Direction: Right to Left
By: Yumi Hotta (Story) / Takeshi Obata (Art)
Publisher: Viz Media
Genre: Shounen, Sports, Slice of Life
Availability: Volume (WW) /Digital (US Only)
Hikaru Shindo is like any sixth-grader in Japan: a pretty normal schoolboy with a two-tone head of hair and a penchant for antics. One day, he finds an old bloodstained Go board in his grandfather’s attic–and that’s when things get really interesting. Trapped inside the Go board is Fujiwara-no-Sai, the ghost of an ancient Go master who taught the strategically complex board game to the emperor of Japan many centuries ago. In one fateful moment, Sai becomes a part of Hikaru’s consciousness and together, through thick and thin, they make an unstoppable Go-playing team. Will they be able to defeat Go players who have dedicated their lives to the game? Will Sai achieve the “Divine Move” so he’ll finally be able to rest in peace?
I’m going to be trying out a new layout for my reviews. The first section is spoiler heavy, and discusses my thoughts on the story, plot and characters. The second section will include discussion on art non spoiler story and character discussions, as well as my general thoughts on the series. So if you don’t want to be spoiled please jump straight to the second section.
Story Discussion, spoileriffic!
Hikaru no Go is one of those manga that you go in expecting not to really like, but get hooked and before you know it you’ve finished the entire series! That’s what happened to me many years ago when I first encountered this series. My thought was: ‘How can a game about othello be fun?’ Can you see my two mistakes? Firstly equating Go with othello, a dumb move lol, but also dismissing the manga just because it wasn’t ‘action’ and ‘tits and arse’. Now, years down the road, this ‘slice of life/sports’ genre is one of my favourites.
The series follows Hikaru through several years of his life, starting from when he’s 11, in the 6th Grade and up. Hikaru starts out as a bit of a thief, he’s planning to steal from his grandparents because his parents stopped his allowance because of his bad grades at school.
However while he finds something which looks valuable, an antique Go table, it turns out to be haunted, when Hikaru can sees the blood stains on the board, where as Akari his friend can’t, he ends up being possessed by the spirit of the board; Fujiwara no Sai. Sai is a Go teacher from the Haian Era who taught the emperor, but fell afoul of another player and was exiled, unable to play Go anymore he killed himself and became a spirit. He first haunted a young Go player called Shusaku, who sadly dies early. It’s Shusaku’s blood stains on the Go board, caused from him coughing up blood during a cholera outbreak. Now, a new child can see the blood, and hear his voice, Sai now haunts Hikaru.
The series follows the two as they argue and fight, as Sai want’s to play go, but Hikaru has no interest. When Sai learns he can’t play Go his depression is so bad it makes Hikaru vomit. So to stop puking his guts up he agree’s to play Go.
Over the course of the first few volumes we see Hikaru meet his life long friend, and rival, Akira, a boy the same age as him, but a good enough Go player to go Pro. Their rivalry plays out really amazingly well, as Hikaru goes from loathing and no interest in Go to a burgeoning interest to a full blown addiction we see his relationships change dynamics as well.
His relationship with Akira is especially turbulent, as Akira see’s Hikaru as someone he has to surpass, where as Hikaru see’s Akira as someone he needs to catch up to. The relationship goes through several different phases, as Hikaru tries to hide the fact he has Sai, as well as the fact that he himself isn’t a good Go player.
This leads to some amazing character interactions and development between them, and is in reality the core of the series.
I was a little disappointed with how Akari is handled, while on the one hand I appreciated that she was pushed in as a love interest, just for it being there. However I was also disappointed with how little attention Akari gets. This is also true of the Go club that Hikaru forms with Tsutsui. On the one hand, neither Akari nor the club were ‘core’ aspects of the story. Given the impact both have on Hikaru, and the impact he has on them, it would have been nice to see more about them.
Seeing Hikaru change from the kid with no interest, to a teen with a burgeoning addiction, to a teen with a full blown addiction was interesting. I especially loved his time as an Insei (basically going to a Go college with the view of going Pro), where we see the changes he goes through very clearly.
All the while he’s still possessed by Sai, who now becomes Hikaru’s teacher. While I said the relationship between Hikaru and Akira was the core of the series, as is Hikaru and Sai’s relationship. As time goes by Sai starts to get pushed to the rear, as people begin to realise Hikaru’s true skill and potential. This causes some issues between Hikaru and Sai culminating in a huge incident which changes the life of all those involved.
Personally I had a lump in my throat during this section of the story, which I found powerful and full of impact. At the resolution of the arc I actually got a little misty eyed and had to put the series down for a bit. But then as I get older I’m becoming an emotional old fart 😀
This is a ‘watershed’ moment for Hikaru, as he comes to terms with things and sets his gaze fully on his life as a Pro Go player. As he starts to move forward though things are also moving forward in the world of Go, as three nations collide in a grand slam style match up. This leads to Akira and Hikaru joining up with a new character, Yashiro. This opens a new door in the life of Hikaru and co, but is also sadly where the series ends.
Art wise the series is great, and is a perfect example of the time it was drawn. The characters are solid and well designed with a good amount of emphasis on facial emotions and designs. This helps with building the tension and atmosphere of what I thought would be dull and slow. This was early in Obata’s career, but even this early we have a solid, well polished and refined style. Though at times it does have a ‘sterile’ almost mechanical feel to it that docent quite fit.
Hotta writes an amazing story, she takes what I was expecting to be a dull and slow pace and makes it alive, vibrant and exciting. The matches at times really do feel like battles and had me on the edge of my seat at times.
However whereto excelled was in characters, they were/are some of the best I’ve come across in a manga series. The interwoven relationships are frankly mind blowing, especially Hikaru and Akira’s. I loved following along as they grew up fighting each other, especially towards the end of the series where it’s hard to tell if they’re friends or not (spoiler: they are). I loved the fighting and rivalry they have and was more than a little upset when the series ended, because it was just starting to find it’s feet IMO.
The relationship between Hikaru and Sai was likewise amazing to see unravel, but for different reasons. As time went on I felt more and more sorry for Sai as he came to realise certain things. When the ‘incident’ occurs in the later half of the series I found it heart wrenching. Very few series actually make me feel emotional, and those that do are usually shojo titles!
Another relationship I felt was amazing was Sai and the rest of the world. Being a ghost Sai generally can’t interact with others beyond Hikaru, however through the internet this changes, and Sai takes on a new lease of life in virtual space. Given his knowledge of Go comes from almost 150 years ago, we see him learn modern day tactics and thoughts, and grow closer to the ‘Divine move’, a move that most players will only reach once in their life time, if they’re lucky.
He also ends up playing a match with the current leader of the Go world in Japan, Akira’s dad. The outcome of this match changes the Go world significantly and sets off in a new direction.
I loved the way Hotta handles Sai, and builds up his character!
Now, I’m singing the series praises, and it deserves it, since this is one of the best written series I’ve ever seen. But it’s not perfect, it suffers from the same problem a lot of titles that are long running has; it has it’s ‘dry’ moments. Sections of the story which just don’t really live unto the rest of the series. Thankfully there’s not a lot of these moments, but they are there, and they’re all the more noticeable due to the fact the rest of the story is so damn good.
I also really hate the fact the story ended just as it was really finding it’s feet. The characters had all just found a direction to head in and were setting off. There was so much potential just abandoned here that it’s almost criminal. I keep hoping that Hotta will return to the series at some point and do a Hikaru no Go 2
VIZ Media licensed this, and frankly they have done an almost perfect job. Translation is spot on, as is the editing, can’t praise them enough for that! They did a superb job on this series, the localisation was just right. The only issues I have with it, actually (and I can’t believe I’m going to say this) is that it’s to close to the original Japanese version. You have the Go ‘notes’ that explain how to play after almost every chapter, and I find these annoying and distracting. Honestly I wouldn’t have minded if they moved all of these to the end of the book. The same can be said of other ‘extra’ chapters, they appear at the most odd times. I’m of mind these days that these should be removed from all volumes of a series and added as a stand alone volume at the end of the series.
However, the biggest issue I have and the one I rate them the hardest on, is availability. In the UK this series is nigh on impossible to get in it’s entirety. While amazon does carry some volumes, it doesn’t carry them all anymore. So it’s a long slog, and an expensive one to get them all. What’s more Viz have released digital versions of the series, both on it’s own platform, as well as on the other more popular ones such as iBooks, KoBo, Kindle and Nook; but only for those in the US and Canada. If you live anywhere else you out of luck and can’t buy it.
Which is a shame, since this is such a good series, and frankly it’s practically demanding VIZ to release it as a collectors edition!
That said, if you can get this series I do highly recommend it. Its one of my top 10 reads, and a series I do read several times a year, purely for the character interactions.
Let me know in the comments what you think of the new format!