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Hikaru no Go

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.

The general animation level is steady and above average. Just like many other present animes, you won’t see any flaws in the drawing. If you only consider one single episode, then it is just above average. On the other hand, if you watch the whole series, you will be amazed by the fact that the kids are actually physically growing through the story. On top of that, the aging is so smooth that it is not so easy to recognize. This keeps up until some recap scenes or if you watch the first episodes again after a while. Then you will see how much the kids changed.
As far as I can tell according to the animes I saw, this feature is really rare. Actually, I didn’t see any other animes featuring more than 2 models for a character (one for the present, one for the past) and gradual aging is just a daydream.

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 1st OP was on Animereactors Best of Anime 2003 nomination list – and it has every reason to be on it. Get Over (by Dream) seems to sound like typical J-pop, until 5 episodes later it’s nesting itself in your eMule queue, at high priority with no A4AF sources in sight. Also, the 2nd op by HAL isn’t too bad, although the rest of the OP’s and ED’s are average in my eyes. I never found a song in this anime that I didn’t like. Some of the music is overplayed, but it still is great. There is some synth, and a couple really intense orchestral compositions (which are sometimes funny to listen to during slow Go matches), but I have no complaints whatsoever about the music.

I enjoyed the show very much. If you favor the mentioned aspects, I believe you will also find the show entertaining. In my opinion, this is without doubt the best one among this kind of animes based on sport and competition. I watched a few others after HnG, but I was quite frustrated and they don’t even compare.
One more thing, it is absolutely not necessary to know Go to enjoy this anime. As I said, it is very likely that you will learn the game by watching the show. But of course, the stronger you are at Go and the more you love it, the more you will fall for it.

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