"Hikaru no Go" Manga Review

Title: Hikaru no Go
Volume(s): 23
Creator(s): Yumi Hotta/Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz Media
Genre(s): Drama
Rated: All Ages

Note: This review was originally published on The Comic Book more than ten years ago.  It is being republished here (in a slightly cleaned up format) for our new site!  It has been cleaned up and only slightly edited (unless otherwise noted).

Before we begin this review I would just like to say right off the bat that "Hikaru no Go" is one of the most unique and addictive series I've ever read. I never in my life ever thought that a series about a board game would turn out to be so good, and to tell you the truth if someone had told me what the story of this series was about before I read it, then there's a good chance I would have brushed it off without giving it a look. "Hikaru no Go" is about a boy named Hikaru Shindo, who is looking through his grandpa's shed for something to sell so that he can make some money (His parents cut off his allowance because of poor grades). While he is in the shed he finds an old Go board with a blood stain on it, and before he knows it a ghost comes out of the board and attaches himself to Hikaru.

The ghosts name is Sai and it turns out he is a Go player from a few centuries ago. Back then he was aiming to be the first Go player to play the "Divine Move," but during a game at the emperor's palace his opponent cheats, and when Sai tries to tell everyone about it he is accused of cheating instead. Because of this disgrace the emperor has him exiled from the palace and in grief Sai drowned himself. However his spirit still longed to play Go, and now that he has attached himself to Hikaru he can play Go again (It should be noted Sai can't take control over Hikaru's body, he can only tell him what to do and hope Hikaru listens). However Hikaru quite simply tells Sai that he has no interest in playing Go at all, as Go is considered to be a game played only by old people, and there are a lot more interesting things he could be doing.

Sai is so grief stricken by this news he starts to cry (which has a hilarious effect on Hikaru's health). Seeing that making Sai miserable would only make him miserable too, Hikaru agree's to let Sai play every now and then. After school Hikaru takes Sai to a local Go salon, and meets the young boy Akira Toya, and since Sai is so good at Go he beats Akira easily. Problem was they had no idea who they just beat. Turns out Akira Toya is the son of the best Go player in Japan, and Akira himself is just as good as a pro too! To make matters worse, Hikaru made the mistake of claiming that he was a beginner to more then one person, and this win not only gains him a rival in a game he doesn't even like, but it also gets Hikaru lots of unwanted attention from Go players and magazines. 

For Hikaru this is a nightmare as he would rather be doing anything else but play Go. However the more Hikaru plays Go through Sai, the more he learns about the game, and the more he learns about the game, the more he wants to play. This is the twist that ultimately makes "Hikaru no Go" more interesting then it would have been otherwise. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Hikaru to just let Sai play all the games and become famous and all that, but by making Hikaru want to learn how to play Go himself the readers are more able to connect with the protagonist. Also Hikaru himself was a smart choice for a main character. Unlike some comics where we get a person who is practically a pro in whatever game they are playing, Hikaru is a punk kid who doesn't play Go at all and see's no reason why he should care about Go (this also works particularly well in America where Go is not a very common game).

 He ices his hair, talks in slang, and when he starts to get interested in the game he has to learn how to play from the ground up as his game is quite terrible. This makes the game far more interesting as we are learning the game of Go along with Hikaru, and even though the game is a little confusing at first, as time goes on we start to understand how this game works, and that makes the series far more interesting this way then it would have been if Sai played the whole time. Another unique thing about this series is that no one is going to become good at anything overnight, and this rule still applies for games like Go. Hikaru's path to becoming a great Go player will take time, patience, and practice, and that's just what the series gives the readers. As the series progresses time goes by in this series the characters grow up.  They get taller, their faces lose their baby fat and get more manly.  Some of the slang they use at the beginning of the series disappears after awhile, and their tastes in cloths even change! Its small things like this that makes "Hikaru no Go" that much more realistic and believable for us! In this series it literally takes years for Hikaru to become good at Go, and because he grows up the audience feels like they are truly watching a young boy shape his future over time with this game he has come to love so much! Very nice indeed. Another character that probably doesn't get the attention he deserves is Hikaru's Go loving spirit friend Sai. When Sai arrives on the scene of the crime (Which doesn't take too long) you look at him as nothing more then comic relief. Oh sure he can play a pretty mean game of Go, but his personality itself was kinda goofy, for lack of a better word.

Its not that we don't like Sai at the beginning of the series (we do), but aside from playing Go and making us laugh it was hard to see if Sai could seriously contribute anything to the story. But once Hikaru starts to get an interest in Go himself Sai becomes then just the comic relief of the book, he becomes more of a teacher to Hikaru, and one of the few people who can identify with how much Hikaru is struggling with becoming a Go player. All and all, Sai turns out to be one of the most memorable characters in recent memory. It may seem like "Hikaru no Go" is perfect, but we all know that every series has its share of problems, and "Hikaru no Go" is no different.  One low is the way the series treats its large cast. As a series goes on its only natural to build a great cast, with many different characters to help keep the series interesting. Well "Hikaru no Go" has a large cast, but as time goes on older cast members are either reduced to cameo appearances, or they disappear altogether. I find this extremely annoying because there was more then one time when I suddenly remembered "Hey! What happened to Hikaru's friend Akari? Is she still in this series?" Of course she was, and every couple of books she would show up, but she really wouldn't do anything important. My favorite character in this series is named Mitani, and he plays SUCH a big role in the first seven to ten books, but afterwards he just kinda disappears along with the rest of the cast.

In fact it sometimes feels like there are two completely different casts fighting each other in this book. Because when one group of characters aren't in the picture, like magic the second cast of characters are there to fill in the blanks. I love all the characters in this series, but I do wish the narrative had managed to wield them all in the story a little bit better then this. Another thing that may be considered a complaint is the actual Go game itself. It should come as no surprise that a good majority of the series is about the game, and while this is not a problem in itself, it IS a problem if the reader fails to get into the game after a couple of books! So while this is not a MAJOR set back itself since most people I think will get into the game, if by some chance a few books go by and the reader isn't getting into Go like the series asks them to, then chances are those people may not like the series in the long run.  This series is currently being serialized in "Shonen Jump," which I find kind of odd. Not because this is a bad series to include in the now famous mag, but because all of the other titles in SJ are action titles while "Hikaru no Go" is very obviously a serious drama. This is a great change for SJ, but the series does stand out among the other series. These minor quirks aside, "Hikaru no Go" is easily one of the best manga out there! Its got a great story, great characters, splendid artwork, and an original idea that works! In short you NEED to check out this title as I don't think there will be another one like it in a long time!

Grade: A

Your Comic Book Guy - Kevin

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