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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing how a manga about a BOARD GAME can be so compelling, 16 April 2010
This review is from: Hikaru No Go, Volume 1: Descent of the Go Master (Paperback)
Finished being published in 2003, created by Takeshi Obata (art), known for his works on Death Note and Bakuman and Yumi Hotta (story); Hikaru no Go (English: "Hikaru's Go") is one rollercoaster of a manga.

Go, the main focus of the story is an ancient tactics game that originated from China approximately 3000 years ago. A complex game, much of the equivalent to Chess and is commonly known to be played amongst the elder generations.

This is where Hikaru no Go comes in. Taking the youth by storm and literally turning the Go world around, it takes a presumptively boring game which only `oldies' are thought to play and incorporates it into a teenager's manga. And it's no one trick pony as to how it popularizes Go practically overnight.

The story is simple; Hikaru is plummeted into the world of Go after Sai, a spirit from a Go board takes residence in his consciousness. Through Sai Hikaru starts taking an interest in the game. Sai (by dictating moves to Hikaru) beats the child prodigy Akira. Thinking it was really Hikaru who had beaten him, Akira starts chasing down Hikaru - starting an epic battle and rivalry for many years to come.

The story is, in essence, realistic. Not the part about Sai taking place in Hikaru's mind and whatnot but the part about Hikaru starting off and remaining for a long time, a mere amateur. So he doesn't start off like everyone else, what with a spirit starting off his passion, but his progress and journey from amateur to pro is. Even with the supernatural element the story still remains realistic, because that element is very minor.

In most shounens the main character has a lot of natural talent and always seem to beat every major opponent that endangers his honour or him becoming the best, however Hikaru has or does neither. He isn`t the best during the course of the series, loses a LOT of games throughout it and just isn't annoyingly fabulous like most shounen protagonists.

How it manages to run for 191 chapters on a story that is supposed to be all about Go isn't a wonder either, because it DOESN'T just focus on Go throughout the whole saga. There are many games shown throughout the series, yes, but also keep in mind that it is also a drama.

And what a drama it is.

Character relationships and character themselves play a big part in the drama aspect. One important character relationship is Sai and Hikaru. Teacher and Student. Friends. They may be forced to be stuck with each other but it becomes apparent that they value each other companionship. Yumi Hotta's clever manipulation of this pair brings the reader to some level of wrenched heart as you progress through the manga, as you would assume this goofy pair would always remain a comedic goofy pair.
The rivalry between Akira and Hikaru is another splendid character relationship present throughout the manga. It's an awkward relationship. They don't like the other but they don't dislike them either. They're rivals but to an extent they also become friends. It's an admirable rivalry, possibly up there with L and Light's rivalry from Death Note. From the age of 12 to 16 and probably for the rest of their natural lives they are completely obsessed with chasing the other's shadow, trying to beat them. They're eternal rivals. The other's existence becomes so important to them because without the other, Go becomes boring for both.

Art critic or not there's no doubt that Takeshi's Obata is extraordinary. The art is so realistic it's hard to remember that HnG is only a story, as it is as if the whole thing is brought to life. Even the most minute detail is there - from backgrounds to the clothing patterns to the design on the shoes. The most amazing thing again about the art is Hikaru and Akira (and every other character who started out as a 12 year old at the start of the manga). As aforementioned, the story starts from when they're 12 years old till they're 16, so when you read the manga you literally see them grow right before you, volume to volume - which adds to the "coming of age" part of the story. They become taller, their baby fat thins, and their jaw and shoulders become more defined. Not only do they grow height wise, but also in maturity. Character development is another excellent part of HnG. Every experience brings forth a lesson for these characters, every volume shows a little difference in their character. Hikaru may have started off as a naïve, ignorant and somewhat insensitive little boy but no way does he end like this.

The fact that the characters develop physically and mentally adds sentimentality to the story. You feel a part of their lives. The reader can't help but feel things for the characters when they have conflicting inner struggles and resolves or even for the outside battles.

The other characters in the HnG family are fantastic; do not be fooled that this is just about Hikaru and Akira. Every character is important -- all carrying their own personalities, struggles and values. Of course with it being a manga about Go, most characters would be Go players; though this does not necessarily mean that they are only shown before the Go board. Moreover, the fundamental characters aren't just kids. There's a wide range of ages in characters -- from as young as 10 years old to as old as 60. Surprisingly, these adults are just as common to see in HnG just as much as the kids -- especially in shounen this is certainly a rare see, since adults either seem to extinct, easily disposable or unimportant in them. There's even a broad range of nationality: Koreans, Chinese, Germans, Americans etc. showing that Go is an international game enjoyed throughout the world.

What surprises most readers is the exceptional emotional drama, which isn't as strong in the anime. Although the anime has done an excellent job in sticking with the manga storyline the intensity, feelings, atmosphere and drama is far beyond that of the anime version. It is almost a wonder how a manga about a board game can manipulate a person's emotions so well - it can have you laughing, annoyed, moved, feel sad and (if you're a bit of a softy) cry.

Knowledge of Go is irrelevant when reading this. Most foreign readers do not know what Go is when they start. However, inevitably the reader will want to know and learn about Go. Filled with inspirational messages along the way, great characters, development and bonds, realistic stories and quite questionably, exciting games it's no mystery as to how it managed to sell 22 million copies in Japan alone and even stir up the Go world in other countries around the world.
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