebel army. The final plan of Baroque Works boils down to using the peoples' love for their country to destroy it and allow Crocodile to take over a country that loves him. And that's just the beginning. Arabasta was in no way picked at random. The World Government (which Crocodile also nominally serves as one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea) takes a dim view of any revolutionary activity, so once his betrayal became known Crocodile would need to control a nation that would give him the power to stand up to them. Like one that hides the secret to finding the ancient superbattleship Pluton. Guess what's encoded onto a tablet in the Arabasta royal tomb.
    • Naturally, Baroque Works' former vice president, Nico Robin, qualifies as well, preferring to manipulate her enemies before resorting to violence. She maintains this trait as a main protagonist and member of the Straw Hat Pirates.
    • Dolflamingo (another of the 7 warlords) has a lot of this though his imagery is aimed more at being a puppet master and treating everyone like his toy (which seems to be linked to his ability). He's able to out gambit Law and would have perfectly anticipated the Straw Hats had Sabo not shown up and allowed Luffy to resume his role as Spanner in the Works
  • The only 2 chapters we see Konata from Oto x Maho involve her advancing her exceedingly convoluted 7+ year long Gambit Roulette to force her son Kanata to become a Magical Girl, which goes off without a hitch. The fact that she can pull off such a plan can only be explained by her being a Chessmaster.
  • Yukihito Tsuge, the Big Bad of the second Patlabor film nearly drives Tokyo into civil war while operating completely behind the scenes.
  • Peacemaker Kurogane: In the manga, Suzu becomes one after he goes insane.
  • Sailor Moon R Big Bad Wiseman/Death Phantom constructs an elaborate plot that will allow him to destroy the universe of both the past and future which involved him playing the role of the Evil Chancellor to the Black Moon Clan, having them attack the earth of the future then in traveling back in time to attack the earth of the past, having the Sailor Senshi foil them, then have the Senshi traveled to the future so he could get his hands on the Living MacGuffin he needs for his plan, Chibiusa whose power he will feed to his Evil Black Crystal which will then open a gateway of negative energy to to annihilate the universe with.
  • Ukyo from Samurai 7 constantly manipulates people to serve his own ambitions. Even the shocking news that he is a clone of the Emperor doesn't shock him for long, and he quickly disposes of the Emperor, possibly causes the death of another of the Emperor's as-yet-unborn clones, and takes over the throne himself. The only plan that stops him is a group of samurai who plainly state they have no plan.
  • The Anti-Spiral collective from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann pull this off quite well; they anticipated every move possible the 'spiral beings' could have made, and intentionally let them achieve almost all of their small victories, for "The greatest despair is brought after the failure of the greatest hope". The only reason they failed was due to a not-so-subjugated mind-puppet herald, Princess Nia Tepperin.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul Prequel Jack, there's the Big Bad Lantern, who's actually actually school girl Minami. She manipulates everyone around her in order to learn more about CCG investigator Arima, testing his strength and manoeuvring herself to be close to him.
  • Kurama from YuYu Hakusho. A "good guy" example. Unlike the others in the Spirit Detective team, he defeats his enemies by out-thinking them instead of simply overpowering them. You don't ever want to become his enemy or otherwise try to mess with him. Ever.


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