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Manga / Hikaru no Go

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Hikaru no Go (ヒカルの碁) is a manga written by Yumi Hotta and drawn by a pre-Death Note Takeshi Obata, originally serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1999 to 2003. It later received an anime adaptation that aired from 2001 to 2003 for 75 episodes.

The story follows Hikaru Shindo, an (initially) eleven-year-old Japanese schoolboy, who accidentally releases the ghost of Fujiwara no Sai, a Heian-era Go master who killed himself, and whose spirit was trapped in a bloodstained Go board. Once released, Sai's spirit posesses Hikaru, because he is desperate to play Go again, seeking to achieve the Divine Hand, the perfect decisive move. Initially, Hikaru plays for Sai, instructed by their mental link, simply to get him to shut up.

A chance game with a kid his age has unexpected consequences for Hikaru and Sai. Turns out that the kid is no piddling Go novice, but Akira Touya, son of the world's top Go master. Shocked that a beginner could beat him, Akira makes it his life mission to figure out who exactly Hikaru is. Things really begin picking up when Hikaru realizes that he might actually want to play too, and begins tapping into his own potential. Just how far can he rise in the world of Go? And can he ever catch up with his eternal rival Akira?

Emphatically does not suffer from the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, in that the identities of the two "strongest" Go players in the world are made pretty clear very early on. Whilst Hikaru meets and plays progressively better opponents as the series goes on, we know that none of them would be a match for the best players of all.

One doesn't even need to know how to play the game to enjoy the series, only an appreciation for strong characters and a compelling rise-to-the-top plot. Playing the game won't hurt, though; indeed, the game received a substantial popularity boost in Japan due to the manga. (Why don't you GO play it!?)

Adapted into a Chinese Live-Action Adaptation here. Note that it had been adapted by the Chinese thus changes made according to culture.

Compare Shion no Ou, which has a similar premise, only with the game of Shōgi instead.

This manga provides examples of:

  • AcCENT upon the Wrong SylLABle: The English dub has all of the characters say "Hee-car-roo" instead of "Hee-ka-Roo" like the original dub.
  • Adaptation Inspiration: With Pragmatic Adaptation thrown in for the Chinese live-action based on the brevity a typical Chinese show has, an hour or so for each episode. Get Over and Bokura no Bouken had been adapted to fit the work. The story beats are still the same, just over a time span.
    • Due to taking place in China, things are changed around. The story is told in flashback form with a Time Skip; the series began after Sai’s counterpart finally passed over in which Hikaru’s counterpart went on the trip. Hikaru’s counterpart actually won one kids tournament when the original never competed in any serious capacity, only a school tournament prior to becoming an insei. The characters are also aged up to high school whereas the original ended where Hikaru should’ve become a high schooler had he not went pro.
    • Speaking of slight expansion, Haze’s Go Club’s counterpart was given a slightly larger role such as a training camp. Coincidentally, Hikaru’s counterpart met Isumi’s counterpart earlier as a result. Ogata’s counterpart was given more screen time including acting as a liaison if drama comes up between the Hikaru Akira dynamic. Notably, while Ogata was interested in Hikaru from the start and did sponsor him, to others, it looks weird and spontaneous, given Hikaru’s current strength. Here, Hikaru’s counterpart actually asked Ogata’s counterpart to be his sponsor to get in and due to knowing him at some level, he did sponsor. Yes, the trajectory is slightly changed in the rivalry due to the Time Skip and more. Akira’s counterpart was still just as obsessed though the minute interaction he even got with his rival just fueled him more. In the original, it was the school match that finally pushed Akira into becoming pro and only interacted with Hikaru through indirect means afterward - except that one time after the online Sai match - until he entered the pro world while it took a good few years for that to happen in the Chinese version.
    • Sai’s counterpart disappeared for a few years until Hikaru’s counterpart decided to fully embrace Go. In the original story, Sai have been with Hikaru every step of the way until the final passing. With this to note, it would make Chu Ying, Sai’s final passing to the afterlife, heartbreaking.
  • Anti-Climax: The end of the preliminaries for the pro exams. Hikaru needs to win three matches to pass. He had lost twice and won twice. Everything depends on this last match... Then Hikaru wins by default. This allows even more tension in the pro exams themselves.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Don't suggest to Akira that you play Go for money, as Hikaru learnt the hard way.
    • If you suggest to Hikaru that Shusaku's style is obsolete, he'll be out for blood.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: The backstory of Sai established that he had also possessed Honinbo Shusaku, a very real top Go player from the Edo period and one of the best in the history of Japanese Go. Essentially every game Shusaku had played was actually Sai playing. The reason Shusaku let Sai do this was because Shusaku himself was especially gifted to the point even as a kid he recognized and understood Sai's immense strength.
  • Beyond the Impossible: Downplayed for a mundane example. Akira playing four different games at once and ending all of them with tied scores. Deliberately achieving a draw with an opponent that is not also trying to do the same is one of the most difficult things to do in Go, and the skill level of your opponent makes no real difference in how hard it is. Akira doing this in four simultaneous games is treated as a superhuman achievement. Sai, of course, goes and tells Hikaru that he thinks it looks fun, and wants to do five or even six.
  • Bland-Name Product: The A-group insei often eat lunch at NcDonald's hamburgers, whose logo is 3/4 of the Golden Arches.
  • Blindfolded Vision: Akira and Go.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: In universe, a plot point in the North Star tournament arc in the manga.
  • Bonus Material: The live-action instructional series "Go Go Igo!", presented by Umezawa Yukari, shown after episodes of the anime.
  • Bowdlerize: In the original Japanese manga, Kaga smokes, but in the anime he chews gum instead due to Japanese broadcast regulations regarding underage smoking. The English version of the manga....flip flops on this note .
    • The Chinese drama adaptation had to do write arounds to hide Sai's counterpart being a ghost due to ghosts being taboo in post-1949 Chinese media.
  • Breather Episode:
    • "Keichou Flowerpots" is a cute, feel-good side story that's chronologically set when Hikaru is in seventh grade, but it aired at the deepest point in Hikaru's Heroic BSoD, shortly after Sai's disappearance. Ironically, it is in the same order as the manga - which has an entire Breather Volume at this point...
    • Double Subverted in "The Fated Encounter," where Sai (in a brief Omake at the beginning of the episode) says that there's going to be another side story episode, this one being a rehash of his and Hikaru's first meeting with Akira, but the latter part actually just him clowning around and trying to pull a Hostile Show Takeover; the episode is about a couple of pivotal games in Akira's Back Story. It does end with Hikaru's first meeting with Akira, shown from Akira's perspective.
  • Butt-Monkey: Akota-san, the Jerkass stronger player from Hikaru's beginner go course, is treated as one several times through the series, where is almost becomes a Running Gag where Hikaru will remove his wig.
  • Cast Full of Pretty Boys
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Kurata 6-dan, an adult professional Go player from the same generation as Ogata, was mentioned a few times as passing references during the course of the series (with his rank improving as the series progresses) before finally making an appearance two-thirds through the series.
    • The series does this with several characters who are either mentioned or shown, but whose name, face, and importance are not put together until later.
  • Club Stub: At first, Tsutsui is the only member of the Go club, and they are usually desperate for more.
  • Combat Commentator: Several characters fill this role. Totally Truth in Television too, since live game-commentry is a common feature of high-level Go.
  • Coming of Age Story
  • Contrived Coincidence: Hikaru challenging Akira for a game on the internet just a few seconds before Akira was about to challenge him. Of course, it's not a coincidence at all since Akira logged in with the express purpose to challenge sai, and Hikaru, while not knowing it was him, challenged him because he found it funny to see someone with a username similar to Akira's name.
  • Cooking Duel: It is Truth in Television that Go is Serious Business, but Sai also plays Go to make a dishonest dealer remove the fraudulent Shusaku signature and in a side story, prevents another rogue from selling fake antique vases.
  • Cool Old Guy: Kuwabara-sensei.
    • Touya Meijin also counts. He's not as old as Kuwabara-sensei, but he's still incredibly skilled at Go, very witty, and a Reasonable Authority Figure when dealing with younger players.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Subverted when Akira is brought to play an exhibition match against a master tournament player, who by tradition is expected to go easy on him. The pro gets miffed when he thinks Akira isn't being meek enough and privately decides to go full out and crush him. Instead he ends up just barely staving off defeat.
  • Cut Short:
  • Determinator: Practically anyone who wants to become a professional Go player has to be one, since it's very difficult.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: At one point, when Akira is leaving school, the attractive older woman from the Go salon arrives to pick him up, mentions that he promised to tutor her, and says she'll serve him coffee and cake when they get there. The other boys all react like he's about to get laid.
  • Dramatic Irony: Ochi, after weeks of receiving Akira's training for weeks, thinks to himself, while playing against Hikaru:
    Touya is standing behind me. Is there anyone standing behind you, Shindou?
    Cut to Sai, who is behind Hikaru.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady:
    • Averted. Although Sai and Akira looks incredibly feminine, nobody in the universe had ever mistook them as females.
    • In an omake in the manga, Yumi Hotta talks about getting fanmail from readers who think Sai is female.
  • Duels Decide Everything: Mostly averted. It's only played completely straight in a single filler episode, where Sai plays go to stop a rogue from selling fake vases. It's also used to force a dealer to remove a forged signature from a go board, but in that situation it's more justifiable.
  • Every Episode Ending: The ending theme start to fade in during the last scene.
  • Everybody Smokes: Almost all the adults do.
  • Exact Words: At one point, Akira must play four simultaneous games against a Jerkass assemblyman and his assistants, and is told that the assemblyman cannot lose for fear of him getting angry. Akira's response? Force all players to a tied game, a nigh-impossible feat that easily cements his skill relative to theirs.
  • Flexible Tourney Rules: At one point, Akira's sempai forces him into playing two simultaneous games blind, and that, combined with one of his opponents playing erratically at best, is too much even for Akira's prodigious ability to handle. Fortunately, another sempai stumbles on the scene and quickly tells Akira to quit playing blind and crush them.
  • Foreshadowing: In episode 11, the head of a go salon says "The only person who'd have any hope of beating Shusaku would be Toya Meijin. That'd be a great match to watch." More than forty episodes later, while Toya Meijin is in the hospital after his heart attack, he plays Sai online. People all over the world log on to watch the game.
  • Gaming and Sports Anime & Manga
  • Gender-Blender Name: Both Hikaru and Akira are frequently used as female names.
  • Gilligan Cut: Hikaru announces that he's totally not going to the Anniversary Festival and waiting for Akari. Of course, at two-o-clock sharp, he's right in front of the gate, complaining that she's not there.
  • Gratuitous English: It never ends!
  • Gratuitous Japanese: The English dub is loaded with Japanese phrases.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Subverted. The series looks as if it was set up to demonstrate the meteoric rise of Hikaru as a talented Go player. However, despite his immense talents with a thousand year old spirit of a Go genius as a teacher, he is never shown to be capable of dominating his rival Akira, who is just as talented as him if not even more, but had started playing much earlier than him. Hikaru himself also works incredibly hard to advance once he starts becoming serious about Go.
  • He's Back!: Hikaru experiences a two-month retirement about two thirds of the way through the series. This is caused by Sai disappearing. He becomes afraid that by playing Go himself, he has caused Sai to disappear. He also suffers a crisis of confidence, and believes that his rival Touya will never want to play against him, preferring instead the now-vanished Sai. This fear prevents him from playing Go for two months, with no explanation given to anyone else. A game with Isumi, however, finally makes him realise that his connection with Sai still exists in his Go, and that he can legitimately continue to play. Upon his return, he is back with a vengeance.
  • Hint Dropping: When Akira requests that he be assigned to the tournament's third board, his teacher says "I will consider it." From a Japanese perspective, that's a fancy way of saying no, but Akira instead thinks he's a shoe-in for the spot he wants, and loses his cool when he's put on first board.
  • Hollywood Board Games:
    • The series is based on Hikaru Shindo, an (initially) eleven-year-old Japanese schoolboy who becomes obsessed with learning and playing Go after awakening the ghost of a Heian-era Go master named Fujiwara no Sai.
    • Tetsuo Kaga prefers to play Shogi but is pretty good at playing Go, too.
  • Hustling the Mark: The owner of a Go salon hires Dake-san to do this to Mitani, after the customers get tired of him cheating.
  • Historical Character's Fictional Relative: Fujiwara no Sai's relative position in the historical Fujiwara clan is never stated other than having sufficient means to dedicate himself to a lifetime of playing Go.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: Anyone ranked below their actual strength.
    • Dake-san, quite literally (though inverted, he is left-handed and usually plays with his right). He actually switches to his dominant hand, showing that he's had more practice then he previously let on. He also starts playing seriously at this time.
    • To a lesser extent, Hikaru's two month hiatus leads to him missing Oteai, leaving his official rank lagging behind his actual one.
    • Sai put a 15-point handicap on himself in the Beginner's Dan Series game against Touya Meijin at Hikaru's request. He couldn't win under such a large disadvantage but the Meijin did recognize his strength.
  • Identical Stranger: In the Chinese Go circuit, Isumi meets a boy named Le Ping who looks exactly like an eleven-year old Waya.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All episodes are numbered as "Games"
  • Japanese School Club: Hikaru and Akira are members of their respective school's Go clubs.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mitani. He's arrogant and a shameless cheater, but Hikaru only accepts him in his school's Go club because they need three members (and even he didn't want to join at first). Later when Hikaru has to leave the Go club, Mitani protested furiously and even threatened to quit, although he is shown to be secretly wishing him all the best.
    • Kaga as well. He's abrasive and rude, but he helps out the Go club in a pinch and is happy to see Hikaru become an insei.
  • Keep It Foreign: In the Korean dub, the setting got changed to South Korea. But when Korea showed up in the series, it got changed to China.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Sayonara, Hikaru.
  • Master-Apprentice Chain: Touya Meijin taught his son Akira, who later took Ochi as his student.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Sai, with an Obi-Wan Moment.
  • Merchandise-Driven: Inverted. Rather than inventing their own marketable game, or licensing a copyrighted game, the creators brought an ancient board game roaring into popularity.
  • Mirror Match: Okumura attempts to stalemate Akira by mimicking every move he makes, starting by taking away the spot in the center board. Akira wins anyway by tricking him into a position where he manages to capture, breaking the guy's strategy. (Which is later revealed to be low-grade and easily countered.)
  • Mr. Fanservice:
    • Sai. Consistently dominated the manga's periodic character popularity polls.
    • Isumi-san actually beat Sai in one poll.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Nase.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Every game of Go is played like a typical sports game, with speed lines, dramatic angles, and important moves glow. Episode 62 takes this up to eleven, since Hikaru is virtually berserk with worry at the time. Every stone Hikaru plays has an echo, and electricity arcs between the stones at one point.
  • Mundane Utility: Having a long-lived ghost in your head is very useful for cheating on a history test.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: After a really ugly loss in the pro exams, Isumi is emotionally wrecked and even loses to Fuku, whose lack of strength has become a punchline by this point. Then when he faces down Ochi, the boy can't resist taunting Isumi about how the loss ensured that he wasn't even Ochi's rival anymore. At that point, Isumi told Ochi to shut up and promptly got his head back in the game for the rest of the tournament.
    • He does it again later on, this time while trashtalking Hikaru. He successfully makes Hikaru believe that Touya has been coming over to teach him a lot (true) and doesn't care about Hikaru at all (very false). Hikaru is clearly brought low by this, but Ochi goes too far, leading Hikaru to realize he's lying, and motivating him greatly:
      Ochi: Touya has recognized my strength. He says he's going to recognize me as a rival if I beat you!
      Hikaru: If you beat me?
      Ochi: Precisely. Though it's only a question of when, not if...
      Hikaru: Beat me?
  • No Indoor Voice: Tsubaki at the pro exams.
  • No Sense of Humor: Touya Akira and Touya Meijin.
  • Passing the Torch: Sai eventually did this to Hikaru.
  • Power Level: Truth in Television, as real Go players are ranked in playing-strength.
  • Power of the God Hand: Not a weapon or fighting technique, but it still counts, sort of: Go plays are called "hands", so all of the high-level Go players (Sai in particular) are looking for the "hand of God".
  • Promoted to Opening Titles: Isumi, Fuku, Waya, Ochi, and Nase after Hikaru becomes an Insei.
  • Public Domain Artifact: Go itself, see above.
  • Recap Episode: "Sai of the Fujiwara."
  • Retired Badass: Touya Meijin
  • The Rival: Hikaru and Akira to each other. The series' epithet for them is even "Eternal Rivals". Other strong Go players' attitude go more along the line of Worthy Opponent.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Discussed and played with. Sai is an almost invincible player, but he wins despite his style being over a century obsolete, not because of it.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Ogata. To a lesser extent, Ochi and Kishimoto.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: When Hikaru tries to take the Insei examination, it transpires that he's already missed the application deadline, and the clerk tells him that the next exam will be in March. Then Ogata-sensei comes in, tells the clerk he'll sponsor Hikaru, and Hikaru is promptly registered for the examination.
  • Serious Business: Most of the characters take Go very seriously, but that is pretty much Truth in Television.
  • Shōnen
  • Shown Their Work: Every important match played in the series is based on a famous Real Life game. The writer of the manga consulted the Nihon Ki-In (Japanese Go Association) throughout, with ranked professional player Umezawa Yukari 梅沢由香里 credited as a consultant to the manga and anime.
  • Slow-Motion Pass-By: Hikaru and Akira have this more than once.
  • Smart People Play Go: Zigzagged. While one must be smart and intuitive to grasp the rules of Go, most professional players forego their normal education, and tend to get lower grades in their studies.
  • Smug Snake: Itō, Kojima, and Okumura, the three students who dislike Akira's presence in the Kaio Middle School Go club, and try to humiliate him into quitting the club by making him play "blind go". It doesn't work out exactly as planned. However, nobody wants Akira in the club. These three are just the most obvious about it.
  • Spirit Advisor: Sai forcefully becomes Hikaru's ghostly Go teacher.
  • Spirited Competitor: Most Go players. Sai stands out because he remains in the world after his death one thousand years just to play more Go.
  • Speed Stripes: Around people placing Go stones.
  • Strategy, Schmategy: Okumura's playing style is unpredictable, because he's so awful at Go. It actually manages to trip up Akira when he's playing blind.
  • Student–Master Team: Hikaru frequently relies on Sai's guidance to win games outside his formal matches.
  • Symbiotic Possession: Sai and Hikaru; Also Sai and Honinbo Shusaku.
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: Akira's go club considers him a disruptive influence because he's significantly better than anyone else there; he's the Heir to the Dojo, trained from birth and on the fast track to professional status, they're ordinary middle school students. Accordingly, a Smug Snake sempai tries to humiliate him by forcing him into a loaded game, and even the more reasonable sempai who rescues him blames him for inspiring jealousy in his fellows.
  • Tell Me How You Fight: Part of what interests Akira about Hikaru ia that Hikaru's go and his personality simply do not match up. He knows that something is going on, but has no frame of reference for what.
  • Tempting Fate: "The Go from [the Edo period] is stupid, it won't work at all these days." Cue a game against Sai.
  • Theme Naming: The names Hikaru, Akira and Akari are all related to light. For more on this, see this essay: [1].
  • There Are No Therapists:
    • Hikaru spends two months suffering from severe depression after Sai disappears. None of the adults in his life do anything about this.
    • Hikaru's mother and teacher do have a meeting about his change in behavior where they express concern (especially his mother), but aren't sure what they can do to help.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Hikaru's prodigious growth as a player is noted by many characters, namely his going from an absolute beginner to a professional Go player in the span of two years.
  • Tournament Arc: The pro exams, and later the Hokutonote  Cup.
  • Tranquil Fury: Shortly after Sei's disappearance, Hikaru is half-insane with worry and playing a game he needs to win quickly so he can get back to Tokyo. His face is locked in a frown, he is completely silent, and yet he's placing stones with less than a second of thinking time and utterly demolishing his opponent. A rare example of Tranquil Unstoppable Rage.
  • Translation Convention: Names of modern characters are placed in Western order in everyday speech but remain in Japanese order when referring to them as competitive Go players (as does Sai's throughout).
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Poor Akari. She follows Hikaru around but he doesn't appreciate her at all. She obviously likes him way more than he likes her.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Zig-zagged with Sai. He's particular Go technique is noted as being outdated compared to modern play styles, but he's still more than capable of overwhelming all but the strongest opponents. As the series goes on, he learns more modern styles of play, firmly cementing him as a Strong and Skilled master of Go that only Touya Mejin even has a chance against.
  • Untranslated Title: But it isn't too hard to guess what it means. If you're interested in the details, in Japan, someone's skill at the game is called 'their Go' ("His Go is strong.") The manga chronicles the growth of... Hikaru's Go.
  • Wham Episode: When Sai disappears.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Early on in the show Akira ask Hikaru about his goals in playing Go, Hikaru nonchalantly talks about taking on a few championships and winning prize money, Akira calls him out and flat up tells him how disrespectful that is towards professional Go Players.
  • What Would X Do?: Hikaru wonders what Sai would do as a mantra when he can't think of anything on his own.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: While some characters are jerks, no one is evil. Sometimes it's even Good Versus Good, when two sympathetic characters have to play against each other (and something high is at stake).

Alternative Title(s): Hikaru No Go