Hikaru no Go [1999]

This is so far the only series that has successfully focused on the Go game.

If you haven’t ever heard of Go game, I don’t blame you. Westerners are unlikely aware of this game.

At least in China, Korea, and Japan though, Go game is a huge thing. If a man is a high level professional Go player, he would be treated like a doctor or a lawyer and would earn respect from people.

While there is no gender restriction, high level pro Go players have been entirely male. I assume that it is because high level Go players spend their entire time doing their thing, and sadly for women, there are other responsibilities they must spend their time for.

A bit of history …

Hikaru no Go was a manga from 1999 to 2004. The anime which I am going to focus on here was released 2004 with 75 episodes. It is quite faithful to the source material and is far more accessible which is why I am focusing on anime for this review.
While there is no FHD version, there is a BD version available which is acceptable.

The only problem with anime is that it ends absurdly. There should have been around 10 episodes more but it just ends although it does end okayish. If you wish to pick up after watching the anime, volume 19 is where you should resume. There are three more volumes afterwards.

I can see why anime ends where it ends. There are some politics involved in the last part of the story due to a tournament involving China, Korea, and Japan. It was probably wiser to end where it ends for the anime.

About the story itself…

The series follows a boy named Shindo Hikaru who is just 11 year-old at the start. As he ransacks his grandfather’s attic to get something to sell because his grade tanked and he wasn’t going to get his allowance from his mother, he finds a very old Go play board.

He sees some sort of stain on it which apparently no one else can see. Then he is struck by a voice of a ghost at which point he passes out. The ghost, Sai, is then stuck with Hikaru. This is how the series begins.

Sai, or Fujiwara no Sai, is a 1,000 years old Go player. He was a master at his craft and was even an instructor for a Japanese emperor. However, he was falsely accused of cheating and was subsequently lost a Go game. Great sorrow as well as anger made him commit suicide. His moral body was gone, but his spirit remained due to his sheer passion for Go games but was bound to the Go board which Hikaru found.

Sai is the best Go player in the series. As expected from an ancient Go player of his caliber, no one can beat him. His know-how, experience, and passion surpasses every single character in the series. And so he remains unbeaten for the whole series. The only thing he loses to is time itself.

In the early stage of the series, you will watch Hikaru, 11 at the start, start playing Go games without any clue at all. Initially, it is Sai who controls him to play. But Sai’s sheer passion for the game as well as passion from serious Go players begin to …, let’s say, poison him.

Normally, what an ordinary 11 year-old does is play without any care for the world. Hikaru has no goals initially. He is just a kid who wants to play.

As he finds Go games sort of “cool”, he starts to show interest at which point Sai begins to teach him. Thus begins a long road to sublimity or “the divine move” as Sai loves to call it.

The divine move is basically a move during a Go game where you’d alter a flow of the game to your favor with a single move. The bigger impact, the better.

Realistically speaking, such “divine moves” can be seen frequently among low skill players due to their tendency to mess up and accidentally finding clever ways to get out of bad situations. However, such divine moves among high level Go players are basically unheard of. What Sai wants is basically near-impossible in my opinion.

Regardless, I know I’ve stated this before, but you are not going to find anything similar to this series in 2022. That is because this series portrays a progressive growth of a character from very start to finish, meaning modern anime studios can’t structure an anime like this without ruining the flow because of season thingy.

This anime is also one of very few that does not feature any sort of filler episodes. Yes, you read that right. From episode 1 to 75, there isn’t a single filler episode. It’s basically packed to brim. There are however a few summery episodes here and there due to the amount of content you need to follow.

Personally, the most exciting moments of this series for me is when Sai gets to play against high level Go players. Because Sai is just too good for any players, even high level Go players find themselves Gobsmacked by an end of their plays.

So ….

Do I recommend this series to you? Well, can you commit yourself for 75 episodes? It’s about 25 hours. Realistically, you can’t finish this in one seating in spite of your desire of wanting to.

You will watch Hikaru grow up both physically and mentally. He is originally Sai’s puppet but grows to become his own Go player. By the end of the anime, he is 15 years old.

Taking a deep breath, I wouldn’t call this a masterpiece but it does what it is supposed to do exceedingly well. There just isn’t an anime of such a caliber nowadays in 2022. 75 episodes allows one to completely submerge oneself into the anime. also.
When I re-watched this anime after like 13 years to make this review, I felt as if I drowned in the anime. By time I got out of the water, it was the last few moments of 75th episode.

In the end …

The only successful series based on Go game….

Hikaru no Go is the only successful series based on Go game. There are several reasons for that.

One, while Go game is the focus of the story, the game itself is not the driving force. The driving force is Hikaru’s very slow and gradual growth as a boy to a man. In other words, the story focuses on human element more than Go game itself.
This means –

Two, one does not need to know Go game itself to enjoy. It also does not try to teach you anything about Go game itself. I suppose it could be con for those who wish to know more about the game, but those who watch anime are hardly a target audience for a game like Go.
Another reason could be that virtually almost all Japanese would know basics of Go games. I mean, as a Korean myself, I know the basics of Go play simply because I was frequently exposed to it from a very early age. Men and women equally enjoy casual Go games from home although this is before the Internet era. You can spend hours easily.

Three, Hikaru’s growth feels really natural. There is no special training or anything like that. Granted, Hikaru probably has the best teacher in Sai and he does grow as a Go player at a rapid speed but not at a speed that isn’t unheard of even in real world.

Finally, as Hikaru grows, so does others. The small kid is soon no more. His uniform changes. His parents do look older near the end. And, while there is no romance in the series, it seems clear who he is going to end up with.

Some may classify this as a sports genre. In my book, it isn’t. It is a slice of life. You follow Hikaru’s life sometimes as a Go player and sometimes as a stupid boy.

Closing words

From 1980 to 2005 was the golden era of Japanese anime. Since 2005, Japanese anime as whole has started to go downhill. I can say that confidently after watching League of Legends: Arcane.

I was blown away from LoL Arcane. For a while, I thought I have changed. I’ve felt that I am getting too old for anime and that is perhaps why I am preferring older anime.

But that isn’t so. I repeat; I was blown away by Arcane. That is how you do anime. Stop paying attention to mini skirts. Stop paying attention to boob physics. Stop unifying anime drawing style so that animators have an easier job. And STOP circumcising plots to fit into 12-episode-a-year season.

When a Western animation feels far superior to Japanese anime, I know how the mighty has fallen…

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