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August 9, 2010

Bento Bako Weekly: Hikaru no Go vols. 19 & 20

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Hikaru no Go
Author: Yumi Hotta, with art by Takeshi Obata (Bakuman); supervised by professional Go player Yukari Umezawa (5-dan)
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Jump)
Volume: Volumes 19 and 20 (of 23), $9.99 each
Vintage: 2002 and 2003 in Japan by Shueisha, May 2010 and August 2010 by Viz
Genre: Supernatural, psychological, games

Hikaru no Go is a manga about the game of Go.  Go is a strategic board game similar to…chess is the best example I can come up with.  Each player has a collection of stones, black or white, that they alternatively play on a gridded board, with the object to control as much of the board as possible with their stones.  The game is more than 2,500 years old (originating in China), and there are millions of players today.  Go is competition driven, and the tournament circuit is quite complex.  The characters in Hikaru no Go play to rise in the ranks and become the best players in Japan, and Hotta explains many aspects of the game and the tournament system in the manga (with footnotes or sidebars and things of that nature).

Hikaru Shindo came across an old Go board in his grandfather’s shed while in 6th grade.  A famous ancient Go player named Fujiwara-no-Sai resided in the board, and his spirit moved into Hikaru, waking an interest for the game in the young man.  Sai played through Hikaru on occasion, and also taught Hikaru how to play the game.  Sai eventually left Hikaru, causing Hikaru to fall into a depression which affected his Go game and his attitude negatively.  Fortunately, with the help of a rivalry with another young professional player named Akira Toya, and a match with another player, Hikaru’s drive came back and he began to climb the ranks of professional Go players.  He is now 14, and beginning to make a name for himself.

In volume 19, Hikaru continues his quest to climb up the ranks of Go players and learn the Divine Move.  His next opponent in the Hon’inbo tournament is Kawasaki 3-dan.  His opponent, believing Hikaru’s slow progress is due to a lack in skill, underestimates the young player.  While at the game, his friend, Yoshitaka Waya, overhears information about an upcoming China/Korea/Japanese tournament (the Hokuto Cup) for young Go players.  Both Hikaru and Waya decide to go for the tournament’s two open spaces, the third having been automatically given to Akira Toya.  But before the qualifiers begin, Hikaru has a tournament match against Gokiso 7-dan, a man he has little respect for.  Back at school, the Go club auditions a new player for an upcoming tournament, and Akari Fujisaki worries about not being able to see Hikaru when they graduate middle school.  Later, as Hikaru goes to the association building to watch Isumi’s next match, he bumps into Kadowaki, and Hikaru challenges him to a match of Go.

One of Hikaru's tournament matches in Hikaru no Go volume 19.

Volume 20 finishes up the match between Hikaru and Kadowaki.  Then a new player and challenger for the upcoming Hokuto Cup, from the Kansai Go Association in Japan, Kiyoharu Yashiro, enters the scene.  Toshinori Honda gets a chance to play him in a match, and is thrown off by Yashiro’s wild style of playing.  Soon the preliminaries for Japan’s Hokuto Cup team begin, pitting Hikaru against Honda, who has been wondering about his future as a professional Go player after his defeat by Yashiro.  In between Hokuto Cup prelims, Hikaru has a tournament match against his mentor, Morishita 9-dan, whom he has never played outside of a practice match.  At the same time, Akira has a match against a student of his father’s, Ogata Judan.  Both teens start out confident against the established players they have been practicing with, but the tables turn when the older players bring their real games to the table.  The first round of the Hokuto Cup qualifiers comes around, and the first matches are quickly decided.  The final round pits Waya against Ochi, and Hikaru against Yashiro.  A wild and chaotic game commences between Hikaru and Yashiro, that baffles the other players watching.  Who will win the spot on the team?

Eh, yeah, there’s not much to talk about, as all they do is play Go the whole time.  But don’t let that dissuade you!  I didn’t think a game as slow and complex as Go would be interesting to read about in the slightest.  Imagine my surprise when I was swept up by the action.  It’s very well drawn and well written as well.  It’s a tad hard to follow for someone who is not familiar with Go, especially as Viz did not include liner notes at the back of the volumes covering Go terminology.  Fortunately, Hotta and Obata both do excellent jobs on this title, so even for someone with no knowledge of the game, the series is entertaining.  Someone with some familiarity with the game may enjoy it much more, but be prepared to see Go as you likely haven’t seen it before; it’s almost like an action title.  It’s a coming of age story, as well.  The characters grow and learn new things about themselves as they play the game.  Many of them have to make important decisions, like forgoing high school to focus on their Go careers.  If they’re good enough to maintain professional status, or if they should find other avenues of employment or further their education.  Akira must deal with separating himself from his father’s legacy, while Hikaru works to improve his abilities without Sai’s guidance.

The characters are well defined, and many of them have their own particular way of playing Go.  I love the dynamic between Hikaru and Akira when they’re discussing Go.  They’re so clearly two teenage boys arguing with each other, and it’s quite funny.  They have respect for each other as players, but they’re still just kids, and Hotta writes them well.  Both the art and writing provide excellent tension during matches, and with an actual professional Go player supervising the matches in the story, I can only assume they’re also accurate (as accurate as they can be in this medium).  I’m not sure about reading 23 volumes about Go, but these two volumes were a lot of fun to read.  Volume 21 of Hikaru no Go is scheduled for November.


Review copies provided by Viz Media.



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Comic Attack, Kristin Bomba. Kristin Bomba said: New #manga review @comicattack: Hikaru no Go vols 19&20 (@Viz_Media) https://comicattack.net/2010/08/bbwhikarunogo19_20/ […]

  2. Billy

    I’ve never heard of this game but it does sound a lot like Chess, which I used to love.

  3. Well…chess isn’t really a proper comparison. In Go, the stones you place on the board don’t move (unless they’re surrounded by the other player’s stones and captured). But as far as it being a highly strategic game that requires a lot of study and examining the board, predicting moves, etc. In that way it’s similar to chess.

  4. […] out my review of volumes 19 and 20 for some background […]

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