While examining an old Go board in his grandfather's basement, twelve-year-old Shindo Hikaru is possessed by the restless spirit of Sai, an ancient Go master who has waited for over one thousand years to play the Hand of God: the perfect move. Sai convinces Hikaru to act as a vessel for making his moves, but it is soon clear that Hikaru also enjoys Go and wants to play his own games. Moreover, the rules of Go have changed since Sai's time, and Go players from all over the world are now much stronger, having had the benefit of hundreds of years of evolution and experimentation by the masters before them. Can this unlikely pair form a successful partnership and rise to the top of Japan's Go community, and can Sai finally play the Hand of God and find some peace?
StoryIf Hikaru no Go is to be credited for anything, it would be for practically teaching me the definition of a love-hate relationship. No other anime has been more successful at making me hate the show while simultaneously making me watch more of it. Hikaru no Go, at its best moments, ranked as one of my top animes of all time (a long time ago, the series had a 9.5 on my animenfo account). However, at its worst, an uncontrollable, irrational desire boiled within me to murder the creator with a sack of go stones (or some other similarly ironic implement of death). As is proven by animes such as Initial D, Hajime no Ippo, and Prince of Tennis, having an especially long anime involving ANY obscure competitive game will pretty much be instantly addictive and fun to watch. The joy in watching each animes individual subculture is almost indescribable; a certain fascination arises by watching a sport that so many people know nothing about. Thus, when I first started watching Hikaru no Go, I expected it to be good. However, despite this, the show surpassed even my very high expectations. In episodes 1-56, HnG is arguably one of the most masterful animes ever made. At the beginning of the series, the storyline is absolutely terrific. One wouldnt think that an anime about Go would have such a captivating and addictive storyline, but Hikaru no Go definitely does. As Hikarus skill at the game improves more and more, one becomes increasingly interested with his upcoming battles. Though a few blatant filler episodes are present, most of the episodes have to do directly with the story and never cease to be absolutely enthralling. Although I had been a mild admirer of Go in the past, this section of the story changed me into an avid fan of the game. If I were to base my opinion of the story solely off of episodes 1-56, I would undoubtedly give the storyline a 10. The events that occur in episodes 57-70, however, are a completely different issue. In all of the anime that Ive ever seen, this stretch of episodes contains some of the worst, most unpleasant and most tedious filler that I have EVER seen. I dont want to give anything away, but the episodes have Hikaru doing practically NOTHING. Probably the most glaring fault is the lack of what makes the series so great - the go matches. The paltry few that are played at all are inferior in just about every way to the ones that occured earlier in the series. Then, in episodes 71-75, just as the anime is getting good again... the series simply ends abruptly. As a result, episodes 57-75 feel like an complete waste of time. At the end, I felt almost as terrible as I did after finishing Berserk - like I had been somehow conned out of my emotional investment. So why am I writing this review now, months after I finished watching the main series? The answer, quite simply, lies in the 2004 New Years Special. Thrilling, action-packed, and constantly interesting, this 1 hour, 15 minute special is a brilliant return to form. While watching it, I felt a distinct twinge of nostalgia, a remembrance of why I originally loved this anime in the first place. I strongly recommend this special to anyone who even faintly liked the original series. Essentially, the special reminded me that when HnG was good, it was spectacularly good. As a result, despite mixed feelings about the storyline, I still feel like the entire experience is worthwhile as a whole.AnimationOne would expect the animation of an anime based on Go to absolutely suck, but I found HnGs animation surprisingly pleasing on the eyes. Most of the character designs are bright and fairly easy to remember, and various special effects are used during a go match to keep the anime exciting. I found the fact that the character designs changed over time to be a very nice touch; the process does a good job of representing the characters growing maturity over time.SoundIn addition to the animation, Hikaru no Go's sound is also surprisingly good. The opening sequence changes several times over the course of the series, and I liked each and every one. The background music is not particularly listenable, but does an excellent job of maintaining the mood of the show. Additionally, I found the voice acting to be surprisingly competent. Hikarus character could have easily had a cheesy and melodramatic voice, but his (as well as others) voice remains believable throughout the entirety of the show.The voice acting is also very convincing.CharactersThe characters are terrific - Sai and Hikaru are perhaps one of the most loveable duos ever. Sai, in particular, lights up the screen; he is fantastic in so many ways, its difficult to describe them all. Oftentimes hes absolutely hilarious, other times he effortlessly draws empathy with his angst ridden past and his burning desire to practice what he loves. His relationship with Hikaru is touching in an unimaginable way. After a while, Hikaru and Sai have bonded so completely that they are arguably the same person. As for Hikaru, he does an excellent job of being a universally likeable hero; like many of us, he has not found his true passion at the beginning of the show, and watching him discover the joy of playing what he was born for is an incredible treat. The rest of the characters, including Touya Akira, are somewhat one-sided, but remarkably effective all the same. The cast of supporting characters is huge, but somehow all of them manage to be both memorable and loveable. They do an excellent job of keeping the storyline fresh; with their huge assortment of personalities, merely meeting the opponents that Hikaru will face is entertaining in and of itself.OverallFor the beginning episodes alone, I have to recommend the show. The first 50 or so episodes are brilliant, a wonderful conglomeration of sharp writing, likeable characters and an addictive premise. However, just like Kare Kano, I would issue a strong warning to anyone who thinks that an anime needs to have a good ending to be worthwhile as a whole. Hikaru no Go is all about the journey, not the destination.
StoryHotta Yumi's Hikaru no Go is an anime about "Weiqi", an ancient Chinese board game which is now more popularly known in Japan as "Go". Because Go is perceived as neither an easy game to learn, nor an entertaining one to watch, its popularity had been waning in Asia, especially among the younger population. It was beginning to be identified as a game played by elderly men over cigarettes and tea.It is easy to dismiss this anime as uninteresting and dry, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Hikaru no Go was almost single-handedly responsible for the sharp resurgence of interest in Go all across Asia. The pacing of the story is extremely good and never slows down, except for three rare filler episodes. After all, if an anime is able to make an old man's board game into something young, exciting and compelling to watch, it says a lot about the storyteller's skill.The story of Hikaru's introduction into the world of Go can be divided into two parts. The first is the one most audiences will appreciate - a straightforward account of a young boy's aspiration and rocky journey to improve his skills in the world of competitive Go. This is a commonly used plot and likely to be familiar territory for fans of Naruto or Bleach. It is, however, the second half of Hikaru no Go to which lovers of quality anime will really be drawn. Hotta Yumi recognises the inherent problem in a "character improvement" story - after the main character becomes all-powerful or all-skilful, there is not much of a story left to tell. Rather than go down this road, she masterfully steers the plot away from Hikaru's technical progression in Go and focuses instead on Hikaru's development into a young adult. At this point, the story turns allegorical. The latter part of Hikaru no Go can best be described as a tale about growing up, the eternal reach for perfection and a young boy's bittersweet encounters with loss and discovery. To me, this is what raises Hikaru no Go far above its peers. The story goes beyond showing the need for constant improvement, to suggest – ever so subtly – a meaning and purpose to the struggle for perfection. I am loath to discuss the original manga story in an anime review, but truly, my deepest regret about Hikaru no Go is that the anime finished a few episodes short of the manga ending. This is extremely tragic because Hotta Yumi's original conclusion was, in my opinion, a magical and memorable one, befitting the high standards set by the rest of the story. Alas, this was not to be, and as such, I can only rate the anime story as it stands. Even so, the story in this state is still excellent and quite entertaining. It is one I would have no hesitation recommending to anyone.AnimationAttention to detail was definitely a hallmark of the visual quality and animation in Hikaru no Go. The time elapsed in the anime spans about three to four years, and during this time, there is a distinct change in appearance of the young characters. For example, Hikaru grows from being shorter than his peers and slightly chubby to being tall, slim and lanky. The growth does not happen over the period of one or two episodes, but rather stretches over all 76 episodes and is barely noticeable from one episode to the next.It is not uncommon in anime to have characters in the same clothing all the time, to simplify the drawing and ensure visual consistency. Yet Hikaru no Go does not fall back on this safety net: characters in the anime rarely wear the same clothes from day to day, and each character's wardrobe is well considered to complement their personality and even their mood! For example, when Hikaru is feeling very much passionate about learning Go, you will see him wearing T-shirts showing the number 5, which in Japanese is pronounced "Go", just like the game. The urban scenery is well-drawn and quite detailed. Often, as characters move through the city, the background will include little details (newspapers, coffee vending machines, subway ticket machines) which reveal what city life feels like in modern Japan. In fact, there are quite a few references to popular Western franchises like McDonald's and Starbucks - these add to the authenticity of the background scenery.The use of shadows and shading was extremely effective in the anime as well - enough so that I actually took notice of this level of detail. Clothes and hair interact very well with bodies and faces in all many types of lighting conditions, and actually added to atmosphere of the scene.The only disappointing aspect of the visual quality was the occasions on which a character is drawn differently than he or she normally appears, resulting in a slightly distorted look (though it is not glaring). Thankfully it does not occur frequently enough to detract significantly from any enjoyment from watching the anime.SoundThe anime has a decently wide selection of music to complement the dramatic moments in the story. While it amounts to many variations of a few main tunes, I do not believe this to be necessarily negative, as too much variety leads to overload, and detracts from the moment. When watching the anime, I never felt music to be out of place. In fact, I noticed that there was quite a bit of thought invested into selecting the soundtrack to maximize the intensity of each match of Go.The seiyuu of the main characters all pull off very decent and convincing performances, especially during dramatic moments. A particularly standout performance was that of Naya Rokuro portraying the old and crotchety Kuwabara Honinbo. I do however recall one or two instances of overacting by the seiyuu of secondary characters, which were unfortunate mood breakers.CharactersThe characters of Hikaru no Go are unique and imaginative, but remain compellingly human and genuinely believable. Apart from their distinctive personalities, each character also reacts deeply to the changes in the other characters around them. Though this sounds like a basic requirement for a story, I am continually surprised at the number of anime which present characters completely insulated from each other, and whose actions do not garner much more than a superficial response from those around them.The characters seem to be quite deep and well-researched too. The lives of aspiring and professional Go players cannot be normal, as they must revolve around the all-important examination and tournament schedules, often having to put aside their school, work, or families in order to attain their goals. This is a problem that is recognized and addressed in Hikaru no Go; even in her eagerness to promote the game, Hotta Yumi does not neglect to acknowledge the sacrifice necessary to achieve success in the Go world.Since there seems to be a lot of general confusion and controversy about the character of Sai, I will also add my own take on this issue. Because he hails from the Heian era of Japan, it should be no surprise that Sai is dressed in effeminate attire, including purple lipstick and earrings, as this was perfectly normal and accepted in that time. In fact, Sai's feminine mannerisms and exaggerated weeping are an accurate reflection of the behaviour expected of an intelligent and cultured man in the Heian period. Therefore, it should go to credit Hotta Yumi for her appropriate portrayal of Sai; whether the audience is of open mind to accept a man behaving like a woman is an entirely different issue.OverallAmong the anime I have watched, in terms of overall quality and polish, I believe Hikaru no Go to be the only long anime having the potential to rival Monster. I cannot help but feel that Hikaru no Go was the victim of a single poor production decision to leave the story unfinished, as compared to the original manga. As such, I am assigning Hikaru no Go an overall rating of 8.5, behind Monster's rating of 9.0. I feel that the anime community has been robbed of an exceptional finished product. But even incomplete, Hikaru no Go stands out as truly special anime, and well worth the time to watch.*To those who feel like they want more of the series after Episode 76 (the New Year's Special), I would recommend reading the manga from Chapter 166 onwards.
Tell someone that you liked a 75 episode series about some kids playing with black and white pebbles and chances are he will think you are kidding. Hikaru no Go is an anime made to promote one of Japan’s oldest and most famous games, that of Go. Now I wouldn’t want to go into details of how the game is played; basically you place black pebbles, while the opponent places white pebbles, on a big squared board, and the objective is to take the opponent’s pebbles by surrounding them from all four sides with your own. I could mention how it resembles Siege or Othello but both are quite simplistic to count. For there are various sub-rules, such as specific areas granting extra points, the second player being given a few points just for playing second, and so on, and so on. The point is this is not a game that it’s as simple as it looks. Game-based anime are nothing new at the time it came out. Six years ago there was Pokemon, and around the same time there was YuGiOh!, both prompting people to learn and buy the games. But the thing is, all such anime are to the most part nothing but propaganda, as the actual games have nothing to do with what you see in the series. Pikachu never levels up and Yuugi keeps using cards that don’t work like that in the actual game. But in the case of Go, that is not possible because there is no optical trickery. The pebbles don’t have superpowers; they are just positioned in a cross-section and remain there permanently, unless surrounded, where they become the opponent’s points. So what you see is really what you get. There is of course a ghost of an ancient Go player following the main hero around and telling him ways of how to win, but that is not cheating in the longrun because even that is following the rules of the game down to the tiniest detail. Which is another thing that makes this show great. Unlike Pokemon or YuGiOh!, where the opponents cheat all the time or don’t play as the normal rules dictate in general, in Go there is no way to be unfair. The pieces are not hidden or moving around every time you turn your head, cards don’t drop out of sleeves and dices are not fixed to always show 6s. There is even an official referee and many on-lookers that further prevent you from even trying to move around the pebbles. That creates an extremely realistic and fair game. Another plus is how the game is purely based on strategy and not on luck. You don’t draw cards hoping to get what you want or you don’t use electroshock, hoping to get a critical. All pebbles are equal and revealed to you from the start. In this regard, it is like chess where all the pieces are revealed from the start and there is zero chances of winning out of luck. All the above create a very realistic approach to the game that doesn’t make you think that every match is rigged or conveniently happens as the scriptwriter wants to. Of course, it also means that it lacks too much of superficial entertainment for those who expect lasers and huge monsters o fill the screen all the time. Nope, there is no such thing present to make little kids wowing with brainless battles that have nothing to do with the actual game. It does however have a huge amount of internal monologue and a rather high amount of “depicted mentality”. That means that we are constantly shown what the characters are feeling with weird background colours or told by listening to their strategies and worries. There is a lot of that too in other game-based series as well but the retarded action is eventually making you care more about that than about the characters’ strategies. Of course, this is still a shonen title and it still has some elements for the target audience to feel a connection to. The main hero for example is Hikaru, a boy who has no idea of how to play Go but after he releases the ghost of an ancient Go player, he is gradually more and more interested to learn and improve in the game. Initially he learns how to play thanks to the ghost, basically becoming its pupil as it can’t play on its own, and later as he learns he can now do his own strategies and thus follow his own path. That is an almost standard procedure for any shonen lead. He even has a permanent platonic girlfriend, a main eternal rival ala Kaiba, and various bystanders constantly interrupting the flow of the matches in order to comment what they think is going on. So it is not exactly a groundbreaking show full of originality; the difference is mainly at how more focused the show is on the characters and not on the promotion of the game. You can see how Hikaru is gradually improving and how he is not a mastermind from episode one. He even grows old later on. Well, all that don’t actually change him as a personality, since he is still the same hyperactive edgy shonen lead as in the beginning. It will probably feel bad for most. The worst part is eventually the story, since it is too heavily focused on building up tension slowly and eventually ending half-way. Many episodes are made to slow down progress with the scene constantly switching to something other than the match or the main characters, such as commentaries by others or flashbacks and irrelevant every day events. That can count as skyrocketing your interest by feeding on your frustration to know what will happen next. It is like in Dragonball Z, where a whole episode is spent on just powering up and shouting without progressing the battle. It works, although it does feel like it overdoes it at times. This is not a story about the salvation of the universe but a simple journey of a boy going from one match to another, pitted against other Go players and not demons who want to rule the cosmos or something. Plus it doesn’t really end; it is left incomplete as a story. Although one would wonder what the ending could be. Him becoming the Go Emperor of planet Earth? I leave for last the production values that felt just average for such a show. Nothing great or bad but nothing memorable other than Hikaru’s weird double coloured hair. And I find nothing to write about them.It is a very good anime at making you care to learn about the game. It even teaches it to you as it really is and not in a way that matters only in-series, thus I consider it the best in its subgenre. Other than that it is not exactly a show with great characters; just colourful ones. And its story is quite tedious and incomplete. Plus years later shows like Akagi and Kaiji took the whole board game to far greater heights of excitement. Still worthy of watching, since there is no other Go-based anime and definitely no other so fair and honest boardgame-based one.And now for some excused scorings. ART SECTION: 5/10 General Artwork 1/2 (generic) Character Figures 1/2 (generic) Backgrounds 1/2 (basic) Animation 1/2 (basic) Visual Effects 1/2 (basic) SOUND SECTION: 6/10 Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series) Music Themes 2/4 (typical) Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess) STORY SECTION: 3/10 Premise 1/2 (simple) Pacing 0/2 (too slow) Complexity 1/2 (outside some game mechanics, not much) Plausibility 1/2 (so-so) Conclusion 0/2 (open ended) CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10 Presence 1/2 (generic) Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded) Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there) Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there) Catharsis 0/2 (not there because of the open ending) VALUE SECTION: 6/10 Historical Value 2/3 (quite famous) Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot) Memorability 3/4 (quite successful at what it aimed to accomplish) ENJOYMENT SECTION: 2/10 Art 0/1 (looks typical) Sound 0/2 (sounds typical) Story 0/3 (feels generic) Characters 2/4 (they are standart) VERDICT: 4.5/10
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