Episodes: 75 + 1 special
Animation Studio: Studio Pierrot
Hikaru no Go was part of the first wave of anime that I ever watched subbed. Among those were anime such as s-CRY-ed, Law of Ueki, and Ranma 1/2, but by far out of the first wave of anime that I was diving into, full blown subtitles, Hikaru no Go was and still is one of my absolute favorites.
Like Eyeshield 21, I just finished rewatching this series for a third time and it still holds up so well. The characters are all fun and interesting, well most of them anyway, but what this series does differently from other anime is that they focus on the characters. No special skills, no powerups, no friendship deus ex machina, just good old fashioned hard work and determination.
Hikaru no Go is about a boy named Hikaru who comes to be possessed by a millennium old ghost who was a Go teacher. Being a young boy who had no interest in playing an old man’s game, Hikaru denied the ghost, Sai, the pleasure of playing Go. Sai got upset, in a very comical fashion, and in turn Hikaru got sick from Sai’s misery. So, through Sai, Hikaru learns more about Go and is introduced as a wide eyed beginner who just soaks up the information. As he watches Sai play against strong opponents Hikaru invests more of his interest and time into the game also. He eventually joins tournaments and tries to play Go by himself, much to Sai’s disappointment.
After watching this series from beginning to end around four times, I have to admit that I still don’t know a damn about how Go is played. The anime does a good job of explaining the basics, and because of that I do have a general idea on how it is played, but at some point the anime takes the kid gloves off and starts talking about Go in a way that only true players of the game could understand. But don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a turn off, in fact it’s great! It made me even more interested in the game, and I even got a Go board and stones after being inspired by this anime, but I still get confused on how it is played. Basically, what I’m trying to say is even though you might have never heard of this game, or maybe you’ll never be able to truly understand it, you can still get plenty of enjoyment out of this anime because the one thing that it prioritized throughout the series is characters, and character development.
I know it can be daunting when it comes to long form anime, and even at a mere 75 episodes some people will probably pass on this, but believe me when I say that the first twenty episodes of Hikaru no Go are some of the best first twenty episodes in any anime. I shake with excitement and anticipation, even if I know what’s going to happen, because the story introduces the protagonist, Hikaru, and his antagonist/rival Touya in such a way that they are constantly dealing with character obstacles that they need to overcome.
Touya is a child prodigy when it comes to Go, and when he met Hikaru, who Sai was playing through, he was beat for the first time by somebody his own age. This creates Touya to only think about Hikaru, and beg him to play again because he finally found someone he can play on an intellectual level, but at the time Hikaru doesn’t like Go and refuses requests a lot. This infuriates Touya, thinking that Hikaru was wasting his potential. But what happens with Hikaru is that he’s starting to understand Go and even like it! However, he sees Touya as a potential rival that he wants to play one day, the only problem is that Hikaru by himself sucks. So, because of his, for lack of a better word, newbie-ness he gets jealous of Sai and forbids him to play Go which drives Sai mad because his one true passion in the world is Go.
Phew! That wasn’t the best, or clear, explanation of the character’s goals, but if you could follow that I commend you! But that’s not all in the first twenty episodes, in fact it’s filled to the brim with character development and conflict that any anime fan will salivate for. Heck, sometimes I just watch the first twenty episodes and stop after that because they’re just too good! Unfortunately the series doesn’t stay that good.
It took me so long to figure out why I wasn’t as invested in the next twenty-five episodes as I was in the beginning, but after the re-watch I think I finally figured it out. At one point Touya gives up on Hikaru, thinking it was just a fluke or something that he lost to him, and so he leaves Hikaru behind to become a pro. At this, Hikaru joins a Go Institute to become an Insei, a person who plays/studies Go for a living basically, and makes friends while trying to learn Go and become a pro. This section of the story is where I had the most trouble watching because it’s basically a training arc. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a ton of great stuff in these episodes, but the biggest problem for me was that Touya was Hikaru’s main conflict, and now that he’s gone Hikaru is only learning Go and doesn’t have much of a conflict to go up against. His biggest conflict was beating people in Go, and learning how to become a better player. To me, I think they spent a little too long in this arc, and I’m sure some people would find it boring, but it does pick back up around episode 50.
Once Hikaru is a pro Touya comes back into the picture as a force to be reckoned with, and once again Hikaru has that good old conflict that I love so much! In fact, when Hikaru turned pro more and more people were starting to notice him creating more conflict, and great character interactions.
While it’s rare for an anime to be this focused on character and story, this series dives into an interesting part of history that I’m sure will blow people away who watch anime and are under the age of 18. I say this because the story takes place right when technology was starting to become a thing, like computers and the internet, and you actually get to see the point where characters have no idea what computers are, what the internet is, and are amazed that you can communicate with people all over the world.
As I write this I am learning even more about this series, because I just got the connection that technology is a symbol within this story illustrating how the new generation is coming up and slowly taking over the older generation. How these characters are evolving at an incredible rate that is faster than the older generation. In fact, it even foreshadows how big the story could be. At first, without any computers, it was just Hikaru and Touya playing Go together, but by the end of the series it’s talking about Hikaru and Touya vs the World in an international tournament (which we could have seen played out even more if the manga wasn’t cancelled). I say foreshadowing because in the beginning Hikaru uses the internet to play Go with players across the world as Sai. Because he didn’t like the attention he was getting, Hikaru decided to use the internet’s anonymity so that Sai could play Go as much as his heart desired. And thorughout this series there are a group of people who have watched Sai dominate the digital world, and then disappear, who pop up from all different countries and are all trying to figure out who the mysterious Sai is.
The series even makes it a priority to show you how Hikaru’s decisions effect the people around him. There’s this important decision that he makes near the end of the series that ripples throughout all the characters, and you can clearly see that Hikaru’s motivations are effecting his friends. It’s rare to see this level of detail on a character standpoint in anime, and I find this refreshing.
Another thing that I found really fascinating about this series that not a lot of series do is it allows their characters to age. From episode one to episode seventy-five it has been a little over two years, maybe two years and a half. You can clearly see in the animation how the character grew and aged.Hikaru started out as a very cute round faced kid, but as the months and years went by you see that he’s growing taller, his face is becoming more angular, and by the time you get to the end you can’t believe how much Hikaru actually aged throughout the series. Talk about puberty!
Even though the manga was canceled, and I still think that it had so much potential to keep going, the anime did a very nice job at ending where it did, and even had an emotional moment between all the characters and watching how they all end up at the end. When it comes to character development there isn’t many series that shows you just how much a character has changed. It’s not like Hikaru wasn’t hokage in the beginning and he became hokage off panel by the end. Hikaru started out as a loud mouthed, disrespectful little brat that scoffed at the idea of Go, and by the time the series ends he has become a some-what understanding, calm, Go master and you can really see how far he had come from first playing Touya.
The animation is old, obviously, but stands up very well. If you don’t mind not having your anime as pristine as it is in modern times I’d say this is a must watch. Other than the consistent animation, the music used in the anime plus the opening and ending songs are all good. I still love the first and second openings so much, and I never try to skip them. The last one is skip-able though.
Overall, this series has astounded me on a story level, and while I think it dipped in quality during it’s middle the ending episodes really pulled through to make it all worth while. Other than the fact that it did get canceled, the only negatives I have for it are an okay middle and some episodes I feel I could skip. The characters themselves are deep and well constructed. The development is better than what’s in most anime, and the overall product is one that I love to revisit time after time.
+ Super strong opening episodes
+ Crazy character development
– Not much conflict in the Insei arc