Hikaru no Go 23

March 27, 2011

Yumi Hotta / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2011 – 23 volumes

Here it is. The end to one of my all-time favorite Shounen Jump series. As good as this series is, as much as it makes you really care for the characters and really want to know how their go games evolve despite yourself… the ending is unfortunately a letdown.

We get the rest of the Hokuto Cup, of course. The Japan vs. Korea game. We get to watch all of Hikaru’s game in-depth, with a lot of different people giving commentary about the surprising turns of events during the game. The game is good, though I liked it a little less because Hikaru’s Korean opponent was a little less developed and likable than some of the others throughout the series. It was certainly intense, and there are few games that last an entire volume and end… well, the way this one does.

And that’s the end. The Hokuto Cup ends, and then the series ends, too. There are two one-shots in the back, indicating that the rivalry between Akira and Hikaru will continue, and that it will fuel another generation of go players. I especially liked that one of the stories featured young Hikaru and Akira, and the other one featured them as professionals a couple years in the future.

But seriously. It just ends. And it ends on a rather sour note. Granted… there’s no real good way to draw a go series to a conclusion. But I was so bummed.

Actually, the thing that bothered me most is a spoiler, so I’m going to cut and talk a little bit behind a spoiler tag.

But in the meantime, don’t let the lukewarm ending deter you. The first sixteen or so volumes of this series are well worth a read. I’ve read the whole thing twice now, and I hardly ever re-read series anymore. But Hikaru no Go is worth it. It’s one of the best examples of a character-driven series, and shows that you don’t need a lot of action and magical powers or sports-related miracles to make an interesting series. Sometimes all it takes is a boardgame and the right people playing it.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

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Hikaru no Go 22

March 6, 2011

Yumi Hotta / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2011 – 23 volumes

Hmm… on one hand, I am still ridiculously addicted to this series. On the other hand, I can sorta recognize that it’s because of a lingering attachment to the characters. While the Hokuto Cup is still pretty exciting stuff, I can’t say I was all that fond of the fact that most of this volume’s conflict was based on a misunderstanding/mistranslation of trash talk about Shusaku. This comes up a lot, and if the Hokuto Cup wasn’t tense enough for you, Hikaru is suddenly playing for the privilege of first chair in the match against Korea, so that he can school the boy who riled him up over Shusaku. I wish that wasn’t so much a part of it, I miss the rivalry between Akira and Hikaru.

Speaking of, all signs pointed to Akira and Hikaru having a heart-to-heart about just what is up with Hikaru’s go, but for some reason, I wasn’t falling for it. As much as the story hints that Akira is ready to ask about it and Hikaru might be ready to talk… just how would that conversation take place? “I got help from the ghost that played for Shusaku?” No. Sai is a secret that Hikaru needs to keep with him. Not even Akira will ever know.

I don’t have that much to say on this volume, actually. Team Japan has their match against Team China in the Hokuto Cup. It’s somewhat abbreviated compared to other games, but still interesting stuff in the context of the story.

Next volume will be the last game against Korea, and the conclusion of the series. Will the Hokuto Cup outcome be all that exciting for me? Not really. I haven’t ever read the ending to this series, though, and while I know it cuts off suddenly, I am looking forward to at least a little wrap-up for things.

Hikaru no Go 21

October 7, 2010

Yumi Hotta / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2010 – 23 volumes

I got this and Bakuman in the same box, and had a brief argument with my roommate, who did not believe the same person drew both. I love Takeshi Obata’s artwork, in all the series that I’ve seen drawn by him, and I’ve really loved watching his style evolve over the years. The difference between Hikaru no Go and Bakuman is pretty significant, but both are equally good.

The beginning of this volume was great. The match results were quite a surprise, and I loved that Ochi acted the way he did. Ochi isn’t a very likable character, but he is fairly realistic and true to himself. A narcissist and completely confident of his abilities to the point of rubbing it in, I was happy to see that he was willing to put his money where his mouth was. He was right, though. Nobody would have been satisfied unless he did that.

The rest of the volume, plot-wise, was mostly a waiting game to the start of the Hokuto Cup. But unlike the filler in other series, this stuff was pretty good. I loved seeing Akira and Hikaru squabbling over a board in the Go parlor, and I liked the practice rounds at Akira’s house even more than that. There is a cute chapter image of all three of the boys on Team Japan sleeping that just made me grin from ear to ear. Again, it’s really the characters that make this series great, and seeing the three members of Team Japan squabble and compete against each other while they train is a big part of why this series is so amazing.

Admittedly, it’s lost some of its edge with this tournament. It jumped the shark. I think that’s an okay thing to say. It’s still good, and there are still crazy intense matches, but all the characters in the Japanese Go world, with all their individual hopes and dreams and plans for the future, playing their earnest game of go, is what gives the earlier parts of the series the advantage over the Hokuto Cup. Moving out from a loved cast of characters to battles with a bunch of guys we don’t really care about? Meh. In the context of what’s going on (an international tournament), this sounds vaguely racist (“I only care about Japanese characters!”), but it’s true. There’s just not much here for me to look forward to. A faceless opponent, even one that we’ve seen before, turns this into a regular boring game of Go. Well, faceless opponents and the fact that none of the characters are really pursuing a personal goal. There is the ambiguous “Divine Move,” but quite honestly, Hikaru and Akira seem to have settled down pretty well in professional go life. There’s not a whole lot of potential for character development here.

It still keeps the personal, humanizing touch that makes it special, even among all the new people. One of the new characters comments on how lucky Hikaru is that his mom supports his career, and throughout the book, there are reminders of how hard the teen’s life is while having to fight his parents for all the time he needs as a professional Go player, and Hikaru even takes a minute to invite his mother and Grandfather to the tournament. I like his mom a lot. She supports him, even without knowing anything about Go. She’s a great mom.

So yes, the Hokuto Cup is not nearly as good as the other tournaments in the series, but even then, there is still plenty to like in this volume. The characters have matured and are noticeably older, and are ready to compete on an international level. Two volumes left!

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Hikaru no Go 20

June 29, 2010

Yumi Hotta / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2010 – 23 volumes

I was a little disappointed that this volume was mostly exposition towards the Hokuto Cup, but the prelims finally get under way towards the end, and we’re left on a cliffhanger about who the final Japanese contestant will be, after a wonky game of Go between Hikaru and Kiyoharu, a new character from Kansai.

The beginning of the book opens up the scope of the story once again, keeping the players from Korea and China in our thoughts as the international tournament gets under way.

Other than that, there’s a nice sense of time marching on. Hikaru graduates from junior high, as does Akira, but neither has much interest in school any more. Akari doesn’t consider Hikaru a part of the Go club at Haze since he quit in his first year, despite the fact he was a major force in that one year. I also noticed the subtle way that Obata has aged Hikaru over the course of the series. He’s a great artist, and Hikaru has sobered quite a bit after the last Sai story, which is reflected in his facial expressions, his subdued attitude, and almost everything else about him. But it’s the character design that I found to be interesting. Very few artists take the time to tweak that over the run of a series, even when time passes, and to see him slowly age and mature over the course of his three years in junior high is a real treat. Character growth in the truest sense, and it only makes me feel that much closer to the characters.

With all the new people, and the focus shifting away from Hikaru and his rivalry with Akira, I’m liking the story a little less, but it’s hard to dismiss it outright. The preliminary rounds have been interesting so far, but with only national pride and Go strategy to keep the reader coming back, I’m a little worried about future volumes. Again, though, Hikaru no Go and Eyeshield 21 are the best Shounen Jump manga I’m reading right now, so I can’t find it in my heart to dislike it. It’s been so good to me, and the past volumes more than make up for any weaknesses in the final few here.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Hikaru no Go 19

June 26, 2010

Yumi Hotta / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2010 – 23 volumes

I am a ridiculous fool for this series.  I’ve stated my case so many times that there’s no use doing it again.  But know that, while I do miss Sai and the anxious amateur games, there’s just something about Akira and Hikaru’s go trash talk that endlessly delighted me in this volume.  I mean, they’re playing go, but they can trash talk each other just like other Shounen Jump heroes.  It does my heart good.

There’s an awful lot of Hikaru and Akira playing go together, and a lot of exposition as the chapters jump around to various characters talking up the Japanese Go world, but it’s mostly exposition and an introduction to the next major story arc, the Hokuto Cup. The Hokuto Cup will be a go match between young professionals in Japan, Korea, and China, may the best man win. Of course, we’ve already met characters from both of those countries, so they are re-introduced as others talk about them and which country has the best chance of winning. Japan’s chances don’t look good, but if Hikaru and Akira have anything to say about it, things will start looking up.

Without my usual gushing, and with all the exposition, I don’t have that much to say, other than even the most mundane volumes are somehow made more exciting because the characters are playing go. I’ve got volume 20 to read, too, so hopefully all of this will lead to a very exciting opening for the Hokuto Cup. Or at least the opening of the qualifying rounds of the Hokuto Cup. You know how this stuff works.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Hikaru no Go 18

March 10, 2010

Yumi Hotta / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2010 – 23 volumes

This volume was an interlude from the main story, called “Six Characters, Six Stories.”  The short stories covered everyone from major players like Akira and Hikaru/Sai to old favorites like Kaga and Mitani, and they even slipped in Nase, who I forgot about completely.  In a way, her story was my favorite, if only because of the contrast between her and the go parlor.

I thought all the stories except the final one, featuring Sai and Hikaru, were quite good.  Even that one was enjoyable, but it wasn’t quite as cute or enlightening as the others in the book.  Two of them were sort of glimpses into what was happening at the story when we were introduced (the circumstances surrounding Mitani at the Go parlor before he met Hikaru, how Akira was playing before Hikaru entered the picture).  The story covering Kurata was about his school days, Kaga and Nase’s stories were set in the present, and Hikaru’s story was from the near-past.  They also all covered a variety of subject matter, from horse racing to Japanese pottery to dating.

It’s a testament to the strength of the series and characters that there could be an interlude like this, and that it is still just as enjoyable as the regular storylines normally are.  They do play go in most of the stories, but it’s not present at all in one or two of them, and doesn’t play a major role in any of them aside from being a common theme.

It’s comparable to the Isumi volume in its relation to the story, honestly, but I liked it a lot better than Isumi’s story.  It didn’t interrupt at such a critical time (at the moment, the story’s getting ready to start a new major plotline), it covered more characters, and was overall much lighter in tone.

Once again, Hikaru no Go really is one of the finest shounen series available in English.  There are series I like better, certainly, but I’ll freely admit my tastes run to series that are more over-the-top.  But even then, it’s impossible to deny the charm of the characters and the addictive, dramatic nature that the writing grants to their go games.  It is ridiculous, in its way, but it’s also well-written and it’s an easy series for anyone to get into, not just manga fans.  And I must say, the fact that it’s drawn by Takeshi Obata doesn’t hurt it one bit.

Hikaru no Go 17

October 4, 2009

Yumi Hotta / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2009 – 23 volumes

Every time I read a new, non-Isumi volume of Hikaru no Go, it always reminds me of everything I love about manga.  Quirky subject matter that I get interested in because of characters I care about.  Literally, I love these characters so much that I can sit and watch them play Go.  And love every second of it.  This volume was exciting, sad, uplifting, reflective… everything great about Hikaru no Go.  This series will always stand as one of the absolute best Shounen Jump has to offer, in my opinion, and this volume is a pretty good representation of why.

It starts in the middle of the game between Isumi and Hikaru, and Hikaru has a rather heartbreaking revelation that gives him his second wind.  Randomly, he rushes off to the Go Association and lets Akira Toya know, right then, that he is back in the game.  While this is going on, Kuwabara explains that it takes two to play Go, and that Hikaru and Akira will always need each other to play Go against.  It is one of the most touching moments in the series, and comes on the heels of Hikaru’s revelation, which is also quite touching.

The meat of the story in the volume is the buildup and eventual game between Akira and Hikaru as the first stage in one of the tournaments.  It’s put off because of Akira’s schedule, which gives Hikaru time to play several other pro matches and get people talking about him again.

The game itself is another one of those things that the entire series builds up to.  Akira mentions it himself, but the two have not played each other at Go in years, a fact which comes as something of a surprise since their rivalry is such a major plot point.

The game itself is something of a surprise.  I loved the storytelling technique employed at the end, where the outcome was not known.  The outcome didn’t matter.  With all the buildup that happened throughout the volume, the game was highly anticipated, and it was exciting to watch.  It’s also fun to watch the two boys banter back and forth, mostly because Hikaru is so rowdy and Akira so polite that he doesn’t know how to react.  Their friendship/rivalry is one of the most interesting I’ve come across in any series, simply because they aren’t quite friends and don’t even speak to one another frequently, but still mean so much to each other.

After the game, the last chapter in the book was a dream Hikaru had that was so sad that it actually got a couple tears out of me.  It was pretty blatantly trying to milk sympathy, but all the same, it was extremely effective.

And there you go.  There are all the reasons why Hikaru no Go will always be one of the best Shounen Jump series ever.  The next volume is a volume of short stories starring side characters, and then after that, we get a rather long and, from what I recall, disappointing plot dealing with a Korea/Japan/China youth Go tournament.  I almost wish the series ended with this volume (the proper resolution that I’ve been mentioning for the past several reviews), but all the same, I can’t help but be sort of excited by this last story arc, which might be better if I read it all the way through.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.