Friday, November 15, 2013

Rewind: Hikaru no Go

My love for sports anime extends to shows that cover other competitive activities - especially games. I've written about Chihayafuru several times, but I watched Hikaru no Go well before Chihaya and her friends graced my screen.

Hikaru, Sai, and Hikaru's rival, Toya Akira
Hikaru no Go is about a boy, Shindo Hikaru, who discovers his grandpa's old Go board while raiding the attic for something to sell for extra cash. Hikaru is twelve years old and has no interest in a strategy-intensive game like Go. But this particular board has trapped Sai, an ancient Go master from the Heian period. He is, for the time being, released from the board, and now Hikaru is stuck with his spirit... and, by extension, the game Sai is so passionate about. And when I say passionate, I mean passionate - Sai gets really emotional.

To review: We've got a young, irreverent kid and an ancient guy who is dead serious about a game with tradition even older than him.

Like many other shounen anime, Hikaru no Go has competition, friendship, and rivalry. There are both serious themes and humor as Hikaru adjusts to his bizarre situation. He matures throughout it, of course. At first, he only plays Go for Sai's sake, but he eventually develops a love for the game himself.

There's physical growth, too. The faces of Hikaru and the other children gradually lose their baby fat over the 75 episodes. The change was so gradual, I didn't realize it until I went back and looked at the first episode again.

I can't remember all the reasons I enjoyed Hikaru no Go. I first watched it before I started to blog or critically think about anime. But one thing I loved was the focus on the game, including its tradition, technical details, and atmosphere. The audience is privy to the thoughts and strategies going through the characters' heads. As I watched, I learned, and I decided I wanted to try my hand at it.

Some of the characters in Hikaru no Go played Go online, so I looked it up and joined a website. I learned slowly, and I started playing on a small, 9x9 board, working my way up to the full 19x19 board. It was fun, but this kind of game takes a lot of time and brain power, both of which are usually in short supply. I had other hobbies and responsibilities, so I drifted away from the game after only a short time. Since then, I've forgotten much of the little I knew. I know the basic rules, but the strategy that goes with it requires more than a little playing around to master. Still, I have a portable Go set in my closet, just waiting for the day that someone in real life will want to play with me.

Now, there were a couple negatives. The animation quality wasn't great at first (I haven't watched the later eps in a long time, so I have no judgement there). And after the credits, there's a live-action bit with a teacher and two kids learning things about Go. It's a jarring addition, especially when we've just finished 20 minutes of intense suspense and strategy. But it's skippable, so there's no real harm done.

Do I recommend Hikaru no Go? Yes. I'm going to re-watch a bit of it between homework this weekend, and I'll see how it measures up now that I've seen dozens more anime. But I think my opinion of it will remain high.

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