Author: Yumi Hotta
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: All Ages
Release Date: October 2010
Synopsis: “The Hokuto Cup, a new tournament for young players from Japan, China and Korea, is looming, and Hikaru’s rival Akira has already secured one of the coveted three places on Japan’s team. While Hikaru battles his way to one of the two remaining spots, Akira’s father baffles the go world with his unexpected retirement!”
As Hikaru No Go draws near to the end it remains as entertaining as ever, though the dynamics and relationships have changed radically from how they were in the beginning. Hikaru and Akira are no longer rivals but team mates gearing up for a cross-Asia Go tournament. While it’s cute to see them spend time together as friends (and bicker like an old married couple) it feels a little weird considering their rivalry that was the main thrust of the series for so long.
This twenty-first volume begins with the end of the qualifying rounds which decide who will be on team Japan. Aside from long standing characters like Waya and Ochi taking part, there’s a new kid from Kansai who threatens to outplay them all.
The qualifying rounds take up only a small part of this volume, but they manage to pack in a lot of character moments. Ochi is a character I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with. On one hand, he is an obnoxious, arrogant little punk. On the other hand, he has the skill and courage to back his words up. In this volume Ochi makes a choice that I didn’t see coming but totally fits with his character. It was a move that made me hate him a little less and even had me rooting for the little jerk.
Waya gets a lot less time in the spotlight, but Obata and Hotta make the most of it. In just two panels we learn so much about Waya as it dawns on him that not only are his friends more skilled at Go than him, he also lacks their fearless ambition. Hikaru No Go is good for setting up things for later story arcs, so even though Waya doesn’t get much page time here I have my fingers crossed that Waya’s revelation will pay-off in later volumes.
In the rest of the book the members of team Japan hunker down and do some serious training, which means all-night Go playing at Akira’s house. While the main characters are squirreled away, the minor characters are running wild. The manga manages to juggle a dozen characters all across Asia, with subplots not only in Japan but in Korea and China. To try and list all of the plots touched on in this volume would take half the review, but the manga manages to do it all gracefully.
The art is great, as always. I personally think that Takeshi Obata is one of the best manga-ka working today. His characters are distinct and attractive without being too pretty (well, except maybe Ko Yang Ha, who I suspect was purposely designed to fill the ‘too-pretty-to-be-a-guy’ slot left open left by Sai). It has been pointed out by others how well Obata is able to age the characters. Hikaru and Akira no longer look like the kids they were at the start of the series, but young men. However, what struck me in this volume was how Obata is also able to age the adults. This volume made me realize how much older Akira’s father has gotten over the course of the series, and he was no spring chicken when the manga began.
Hikaru no Go is a great series that really lives up to the label ‘all ages.’ It’s not just a manga that kids can read and enjoy, but anybody. It’s a manga that encourages readers to follow their dream while still stressing that getting to where you want to be takes a lot of hard work. While a manga about a board game may not sound like the most exciting thing, the art, story and characters make it riveting. Also, with twenty-one volumes released so far in English it’s yet to have a drop in quality. While I’m sad that there are only a few more volumes left in the series, few manga can claim to have such a consistent run.