The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Hikaru no Go

Title: Hikaru no Go
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Studio Pierrot
Format: 75 episodes
Dates: 10 Oct 2001 – 26 Mar 2003

Synopsis: On a normal day playing in his grandfather’s attic, young Shindo Hikaru stumbles upon an old bloodstained Go board. That board is haunted by the ghost of Fujiwara no Sai, a Heian era Go teacher and master. Hikaru is the first person able to see the noble spirit in hundreds of years, so Sai seizes on this chance and follows the boy home, and eventually the two develop an unorthodox friendship. At the insistence of the Go master, Hikaru begins playing the traditional board game and starts a journey full of competition, history, and unlimited possibility.

The Highlights
Go: The games, culture, and competitive struggles are taken seriously and highlight a depth of knowledge.
Aesthetics: Affecting music and consistent animation for a lengthy, aged TV series.
Teaching segments: The end of every episode helps along beginners to the game.
Filler: Where?

Stories aimed at the young boys demographic almost always feature popular sports, action, or toys, or some combination of the three. So how did Hikaru no Go, a manga about a slow, centuries-old strategic board game, become so explosively popular years ago that it sparked a youth groundswell and revitalization of one of east Asia’s oldest game communities? After seeing this anime adaptation, it’s easy to point out where that success came from. Hikaru no Go captures the best elements of shounen anime, exciting competitions and a large and likable cast, but also handles itself with uncommon maturity and a realistic perspective of the game and the culture that surrounds it.

The main draw of Hikaru no Go are the games itself. The anime episodes were supervised by professional players and it isn’t afraid to show off that knowledge. Full boards are often shown with play-by-play action between opponents. The tournaments, titles, and match schedules are modeled on the real life Japan Go Institute. And every episode ends with a short live action teaching segment so even Muggles like myself can follow the basic theory of what’s happening. There’s a wealth of Go terminology and strategies on display, but the show makes this dense, strategic game easy to approach for beginners.

However, Hikaru no Go is not content to just teaching newbies. The plot always moves forwards, and scarcely a single episode is wasted. We see the long development of the protagonist Hikaru from a 6th grade child to 9th grade aspiring great, accomplished with no sudden or unbelievable transitions. At other times we experience the world of Go through the perspective of one of his friends or rivals, ranging from every sort of lifestyle, skill level, mental attitude, and motivation. Characters that Hikaru meets in early episodes matter years later, creating a fraternity of personalities in the Go world. There’s a game Hikaru plays against a Korean student that could have been a forgotten filler episode, but instead was remembered long after by spectators for the display of remarkable young talent. It showed how every game can matter, and that while a good sports series can make its audience care about the hero, a great one makes even the rivals compelling.

Hikaru no Go goes beyond the matches to show the scenes behind and between all the big games. The study sessions, clubs and amateur activities, and organized fairs create the feeling that there’s a living, breathing community supporting this game. But one shortcoming of all this concentration on Go and its culture is that we never see the other aspects of the characters’ lives. What of their families, friends, other interests? These are questions not addressed, since they all seem to have tunnel vision in regards to their Go careers.

Nearly nine years since it first aired, this series still looks fairly good. Not eye-popping or artistically superlative, but Hikaru no Go maintains consistent frame rate and character models throughout its lengthy run. The character even visibly age as the show covers some three years of time. The music lends a dramatic air to key scenes, although the number of total sound tracks seems limited as I was consistently able to predict which of them would be played when.

Hikaru no Go’s realistic approach contrasts with the flashy superpowers or outrageous caricatures its genre peers rely on. Although the series heavily promotes the game in its namesake, its purpose isn’t to sell something. It’s unorthodox in its genre, but proves that believably developed characters, riveting plot, and great respect of its core subject are storytelling elements that know no bounds in age or country. Hikaru no Go aspires to and maintains surprisingly thorough excellence, claiming status as a landmark series, and remaining the standard all shounen/sports tournament stories should aspire to.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: kadian1364

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