Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Dec 16th 2005
Hikaru no Go
Hikaru Shindo was your average underachiever; bored by school and harboring a rebellious streak, Hikaru had trouble finding focus in his young life. It all changes when one day, while exploring his grandfather's attic, Hikaru finds an ancient Go board that contains the spirit of Fujiwara-no-Sai, the restless spirit of a Go master from the Heian period. Sai quickly becomes part of Hikaru's consciousness and starts teaching him how to win.
Based on the wildly popular manga of the same name, Hikaru no Go – which follows the manga to a tee, for the most part – is, at its core, about a spunky kid who learns how to play what's essentially the Japanese version of Chess from his effeminate ghost sidekick. While it doesn't sound like typical Shonen Jump fare, it certainly plays out like it. Simply put, this is one of those shows you're either going to really love or find yourself completely bored with.
In spite of being centered around a game that most Americans aren't familiar with, Hikaru no Go succeeds on the strength of its characters. While at first he seems a little too much like your standard mega-spunky Shonen Jump hero, by the end of the first volume we're given a look at Hikaru's compassionate side. There's enough character development here, even in just these first four episodes, to suggest that rather than being mostly about melodramatic Go tournaments, the show focuses much more on the characters and their relationships. It's a good thing, too, since otherwise this series would be pretty inaccessible to a western audience if it focused too much on Go.
Unfortunately, as strong as the characters are, your enjoyment of the show relies very heavily on whether or not you're interested in learning quite a lot about how to play Go. They do spend a sizable portion of each episode playing the game, complete with some long shots of the Go board, presumably to allow the viewer to analyze the game in progress. While the game is very common in Japan, Americans haven't had much exposure to it, so unless you already know how to play or are highly interested in learning, a big chunk of this show is going to seem wildly esoteric and fairly dull. You've been warned.
One thing that can't be stressed enough is how eye-catching this show is. Obata's character designs have translated very well to anime and the color scheme they're using is pleasantly candy-coated. The animation is appropriately understated, and the background paintings range from being acceptable to surprisingly beautiful. Hikaru no Go is worth sampling for the artwork, if for no other reason.
This disc, which is Shonen Jump Video's first release, is a fairly handsome little package. The animated menus are very nicely done and the bonus features – which are fairly sparse, to be sure – include an important Go glossary (to help explain the game to people who haven't played it, which is, you know, nearly everyone), storyboard galleries and a preview of the manga. The video quality looks fine, and the subtitled version of the show is a very nicely done and accurate translation. The dub, on the other hand, basically stinks.
It can't be stressed enough; watch the Japanese version of this show. The English dub loses all of the subtlety present in the Japanese performances, which are mostly understated and appropriate (not to mention a bit more realistic, considering these are Japanese people playing a very Japanese game in Japan). Fujiwara-no-Sai, already a very effeminate character, is voiced as a ridiculous over-the-top homosexual caricature. Akira, Hikaru's first Go rival who's already hard to take seriously since he breaks down in tears when playing Go and shouts about the game all the time, is impossible to appreciate as a character thanks to his English voice actor's poorly-delivered, nearly monotone performance. The English dub basically removes whatever dignity this show might have had.
For those of you who harbor a very strong interest in Japanese culture or are curious about the game itself, Hikaru no Go will be a godsend. Heck, thanks to the strong characterizations and beautiful artwork, even those with only a passing interest in the game will find something to appreciate. Unfortunately, the show lacks a universal appeal; it's hard to say that someone with no curiosity about Go will find something to really latch on to here. That said, this is a fine first effort from Shonen Jump video… now if only they can get their dub production up to par.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : A
Music : A
+ Great character design and development, catchy opening theme, good concept.
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