Seriously, You Should Watch This
It’s incredibly rare for a show to follow its characters over the course of several years, really letting you see how they grow and develop. That’s exactly what you get with Hikaru no Go. If I had to compare the 2001 title to anything, it would be March Comes in like a Lion, but where that show is about the game of Shogi, placing more emphasis on events outside the game, this is about the ancient game of Go with a more traditional sports anime format. Spanning 75 exciting episodes, you’ll find yourself deeply invested even if you don’t know a thing about Go itself.
Hikaru no Go is about a young boy named Hikaru. He’s your typical 6th grader and has never even given the game of Go any thought. However, one day he stumbles across a Go board in his grandfather’s attic and gets possessed by a spirit of the past, Fujiwara no Sai. Only Hikaru can see Sai, and what starts as a way to exploit the spirit to help him with homework, quickly becomes a coming of age story with all the trappings of a hero’s journey on the side.
Before I get too far into talking about Hikaru no Go itself, let’s discuss a few other things first. Go is considered the world’s oldest board game that is still played today. It is also, by far, one of the most complex. Yet, the rules are deceptively simple. Your goal is to amass territory in order to score points while protecting your stones from being captured by the enemy player.
You might think an anime totally about the game would require you to know a lot about it, but trust me, you don’t. If anything, it will actually provide a few basic lessons as Hikaru learns them himself. Of course, you are certainly going to be lost a bit when games are shown to you unless you have experience with the game, but it is less about the games themselves and more about the importance behind them.
There’s a kind of energy that you just can’t help but get swept up into. This is the hallmark of any good sports anime, you shouldn’t really need to know everything about the game, to generally follow along and understand the importance of the individual matches themselves.
If you do want to know more about Go and learn to play it yourself, I’m actually going to leave the first video in an excellent series below. While this is not required viewing, I would recommend it because after watching this show you will probably want to give Go a try yourself.
In fact, Hikaru no Go was responsible for a fairly big influx of new young players when it came out. Both the manga and anime are used as recruitment tools by the American Go Association, and I can easily see why. Even the BBC did a news story on it, which I found surprising.
The other thing we need to cover is how I even decided to watch this show in the first place. Normally, this isn’t really a super noteworthy discussion, but here I think you’ll get a little extra insight on both the show and myself, so I wanted to be sure to mention it up front.
I’ve been vaguely aware of Hikaru no Go for a few years now actually. However, I have never really been a sports anime fan. I just don’t connect with those kind of shows, even if I should in theory. It’s not like I played any sports in the past, at least not seriously, but I can relate to the effort and sacrifice that goes into them.
Still, for that reason it was something I tucked away. Despite all of the praise that is heaped at both the anime and manga, I wrote it off as something not for me. If you’ve been around here much, that’s something I just don’t really do. Outside of really not caring for ecchi content, I’m pretty much open to anything.
Even putting this aside, there was another hurdle that stopped me from even considering Hikaru no Go at all, and that’s availability. The show is only on Hulu in North America or on Amazon. If you go the Hulu route, you get sub or dub, and is probably the best way for anybody to watch the show. Amazon only has the dub, and you have to pay for it. Totally worth it, but as before now, I wouldn’t have thought so.
In the past I didn’t always have Hulu access and obviously shelling out a good chunk of change on Amazon wasn’t something I was super excited about, even when I had money to spare. These were fairly large obstacles to getting to watching the show.
Two things changed though that lead to me finally watching Hikaru no Go. The first being that I watched March Comes in like a Lion. This got me really excited about watching more content that was similar because I LOVED that show. When I know I like something, that goes a long way into further discovery for me.
It was then that I was reminded of Hikaru no Go. While reading reviews and learning more about March, I noticed that, occasionally, a few folks would make reference to this other anime. Having been already a bit familiar with Hikaru, I decided to do a little more investigating.
Ultimately I came to the conclusion that I needed to give this anime a shot. It sounded like I would get a lot more than whatever my prior notions had me to believe. This was later proven true when watching, but we’ll get to that in just a bit.
Where to watch though? I did say I was able to see that Hulu and Amazon had it, but the way I discovered that was actually in a more roundabout way. When I still had Prime I did a big sweep of the anime that Amazon had and put together a list of shows I wanted to make sure to watch. This task took a lot of time itself, but it also got me wanting to investigate something else.
You see, Amazon still has some older anime licensed that you just can’t get anymore. Sometimes you can stream those shows for free, like Darker than Black if you have Prime, and others you have to pay for. Hell Girl is a good example of this, though you can’t buy it now, I was able to when the series has long been out of print.
Naturally, I was curious as to what shows they had in this department as well. I tend to do a dumb amount of research on things that really just don’t matter, and this was one of those times. However, it lead to the Hikaru discovery. There wasn’t much else of note, but it reinforced this idea that I should really watch the show.
The rub came in when I saw how expensive it was on Amazon. While I do own the whole series now thanks to careful budgeting, and help from others who wanted to watch it with me, it wasn’t really feasible for me beforehand. Google was the next step, and that’s where I made the Hulu discovery!
Hey note from future me here, you can also watch the show on Viz’s website (sub or dub) by clicking this sentence. I didn’t realize that when I was writing the article and just learned that a bit earlier today.
I explain this whole process because a lot of effort went into me just deciding to watch this show, as well as a lot of things were necessary for me to even put it on my radar. That means the show really needed to be good, because if it wasn’t, I was sure to be unhappy about it. Don’t be like me, seriously, I’m telling you that this is worth your time. If you need more convincing read on, but if you trust my opinion at all, just go jump into it.
Finally we are ready to actually talk about the show in some detail now. Still with me? I want to get the “negatives” out of the way first because I don’t have many and they are more little niggles than anything else.
This is a kid’s show to some extent, so the plot is often very predictable in ways that don’t detract from its enjoyment though. Example, Hikaru is going to be fighting a “random” opponent in a tournament only to wind up fighting a friend. Who could have seen that coming? Thankfully, as I said, this never detracts from the show but it is kind of a goofy element that may pull you out a bit.
When it came to OP’s and ED’s, they were serviceable, but the last OP felt super out of place. It is this happy upbeat pop song when the characters are kind of at a low point in the story. This comes off as a gross mismatch, even if things do pep up a bit for the finale.
I watched this dubbed, and while the acting is generally pretty good, there were a few hilarious lines or localization that a less seasoned anime fan probably wouldn’t notice, but I did and I found it to be a little distracting. Never in key moments, mostly just side stuff that honestly didn’t matter.
Early on, Hikaru is kind of extra in how he treats Akari, his childhood friend. I didn’t like that since it made him hard to relate to and root for. He does really mature though, so thankfully this isn’t a big deal and acts as a necessary aspect of the story.
Finally, this leads me to the fact that there are not a lot of female characters in Hikaru no Go. They quickly get put in the “token girl” corner. Akari does get a decent amount of attention early on, and again at the end, but that’s about it. One character, Asumi, was so forgettable I literally named her “Token Girl Character” because I couldn’t remember her name at all.
This isn’t to say that the female cast is bad or the show is hating on women or something, it just is very clear that the anime, I don’t know about the manga, simply didn’t have time to give them as much attention as they needed to be more active in the story. Really, that’s it for negatives. Now I just want to tell you all about the cool parts of the show. Don’t worry, I will do my best to keep this as spoiler free as possible for you!
What I was most impressed by in Hikaru no Go is that you get to go on this long journey with the characters. Some come and go, but you get the sense of a lived in world. You also get to see multiple characters grow and develop. This is most obvious in Hikaru, but really, you get to see it in a majority of the cast.
I open up with this point of praise because there aren’t any time jumps or misused time when portraying all of this. Hikaru goes from pretty bad to almost as good as Sai, likely the best Go player in history, with the implication that Hikaru will soon surpass even Sai. When I think about a lot of anime, there just aren’t many shows that really allow things to breathe like this.
All the while you are learning about Go, seeing the work and dedication that the players put into the game. A sticking point is when Hikaru arrogantly suggests that, he as a new player, should get into playing Go professionally and make a ton of money because it would be “easy”. With Sai on his side, it probably would be.
However, Hikaru’s rival, Akira becomes righteously angry because it dismisses all of the work and sacrifice each player really has to make. This is something that happens very early in, but it is an important moment. Never is anything portrayed as easy for any of the characters, they have to earn it.
Speaking of Akira, the rivalry between Hikaru and him is a big driver of the plot. It all begins with Akira chasing Sai through Hikaru but soon the situation becomes reversed as Hikaru begins to chase Akira. Rivalry is a key aspect of any competitive activity, it helps both parties become stronger and improve. It’s like having a constantly moving goal that motivates you.
These basic ideas are interesting on their own but you also have Sai to factor in. He’s a ghost so he can’t interact with the real world, except through Hikaru. All Sai wants to do is play Go but an interesting dynamic develops as a result of the previously mentioned rivalry.
Hikaru slowly stops letting Sai play games through him. Part of this is that it brings unwanted attention to Hikaru. He’s not as good a player as Sai (at first) and that does present an issue. The other part is that Hikaru develops a genuine love for the game and wants to test himself as much as possible.
Sai acts as a mentor for Hikaru during most of the show and as they both grow together you really see the value in having this kind of relationship. Even though Sai is so vastly superior to Hikaru initially, Sai still learns a lot from him. There’s this idea of passing knowledge down through the generations instead of hording it for yourself that I like.
You even see it outside of Sai and Hikaru. All of the pro players in the anime help each other. While it is true they are all competing, without study sessions and game reviews, both sides would suffer. By boosting each other up, they all benefit and become stronger as a result. This is true to life, but perhaps not something we always think about.
Think about it. If we applied this same mindset to things other than sports or games, then society as a whole would benefit. It’s an interesting prospect at the very least. In ways, it reminds me of what Liar Game was trying to say, but it is presented in a more convincing manner here.
Eventually, the time does come for Hikaru to stand on his own. The concluding episodes have a lot of power to them. Hikaru doesn’t want to let go of Sai, but he needs to. It’s not that either of them want to part ways, but Hikaru needs to be able to proceed without the crutch.
I really want to talk about this particular aspect in more detail, but I also don’t want to spoil anything. It was an excellent conclusion, that while it does leave a few loose ends, thematically things are completely tied. If there were a complaint in the ending it would really only be that I would have loved more.
A point of praise to the animation here. Earlier when I was talking about seeing visible growth in characters, I wasn’t joking. The characters change over time in believable ways visually. More impressively though, was how accurate all the Go games were animated. What I mean by that is, they didn’t lose track of stones when changing camera angels or anything, it was impressive!
There is a room for a lot more, and based on the manga, it is obvious. Due to some production problems though, the show was forced to stop where it did, and in spite of that, I can’t help but be impressed. Unlike a lot of endings of this nature, there is a lot of satisfaction to be had, even in this.
As an aside, I do want to mention that some folks might find it slightly irritating how “unfocused” the ending seems to be. You have these fun side story episodes and a whole B plot running alongside the tense ending, but if you give this any thought, you’ll quickly realize it is with purpose and does add to things. However, that probably won’t stop you from wanting to know faster how things turn out.
I should probably talk about the supporting cast a little bit. The most prominent players are Isumi and Ogata. Let’s focus on Isumi first. He’s somebody who has struggled to become a pro for a long time but constantly falls just short each time. You get to spend a lot of time with him, somewhat surprisingly.
In another show, he would likely be your protagonist. If you looked at a Jump protagonist for any story like this, he’s practically a poster child. Smart, a little taller, a little older, handsome features, black hair, etc… he fits it to a T. I found his journey to be compelling. When he suddenly becomes the forefront of the show, it is a little confusing at first, but when it all comes together it is satisfying.
Ogata, on the other hand, is already a pro player, and a very good one at that. He takes a special interest in Hikaru, along with a lot of other people, creating some additional tension in the story. He talks about the “new wave” that will take over the game of Go soon, and believes that Hikaru and Akira will be a part of it.
Without Ogata putting faith in Hikaru, the plot just wouldn’t go anywhere. I’m struggling to really convey the weight this character has on the show without spoiling things, but it was clearly very well thought out. To me, Ogata was a pitiable character though.
In spite of his success and place of prominence in the story, he’s often portrayed in this unglamorous light. He has this cool guy veneer that makes him appear positively, but once the cracks start showing through, you realize just how fragile this guy is. Maybe I’m reading into him a bit too much but Ogata never came off as someone to root for, but you’d find yourself doing so anyway.
Earlier this week in my Nadia review I talked about recap and how that show did a great job at it. I wanted to give Hikaru no Go some credit for going 75 episodes without a single recap episode. There were little recap bits at the start of episodes, but it never wasted my time. That is really impressive and gets a lot of respect from me.
There is a lot more that could be said when it comes to Hikaru no Go but we’re already at 3,000 words at this point so I should probably wrap things up. We’ll be here all day otherwise… These 75 episode pack a lot in and the payoff is very much worth it. I’m even interested in reading the last few chapters of the manga.
I know I’ve kind of hyped this show up a fair bit here, but I am fairly passionate about this one. It was a lot more impressive than expected, and something so many folks just don’t talk about. Seriously, you owe it to yourself to go check it out, manga or anime. You will not regret that decision if this sounded even remotely interesting.
Have you seen or read this one? What are your “lost to time” anime and manga recommendations you wish people were more enthused about? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. If you enjoy my writing, please support me via my Ko-fi by hitting the button below. Finally, thank you for sticking with this longer than normal article, and I hope to see you again real soon!