Hikaru no Go Vol. #01 (of 19) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, December 27, 2005
What They Say
With a two-tone hairstyle and a streak of immaturity, Hikaru Shindo finds an old Go board with a hidden surprise - trapped within the Go Board is Fujiwara-no-Sai, the ghost of an ancient Go master! In the blink of an eye, Sai becomes part of Hikaru's consciousness and soon begins to learn the true essence behind this ancient game of skill and strategy.
When the spirit of a long dead Go instructor resurfaces in modern day Tokyo, a whole new world opens up to a young boy who can see him.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series has a fairly standard stereo mix with a lot of the show being focused around dialogue as opposed to action effects or even all that much music. Both play into the show well at times with various effects but they're not dominant. The dialogue however is nicely done with plenty of placement due to the nature of Sai's voice effectively being able to come from anywhere. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions with either language track.
Originally airing back in 2001, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The source materials for this show are in great shape which has resulted in a very good looking transfer here that is essentially problem free. During regular playback, the only area where we could really find much issue on our setup was during some of the angled panning sequences over the Go board where the numerous close lines started to shake a bit which is essentially just a product of NTSC. Beyond that, the show has some very vibrant and strong colors in key places and maintains a solid real-world style color scheme that helps to highlight the more unusual aspects that come into it. This is a very good looking transfer overall and very easy to get into.
Retaining the same logo as their manga release and just tagging it at the top with Shonen Jump's name, the cover for the first volume very much looks like it could have been mistaken for a manga release and that's not a really bad thing. The style used here is to provide a few shots of the lead characters we get to meet in this volume so it's a mix of Hikaru and Akira a well as a nice softer version of Sai behind them that brings in a mix of color but also keeps to the main colors of the game of Go with blacks and whites mixed around. While it may not be the most eye-catching of covers, it's one that will attract the manga readers. The back cover brings in the logo again at the top and has a brief summary of the shows premise and lists the episodes and titles. Between that and the discs features (and obvious plug for the manga) there are a few bubbles of shots from the show. The bottom portion goes for a heavy credits listing and some basics in the copyright and required logos but no technical grid. The insert for the release has a softened image of a Go layout while laid on top of it is the episode list with their corresponding chapters. The reverse side is a big push for the Shonen Jump magazine and the various graphic novels.
The main menu is nicely done with a mixture of animation and static pieces. The main static image wraps around an oval along the right side where clips and stills from the show play out. The left side brings in the series logo and as close to an action pose as you can get with Hikaru and the Go pieces while next to him below the clips is a board load with pieces on it and each of them being set next to a navigation selection. The layout is very easy to navigate and the style used is very much in theme with the show and looks solid. From the menu, you can perform language selections easily and each can be toggled so you can get English language with English subtitles, or turn subtitles off, but what is really bothersome and is either poor authoring or inane license restrictions is that you cannot change subtitles on the fly. This feature is locked out and locked out features that are considered basics of the format is simply wrong. I hope Viz is able to revisit this in the future.
A small but good selection of extras make their way into this first volume. The best one is that there's a brief but useful glossary/liner note section that covers some of the various terms and retained Japanese words as well as a few Go concepts. This is followed-up with a section of sketches and storyboards as well as the clean opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the popular manga, Hikaru no Go proved to be popular enough in anime form as well as it ran for seventy five episodes. Between it and the manga, it created something of a new wave of Go fans and players in Japan and received acclaim overseas as well for the positive image it spun out while also keeping true to the kind of dedication and intensity needed to really become a pro in this very tough game. People were leery at first about whether a game of Go could be interesting enough to carry a manga, never mind an anime, but amazingly enough both of them pulled it off incredibly well.
The concept behind the show is simple and the basis is given to us within the first couple of minutes. It's almost a bit too much exposition up front and just a bit awkward in general, but this is just to get us to the good stuff. Hikaru, a sixth grader whose not terribly focused on his school studies, is scrounging in his grandfather's attic for something to sell so he can get some money after being cut off on his allowance due to poor grades. He and his friend Akari comes across an old Go table and figure they can get some money for that, but Hikaru can't seem to get rid of the blood stain on it. A blood stain that no matter how hard she tries, Akari cannot see. And just as suddenly, there's a voice that only Hikaru can here and he finds himself introduced to Sai.
Sai, a most amusing light hearted and happy pretty boy, was once one of two Go instructors to the emperor back in the Heian era. He lost his position and gave up on his life after the other instructor set things up to disgrace Sai. His passion for Go however kept his spirit bound to this world and it wasn't until almost a hundred and fifty years ago that he was able to find someone with passion similar to his that he was able to appear in front of them and guide them in the game. But that didn't last long and only now with the arrival of Hikaru has Sai been able to reappear once more. Hikaru's not terribly interested in Sai or the game of Go which he knows absolutely nothing about, but he finds there are uses to Sai when he's taking a social studies test and Sai was apparently able to observe much of history. The two find a need for each other and Hikaru repays him by playing games.
Hikaru's luck is incredible as the first person that he ends up playing in some random Go salon for Sai turns out to be Akira Toya, the son of the great Meiji Toya who like Sai is close to playing the Divine Move. Akira's the same age as Hikaru but he's essentially a pro having been taught by his father so he spends his days playing and learning as well as doing teaching games for adults. He takes on Hikaru in a friendly match and Sai's first match in a hundred and forty years gives Akira an incredible challenge but also shows just how much Go has changed over the years as Sai is unaware of new rules and procedures. But what this opening round shows is that watching the game of Go as done here can be very engaging. The game is pure strategy and forward thought which can be viewed in a sense like some shows where the focus is on large scale battles such as Banner of the Stars or Legend of Galactic Heroes but taken down to a pure strategy session. The intensity and mental back and forth between the two players and Sai has a very strong similarity.
The game against Akira starts Hikaru down a path where he and Sai come across other competitions and people that start binding him to a group that sees him as a challenge and worthy adversary. For Hikaru, the best thing is that while he starts off with zero interest in Go, the more he plays for Sai the more he learns and the more he wants to prove that he can do it himself. He finds himself in a position to play against some of the greats of the time and while he doesn't realize it at times, it gives him an incredible edge. The first volume plays through a surprising number of games and they do some interesting methods for it in showing it, sometimes skimming through a game while other times going move for move. Also rather neat, the end of each episode has a brief light-comedy live action piece with a Go teacher showing a couple of kids some of the basics. I can imagine many people wanting to get their hands on a set after watching this as I know both my wife and I were ready to at the end of this volume.
Viz's release of this title is very good overall but there are some quirks and issues that make me once again lament that they have an anime title. It's like ninety percent of what they do here is fantastic but that ten percent left over can overshadow that. With this being the first release from Shonen Jump video I was glad to see that the SJ logo isn't being overly pronounced. I wasn't too keen on the change in the opening credits that "Hikaru no Go was originally published in North America Shonen Jump" since the phrasing seems to indicate it was published here first and gives no mention of its Japanese origins, which is silly since it's very much obvious a Japanese show. They just need to remove that "originally" piece and it'll make sense. The end credits for the release are strange as well as they've taken the shortcut of listing probably the first twenty episodes worth of credits so they don't have to update episode by episode. This again puts Viz in the category of a company who seems to reluctantly release anime and can't seem to play by the standards everyone else does. And while it doesn't bother some, I still find it incredibly annoying that they don't subtitle the songs.
But the biggest problem in the long run with this release as everything above really doesn't affect the core content of each volume is that the release is on a three month release schedule. That means it'll take almost five years to get this series finished with its nineteen volumes. This series really should have been done the same as Fighting Spirit with five episodes and just over a two year release schedule. With three months between volumes it's going to be ignored by a number of people who will rather wait for box sets or "season" collections instead. It's also easy to simply forget about the show after awhile with this kind of release schedule.
When I first picked up the manga on a whim, Hikaru no Go completely surprised me and had me hooked. That release is moving just as slowly as this one will be but it's such an engaging storyline with fun characters and plenty of growth to it that I can't help but be drawn back to it. This first release under the Shonen Jump Home Video line gives me hope overall for some more solid releases but there are some issues with it that make me cringe in the long term. In the short term, this is a spot on great first volume and a series that I cannot recommend enough for checking it out. The show has so many good laughs, emotion and characters that will appeal even to those looking for their bishie content that it can cross several different kinds of fandom. This is the kind of diversity in anime that needs to be done more and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Go Glossary,Storyboards & Sketches,Clean Opening,Clean Closing
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Hikaru no Go