by L.M.Tokiwa,

Hikaru no Go

Manga Vol 1

Hikaru no Go GN 1
Yu-Gi-Oh. Duel Masters. Those wonderful anime about games that suck time out of your day and money out of your wallet – after all, why watch or read if you're not going to play? And yet, without having cool monsters, promotional trading cards or insignia underwear (as far as I know), a manga about a board game has spawned a long-running serial, a tv series, a handful of video games, and a huge following.

As in Yu-Gi-Oh, the manga's main character Hikaru is your average boy – minus the game-smarts and with a lot less hairspray. When he finds an old Go board in his grandfather's attic, he is possessed by the spirit of Fujiwara-no-Sai (Sai for short), a Go master from the Heian period who served as an instructor to the emperor. Sai's love of the game and desire to play the “divine move” – the ultimate game – has kept his spirit from moving on, and now Hikaru is forced to play a game regarded by many Japanese youth as being reserved strictly for old men and war generals. However, while Sai and Hikaru both wonder why fate would have paired a timid, game-loving spirit with a loud, athletically-inclined boy, Hikaru begins to show an interest in and potential for the game that may eventually lead him down the path of the pros.

With most series about games, there are usually two kinds of people who are interested: those who play the game and those who like the characters. Since Go isn't as popular in the English-speaking world as its Western counterpart, chess, the strength of the manga lies mainly in a cast of engaging characters and their interactions. Hikaru and Sai make an amusing pair; Sai's awe of the modern world and its luxuries is offset by Hikaru's annoyance with his unwanted partner and his anachronisms. Even Akira Toya, who in the first volume looks to be the main rival for the series, is made likable through an understanding of his past and the sacrifices he made for the sake of the game.

The art certainly adds to the characters' appeal. While many of the serials currently running in Shounen Jump feature more angular character designs, Takeshi Obata's artwork for Hikaru no Go is softer, with as much detail drawn in the characters' clothes as in the backgrounds. A lot of research also went into the game: everything is accurately drawn, from the Go board to the strategies to the way the stones are placed.

While the game play is excellently done, for people new to the game of Go, there may be some initial confusion. It may have been useful if the publishers had included some notes on how to play, however, it's not necessarily needed. Since Hikaru is essentially learning the game as the storyline progresses, the reader can pretty much pick up the basic rules on his or her own. Additionally, a few brief interchapter notes help to clarify some points and provide some interesting trivia.

An excellent translation also helps to keep the reader from being inundated by too much Japanese Go terminology in the first volume – “komi” and “onegaishimasu,” for example, are left untranslated but are explained either in the story or in a note on the page (and yes, onegaishimasu isn't strictly a Go term, which is also explained in the note).

As with most of Shounen Jump's manga releases, the book follows the Japanese right to left format, and in this case even features the same cover image as the Japanese volume: a picture of Hikaru. Sound effects are all translated and edited onto the pictures, with no noticeable loss of quality.

In the end, younger readers or those with a leaning toward more action-based manga may find Hikaru no Go to be a bit slow: no monsters, and it is, after all, a manga about kids who play a board game. But if you enjoy strategy games and are looking for some fun character interaction, pick up a copy, pull up a chair, and let's Go.
Production Info:
Story: Yumi Hotta
Art: Takeshi Obata

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