Series: Hikaru no Go
Genres: Alternate History, Contemporary, Historical, Humor, Manga, Young Adult
Hikaru Shindo is an ordinary elementary school boy. He likes the typical sixth-grade interests of games, the occasional sports, and just goofing around. One day, while in his grandfather's attic, he finds an old Go board and tokens. When he sees blood on the surface of the board, he hears a mysterious voice speak to him. Soon, he's being haunted by the ghost of an ancient Go player, named Fujiwara no Sai. Sai died before he could perfect the 'divine move', and now wishes to play the game of Go for one thousand years to achieve his dream. With his time as a spirit coming to an end, he begs Hikaru to help him! But Hikaru thinks Go is for old men and losers... Until he meets Akira Toya, a prodigy in the game. Now, Hikaru must learn the art of this ancient game of strategy and precision, and help Sai achieve the divine move before his one-thousand years of playing come to an end.
Welcome back to Manga Monday! Today we’re looking at the manga Hikaru no Go, written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata.
Hikaru no Go is a Shounen title, and began its serialization in Weekly Shounen Jump in 1998. It wone the Shogakukan Manga award in 2000 (a high honor), and caused a reawaken in the fad of Go. We’ll get more in to what that means in a bit. The series spawned an anime that didn’t follow the whole length of the manga, but still encouraged a hopeful and very uplifting ending, and became very popular even in America. It currently is available for streaming on Hulu, if you are interested in the anime.
Now, I bet you’re asking ‘What the heck is Go’? Well, to be brief, I’m going to quote the Wikiepedia artcile:
“Two players alternately place black and white playing pieces, called “stones”, on the vacant intersections (called “points”) of a grid of 19×19 lines (beginners often play on smaller 9×9 and 13×13 boards).The objective of the game is to use one’s stones to surround a larger total area of the board than the opponent. Once placed on the board, stones may not be moved, but stones can be removed from the board if captured; this is done by surrounding an opposing stone or group of stones by occupying all orthogonally-adjacent points. Players continue in this fashion until neither player wishes to make another move; the game has no set ending conditions. When a game concludes, the territory is counted along with captured stones and komi to determine the winner. Games may also be won by resignation.”
To learn more, go to this link, and study up on the game. But to enjoy the manga you don’t need much. In fact the manga itself helpfully gives you some beginning basics on the game’s rules and how to play, so you can still follow along.
NOW, on to the review! We’ll start with the cover, as always. We see the main character, a little boy in the color combinations of black, yellow, and white, standing, looking quite determined. His hair is in the same color scheme, and his shirt sports the number 5 on the front. This is a bit of a joke and a foreshadowing, as the number 5 in Japanese is called ‘Go’.
Our protagonist is Hikaru Shindo. He’s in the 6th grade, and your typical kid. He doesn’t like most board games. He’s in to the usual things kids play, especially comics, computers, video games, and the like. He has friends, but he’s also a bit of a smart-alec. He lives with his mother, and sees his grandfather often. One day, he and his childhood friend, Akari Fujisaki, are made to clean up Hikaru’s grandfather’s attic. While they’re up there, they find a Go board, and the playing stones used for it. The board is an antique, and before Hikaru can finish the idea of taking it and selling it off, he sees blood appear on the surface. Alarmed, he alerts Akari, who doesn’t see any stain. Then, a voice speaks to Hikaru, saying, ‘Ah, can you really see it?” Then, Hikaru faints from seeing a man (very effeminate man at that) in ancient costume appear to him.
Hikaru wakes up right as rain, though. Except that he soon sees the man again, who turns out to be a ghost! The ghost is Fujiwara no Sai, who Hikaru calls just Sai. Sai was a renowned Go player in ancient Japan. He even taught the Emperor. But one day, a rival cheated at a game with Sai, and accused him of being the one to play the trick. Sai lost the game, and his reputation was soiled. So he drowned himself in the river, but wished he could have played Go for one thousand more years, to achieve his ultimate dream of playing the perfect ‘devine move’. Only one other ever saw Sai, and that was the famous modern Go player, Honinbo Shusaku. Shusaku also died before Sai could achieve his goal, and now Sai’s 1000 years are winding down! He begs Hikaru, who is the only one who can hear or see him, to help him by letting Sai guide his moves and let him play the game!
But Hikaru doesn’t give one crap about Sai’s problem. He doesn’t understand Go. He’s never played! He thinks it’s a game for old men. But, after some pestering, Hikaru takes Sai to a Go salon- or a place where old men and various Go players sit around and play the game together. Hikaru finds another boy his age there- Akira Toya- and the two begin to play. Following Sai’s instruction, Hikaru smokes Akira. What Hikaru doesn’t know is that Akira is a Go prodigy. His father is a title holder in professional players, and has a high legacy, and Akira aspires to follow in his father’s footsteps! But now a novice has appeared and beaten him in one game, when even pro’s have been defeated by Akira! Thus begins the journey and a fierce rivalry, as well as an awakening that slowly turns Hikaru in to one of the best Go players that the country has ever seen.
One of the things I love about this manga is Obata’s artwork. Obata gives every character their own unique appearance, and makes them all memorable. But the best designs by far are for Akira and Sai. Akira is one of those classically Japanese looking characters, and his design reflects it. He’s rather adorable while a child, and as he grows in to a young man, becomes attractive. But there is the ferocity of a young, growing tiger cub clear in his face and his demeanor, and it is a joy to read about him. The other character I enjoy is Sai. Our tragic Go-player, Sai (since he is a ghost and cannot age or change) is always wearing the traditional robes of a man of his station- noble and very well off. His hair, in similar fashion of the time in which he lived, is long, and he has the desired effeminate, delicate features. He’s even wearing makeup, which suits the style in his period of origin. But his expressions, which can go from serious and detailed, to hyper-stylized and off-the-wall cartoony, are delights to see.
Every character is well designed, but the one I’m disappointed in is actually Hikaru. He seems to suffer from the ‘lead-character’s two-tone’ syndrome in his hair, and that’s all that makes him different. Otherwise, he’s every other slacker who gradually works his way to the top. The saving grace for him is the deep, resounding friendship he builds with Sai. You can feel their bond deepening with each chapter and each game they play. Eventually, when Hikaru is playing his own games, without Sai’s influence, he becomes a force to be reckoned with. And seeing that grow from the selfish and very inexperienced child he starts out with makes his story more interesting than it would be otherwise.
The other hangup that can be said is that one would need to either have a base knowledge of the game of Go to be able to fully immerse themselves in this manga, or they’d want to know more later. It helps that the releases offer some guide-lines and some tips and translations so that readers can get the context, but I’d rather not learn a whole new game in order to be able to get invested in what is essentially a ‘gamer manga’. Gamer mangas can be about sports, video game players, board game players, and anyone involved in a sport or game that has them spending hours practicing or playing, and the main drama being about that pass-time. The only upside is that there’s also the relationship between Hikaru and Sai, Hikaru and his school’s Go Club, and of course Hikaru and Akira to focus on.
All in all, I give this series 3.5 stars! Good artwork, and has lots of inter-personal relationships among the characters, but the game the story centers around can be confusing, and the lead character is a bit bland without his supporting cast to boost him from his bland beginnings.