Hikaru and Akira face off in a match that's been years in the making.
What They Say
The match everyone has been waiting for has finally begun! With every move, the game builds with a fevered intensity.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Though it's been over two years since Hikaru and Akira have played against each other, Hikaru has the realization early on into their game that it wasn't a real game since Sai had played about half of it himself, which was one of the reasons Akira became so focused on Hikaru after that since Sai played unlike anyone else at the time. And it started his strong interest in Hikaru, as evidenced through the flashbacks here as we see the way he pursued knowledge of what Hikaru was up to an how he was playing throughout all of it. The rivalry between the two started awkwardly, a lot of it owing to the age of both of them at the time, but now they're both playing full on at true pro levels.
With the series close to ending, it's interesting that they do start talking about the events that are to follow which were done in the manga, namely the larger world context of having a group dealing with Korea and China along with Japan in an under eighteen league of sorts. Mixing this into the match between Hikaru and Akira is amusing since the two would likely become partners in such a thing to represent Japan. The match itself takes a fascinating turn though as Akira starts to see the way Sai played in Hikaru, but it's different in way where it's clearly Hikaru who is playing with the influence rather than Sai himself as Akira had seen through the internet based games. It's a disturbing moment for him that causes him to question his own play a bit so as to try and draw out the real essence of Sai that he wants to play, that he's chased for so long.
It amusing to see how everyone comes to check out their game during the break, a time when both Hikaru and Akira look physically exhausted and even breathing irregularly because of the intensity of it. The board is laid out in an intriguing way that shows a very complicated kind of play going on that impresses those that can grasp it. Both young men have gotten very wrapped up in the game that even when the lunch break does hit, neither walks away quickly as there's a lot to grasp there and take in. Even more so for Akira as he feels ever closer to Sai than before, but it starts to call into question whether Sai was ever real or just a way that Hikaru was able to draw himself out into things in a curious way. I've always liked asking that angle as to whether Sai was real or not since if it wasn't truly real in some way, it paints Hikaru as someone with a severe mental issue that he had and managed to overcome.
There's a whole lot to like here but also some to get frustrated by. The match between the two young men is really good and it paints both of them as having grown quite a lot and now fully on the same level with some variance. On the downside, it introduces the next and final arc of the series with the international competition that was done in the manga but never animated, so we don't actually get the entire story, just the tease of it here. If you focus on this series as being about the journey of Hikaru and Akira to finally playing against each other, with Hikaru having spent all this time trying to catch up to Akira, you can come away satisfied. The game is only half over though and there's still one more episode to go to see what kind of little twists and turns it might take. It's all fun in the end though as watching the growth of Hikaru as a person and a player has been a very rewarding experience and this episode is no exception.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
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