So this is New Years Week. Yes it is. It’s something that I’m using to my blog’s advantage. I’m using a very loose sort of thematic element to tie together two stories that really don’t belong with each other. The end of an era and the emergence of a new one. Char’s Counterattack is about saying goodbye and hoping the future is ok. Hikaru no Go is a manga (and anime though I’m not reviewing that) about new comers joining the ranks of an already established network of Go players and shaking it up for the better. Does that element make sense on any level? No? Well too bad because I’m going to talk about Hikaru no Go anyway so you might as well join in for the ride. I hope you enjoy this or you can leave. I mean, nothing is stopping you from not continuing and closing this page.
Warning, the following review will spoil a lot of Hikaru No Go. I don’t go into too much detail on some things, but I do spoil a lot of plot elements in the manga. You have been warned.
So how does all of this start and head towards the direction of being special? Well, first an unfocused boy needs to get an interest in the Go field. One day at his grandfathers house, he finds an old Go board with blood stains on it. From that Go board comes a ghost that starts to haunt him after coming out of thing air. The ghost’s name is Sai and he’s a Go player that was completely disgraced by a Go game in his past and died before he could achieve higher goals. First HIkaru sees this ghost haunting him as an easy means to get his homework done while appeasing Sai with some Go games on the side. What happens from that point on is a lot more then that. It’s a tale of Hikaru finding something and loving it to the the point where he grows up a lot and bonds that go beyond time and space.
At the heart of Hikaru no Go is the relationship between Sai and Hikaru. I’ve mentioned on twitter quite a few times that Sai and HIkaru are like Calvin and Hobbes together and they are. It’s a wonderful and sometimes comedic chemistry that really works. Sai is the master from another time who is confused by the current time period, but teaches Hikaru go as a means of focusing him while accepting current situations himself. Hikaru used to be a non caring teenager who just used everything to his advantage before learning to do things himself and never listened to anyone else. He let Sai play Go through him first, but Hikaru found his way in playing it and wanting to improve himself. Something that drove the two together, but separating them when Hikaru became a whole person. A sad tale, but a wonderful tale.
With that relationship that completely surprised at first because I wasn’t expecting a ghost thing. That was different but very in style in the early 2000’s. Looking at you Yu-Gi-Oh. Hikaru No Go isn’t like a standard sports anime or manga, so that wasn’t the only thing that made it different. The manga doesn’t stay in high school tournaments and concludes when Hikaru’s team goes to nationals. It starts that way, but it drifts off course in a different direction due to various character interactions. Hikaru let Sai play a game against Akira Toya, a middle schooler who is strong enough to go Pro. Hikaru entered that scenario with “I’ve never played this before” nonsense assuming Akira would be lousy and HIkaru just lets Sai soundly beat him. This sets in motion a sort of cat and mouse game where Akira goes pro to challenge Sai and Hikaru going after Akira so he can go pro. Oh man, their competitive play and spirit is utterly amazing. Each time they are on screen with each other is an incredible and powerful moment.
It’s a great story for doing this sort of thing, but it leaves behind a lot of things too. I know the focus is on Akira and HIkaru with Sai haunting him, but the world building in HIkaru no Go is a result of where HIkaru is going instead of having that all set up and then having our character live in the world where Hikaru went pro with everything already set up. Hikaru leaving his school’s Go club to become an insei means leaving those established characters behind. They no longer got as much focus despite the hints that the Go club is still continuing, because Hikaru is the point of view character. Those poor characters. I know they make appearances in some chapters, but they were betrayed by Hikaru on some level. I really do feel for them, but Hikaru’s path of power required him to make friends and opponents somewhere else to do it. Maybe that was the point. Seeing where Hikaru’s Go playing started being left behind makes sense, but it really does do some damage to him and other characters. Poor Akari and Yuki. Now you are used to measure how much Hikaru has matured instead.
The same happens when exploring the pro system and Go saloons that make a larger presence in the series itself. Hikaru knows nothing about these places and how to make it to Pro, so it’s all new to him. It’s good because it allows the reader to walk into the series with the same view as Hikaru when exploring all these new things. It also works because Hikaru’s Go growth increased beyond everyone’s dreams in a very short amount of time compared to people. I wish the pace was more settled to establish more characters through out the story instead of in one location. Hikaru has a ghost haunting him and teaching him, but no one else does. That grounding was necessary for this manga to feel legitimate and real on some level.
That’s why the Insei arc and the pro exams were the best part of Hikaru no Go for me. The manga allowed itself to slow down and establish a good cast of characters for Hikaru to bounce and build off of. Hikaru made it to being an Insei and go pro in less then two years where Sai has greatly helped him, but everyone else has been playing Go for a long time. Isumi, Ochi, and Waya are characters with actual stakes behind what they do. They’ve practiced and played Go for years and them making it to pro and succeeding are things they need to worry about because it does matter to them. Same with Akira Toya whose been playing Go against his father, a Meijin, since he was incredibly young. He’s studied incredibly hard. Seeing all of them becoming friends with Hikaru then challenging him for a rank is good drama with some actual stakes. This is a great cast of wonderful, young characters with great struggles.
With that comes the theme I started with, newer pros making Waves in the Go field. In the series, Japan has been a laughing stock in the field of Go compared to China and Korea. Their pros aren’t performing that well, there is a lot of stagnation, and all sorts of bad things. Only Toya Meijin is the one that all other countries respected. Akira, Hikaru, and others change all of that. Their leave of competition and play overwhelm the rest of the field for a while to the point where they can challenge the other nation’s players. Hikaru did beat a Korean insei which shows this. The ending tournament between all three nations shows that Japan is still working on their playing, but they have a competitive spirit to jump back in. Maybe that’s why Sai really appeared to Hikaru. To set the Japanese Go league back in line with the next generation. From what I’ve seen in this series, it worked.
There is also Sai’s battle of generations that needs to be mentioned too. Sai comes from over the Heian period and while he doesn’t understand how today’s world works, he still understands Go. Considering that Go is still around in our modern era and you can play it anywhere online, he has a chance to play against incredibly strong opponents. Not just by using Hikaru, but using the anonymity of the internet to challenge opponents whenever Hikaru travels to a computer lab room. His appearance causes an stirrup in the Go community and he even gets to play the toughest opponent, Meijin Toya, and feel happiness from doing so. It felt fulfilling to his soul probably from a characater level and a thematic level that Go can be played at a high level. Now Meijin Toya is on the hunt for Sai too.
The of the manga come from the lack of an actual ending because it just stops without any sense of conclusion. I feel like the mangaka wanted to end on chapter 148 after Sai is gone, HIkaru returns from his slump and finds his motivations again, and Sai comes to Hikaru in his dreams and has him his fan. The manga has always been about Sai and Hikaru, so what happened in chapter 148 would have been perfect IF it stayed. The passing on the baton or fan is such a powerful, emotional thing because it means Hikaru is finally read to go it alone. It’s obvious to me that the mangaka felt the same because they made 6 ova sort of chapters after the fact. What happened afterwards felt like HIkaru No Go limping to the goal line. Yes, the Japan vs Korea vs China event was fun, but it didn’t feel the same because Sai wasn’t there. It was limping on the drama built from the 148 previous chapters before it just ended. Yay Gainax endings am I right? I know that there was a controversy with a Korean Go professional to make it all stop, but there could have been a much more concise way to end ir probably? Maybe not.
So you may have noticed that I haven’t talked about art style and paneling a lot in this review and honestly, it’s hard to do that when I don’t understand much about manga in the first place. Honestly it might be possible that the panels are just average and able to convey things on the pages. There isn’t much action to speak of because most of the drama revolves around people sitting in front of tables and laying pieces on a board, so not much to experiment with or figure out art evolution besides character designs. I do think that the manga does a decent job at what it’s doing by making the extraordinary and dramatic through some interesting camera shots here and there along with dramatic walk ins and out, but other then that nothing special. I really do like the character designs, as simple as they are, because each person feels like they have their own sort of personality to them and they feel like the correct ages. So pretty much the best that it can be.
I feel like my thoughts are a little conflicted here because they are all thrown around and a little confusing, but I do think that Hikaru No Go is a great manga. It’s honestly on my list of sports manga and anime that I really love alongside Haikyu and Chihayafuru. It feels like that interesting combination of Chihayafuru and March Comes in like a Lion that I’ve been searching for a while now. I also really like the fact that it’s an older manga, because I like digging back into the early 2000’s time period. That’s my jam time period for all of anime and everything else. It’s pretty fantastic and well thought out, but the speed it went does come with some flaws in characterization from side characters and the ending of the manga is what it is. Those are things that I can’t pass up and ignore. The package of Hikaru no Go is awesome though. The manga more then earns a solid from me because it’s a good ride. Sorry for all my rambling and things.