Hikaru no Go Vol. #10 (of 19) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, October 04, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What They Say
Hikaru kicks off the pro test with six straight wins, but whether he can keep up his streak is the question when he faces his friends and fellow insei in head-to-head battles like none he's seen before! And one of the top contenders, Ochi, is getting some pointers from none other than Akira Toya, whose reasons for tutoring have little to do with Ochi and everything to do with Hikaru!

The Review!
Keeping its focus squarely on Hikaru, the pro exam is underway and the stress of it starts to get to everyone.

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. This set of episodes seemed prone to a bit more line jitter, often coming just before scene transitions, which proved to be rather distracting. Beyond that, 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. Otherwise, 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.

The design of the cover continues to dominate this series and this volume brings in the supporting cast to flesh things out. With Shindo's three main Insei friends him, it has a rather dark feeling to it with the amount of black in general. To make matters worse, a burst sticker for Toonami Jetstream is on the plastic itself and not on the shrinkwrap. It's like they're just trying to find ways to make the cover look even less appealing. The style and design is decent though with the large size logo it all looks a bit busy and cramped. 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 had hoped that Viz would fix this in the future but apparently it's something that they cannot do; the insert with this volume provides a bit of text along the bottom indicating that you cannot change the subtitle tracks on the fly with your remote. That likely removes incompetence as the reason for it and puts it in licensing restrictions which really doesn't make sense since you can still manipulate them to get what you want, just not on the fly.

A small but good selection of extras makes their way into this 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 another of the manga preview sections. New to this volume and rather welcome is a clean version of the opening and closing sequences as they changed recently.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Now past the halfway mark, Hikaru no Go is edging ever closer to another key moment of change in the shows direction. Hikaru has been working hard to make it through the pro exam and has made a lot of good friends there that have helped him grow. But the exam itself is a test that will let three people progress to the next level while leaving the rest behind. Each of them is driven to be part of that group but not all of them will make – if any of them even make it.

Though the show does have a good deal of tension and pressure to it, there are some light moments that really highlight the entire situation. The most amusing part comes from the revelation to Ochi that Waya and Isumi had been taking Shindo to Go clubs in order to help strengthen him and teach him about the Go world at large. Ochi is rightly shocked that the pair would help a competitor, particularly as a real challenge is ahead of them with the pro exam. Isumi is actually unbalanced by this reaction and starts to wonder whether it was a good thing to do at all. He and Waya have certainly benefited from playing alongside Shindo as we've seen but at the same time they started to see Shindo's natural genius at Go which will give them a real problem.

The exam takes up all four episodes on this volume and doesn't conclude with it. The secondary stories with the existing pros is pushed to the side and given a casual mention here and there as others in the exam room are talking about it. The focus on the exam itself has some light moments as it brings back in some of those from back from the qualifying examination such as Tsubaki. The bearded older player was quite the foil for Shindo since he unnerved him quite a lot but Shindo has taken a lot of what he learned from the Go clubs in handling loud and strong personalities. He's gain some solid confidence through all those games but without any kind of cockiness to him. It's something that everyone seems to acknowledge as he's not the same player that they've known before. This is harder for some to digest than others though.

One of the main focal points of these episodes beyond the matches that run over two months is the character of Kosuke Ochi. Ochi is one of the genius kids at the school who is excellent at Go but doesn't have the proper social skills in order to fit in without seeming superior. With him being younger than most of the others and coming from a wealthy family, he doesn't seem to have any or want any friends while there and is just focused on passing the exam. His intent is to make some serious waves in that realm by tackling Toya first and getting past his real rival and onto bigger and better things. His meeting with Toya is amusing however since Toya is only interested in hearing about Shindo. That sets him at odds with Shindo whom he sees as little worthy of even being at the actual pro exam.

Across these stories there are some great moments and solid games played. It's interesting to see how everyone is falling into place – expected and unexpected – among the friends and other competitors. Shindo's growth as a player is certainly evident in his skill at the game but it's his personal growth that's really come a long way. His dealings with Tsubaki is one of the most obvious areas since he's not intimidated or afraid of him. Isumi is another interesting one to watch as the pressure of the exam is starting to get to him and when combined with the things he's done with Shindo he starts to question what he's doing. When he makes the worst move he could as a Go player, it just spirals out even worse for him. While not entirely unexpected since you know not everyone would progress, Isumi is the kind that you wouldn't normally suspect.

In Summary:
Hikaru no Go is moving right along and is at a point where it's all going to change dramatically soon. If Shindo makes it through the exam then he's into the bigger life of being a professional go player, one of the elite in a big new world. If he fails then it's going to challenge him in other ways. What's proven most disappointing about the series in the last several volumes is the minimized role that Sai has played. He does manage to have some solid scenes here as he deals with Shindo's losses but he's not at the same level of interaction that he once was, whether it was playing through Shindo or gaining notoriety on the internet. In the end though, I'm still fascinated by a show about Go and the characters that play them. Very recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Go Glossary Storyboards & Sketches,Clean Opening,Clean Closing

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3 via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, 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: B-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Hikaru no Go