So I was playing go with aperigren on Saturday, and it came to me: I’ve never done a Manga Mondays for Hikaru no Go. So strap in, everypony, because this is possibly one of my favorite manga ever.
Quick intro to go: go is a strategy board game invented approximately several millenia ago in China. It’s so complex that computers have trouble learning it – each game has billions of outcomes. It takes some getting used to, but it’s really quite fun once you get the hang of it.
So, then, to the plot: In Hikaru no Go, a junior high kid named Hikaru stumbles on an old go board in his grandfather’s attic, and releases the ghost who’s been trapped within the board.
The spirit is one Fujiwara-no-Sai, a go player from Japan’s Heian Era (794-1185) who died a tragic death, cheated out of his dream of playing the perfect game. Releasing Sai ties him to Hikaru, and from then on they’re together wherever they go. Hikaru has less than zero interest in go, but he promises to play every once in a while to appease Sai. For their first game, they go to a go salon and Hikaru offers to play against a boy his age. The boy is professional go player, Touya Akira, and with Sai’s help, Hikaru crushes
Touya easily. Touya is thrown into mental chaos after being beaten soundly by a kid who doesn’t even know how to hold the stones correctly, and he makes it his goal to figure out why Hikaru is so good and to eventually beat him. In the meantime, Hikaru becomes drawn in by the game, and starts to seek out other opportunities to play, eventually becoming a strong player in his own right and testing to become a pro himself (part of Hikaru’s motivation is that he wants to beat Touya without Sai’s help, leading to an epic rivalry greater than ALL EPIC RIVALRIES EVER. Like the words ‘eternal rival’ are actually used. Along the way Hikaru makes friends and enemies in the world of go and learns important lessons about life, love, friendship, and loss.
Why it’s so good:
- The characters are so interesting! I love all of them, even the background ones and the adults and the students whose names I can never remember. ^_^; (But I especially love Touya, look at his dumb purple suit and his existential crises and his ETERNAL RIVALRY with Hikaru and his obsession with Sai and tell me he’s not the bestest. )
- The story follows the typical shounen tournament-style storyline (where the main character faces off against ever-stronger opponents) but puts a fresh spin on it.
- Hikaru and Touya’s relationship is best relationship. One part rivalry, one part obsession, one part mutual respect, one part deep friendship,
and one part intense, pure young love: they complete each other.
- The story takes a game that has the Japanese social stigma equivalent of playing chess, and makes it seem like the most awesome and interesting thing ever. (The anime actually does this even better with the world’s most intense background soundtrack.)
- The art is done by Death Note artist Obata Takeshi, so it’s beautiful to look at.
- Unlike a lot of shounen standards, this deals with a number of adult themes, like loss of a loved one, extensively and maturely.
With all that to recommend it, what could possibly be bad about HikaGo? Well, it does suffer from the typical manga problem of having ALL the male characters and fewer females than I have fingers. However, the world of professional go is a male-dominated one. And anway, the women that are shown are tres awesome. One of my favorites is the volleyball player who takes Hikaru’s spot on his school go team when he joins the young go players’ institute: she’s great at it, and doesn’t look anything like what manga girls are ‘supposed’ to look like; rather, she’s short and stocky and kickass.
This is really just a tremendous series and I strongly recommend it to anyone and everyone. Please please please go read it right now.