Hikaru no Go, Volume 1: Descent of the Go Master

~written by Yumi Hotta
~illustrated by Takeshi Obata
2000 Shogakukan Manga Award Winner
2003 Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize Winner

Hikaru no Go, written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata (who is also the artist for the very popular manga series Death Note), is one of the first manga series that I made a point to collect in its entirety. I had first borrowed Hikaru no Go from my local library, but less than half of the series was available there. But I was so impressed by what I had read, I went and bought myself a complete set of Hikaru no Go, all twenty-three volumes. I was pleased when Hikaru no Go was selected for the December 2012 Manga Moveable Feast because it is a series that I'm quite fond of. I'm not the only one, either. Hikaru no Go received a Shogakukan Manga Award in 2000 and was later awarded an Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize in 2003. Hikaru no Go, Volume 1: Descent of the Go Master was originally released in Japan in 1998. Viz Media first serialized the manga in issues thirteen through sixteen of Shonen Jump before publishing the collected volume in 2004.

While scavenging through his grandfather's attic, Hikaru Shindo comes across an old go board which he hopes he can sell for some extra cash. Instead, he finds that he must share his consciousness with the ghost attached to the board, Fujiwara-no-Sai, a go master from the Heian period. Although Sai died long ago, his spirit lingers on due to his great love for the game. Even in death he strives to play the Divine Move. But for some reason, he's stuck with Hikaru, a sixth-grader with absolutely no interest in go. But Hikaru isn't a bad kid. With the right kind of encouragement--namely Sai agreeing to help him out with his history classwork--Hikaru is happy to allow Sai the opportunity to observe and even play a few games of go. And Hikaru can't help but be impressed by the intensity of the players he sees, some who are even younger than he is. A spark has been lit in Hikaru. He started paying attention to go for Sai's sake, but now a small part of him wants to play for his own.

Hikaru no Go has a great, engaging story, but it's Obata's artwork that really brings everything together. At it's very core, Hikaru no Go is a manga about a boardgame. Now, I personally love games, but I still wouldn't necessarily think that they would make a compelling subject for a manga series. Hikaru no Go shows that they can. Obata's artwork captures the excitement and drama surrounding go and its players with effective and cinematic panels and page layouts. The character designs are memorable and distinctive without resorting to caricature; even the individuals in groups and crowds each have their own look. Obata also adds some nice touches to Hikaru's design, often incorporating the number five (pronounced "go" in Japanese) into his clothing choices. And I love Sai's design, too. He can go from elegant to adorable at a moments notice.

One of the greatest things about Hikaru no Go is that it requires absolutely not prior knowledge of go to enjoy the series. To be completely honest, almost everything I do know about go I initially learned from reading Hikaru no Go. The series even inspired me to give the game a try. Hikaru himself is a complete beginner at the start of the manga. But Hikaru no Go also reveals the "tenacious perseverance and hard work" that is required of players who are serious and passionate about go. The series is even supervised by Yukari Umezawa, a professional go player holding the rank of go-dan at the time of the publication of Descent of the Go Master. As Hikaru learns more about the game, so do the readers, but the technicalities and rules of go never overshadow the story and characters of Hikaru no Go. The series really is a lot of fun; even having read it before I still enjoy it immensely.

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