Hikaru no Go Vol. #11 (of 19) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Sunday, November 25, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What They Say
As the pro test reaches its climax, the weaker players are left behind and the battles between the top contenders begin. While Isumi struggles to recover from his losing streak, Waya faces pressure from his sensei to keep winning and make pro this year for sure. And Hikaru, who's distinguished himself as a player to beat, must face Ochi, who's already achieved his pro spot and is determined to defeat Hikaru no matter what!

Contains episodes 41-45:
Three Weeks isn't Enough!
The First to Pass
Hikaru vs. Waya
Comeback from the Brink
Hikaru vs. Ochi

The Review!
The final rounds of the finals are underway and the pressure only gets more intense for the core group of Insei.

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 returns us to the lead characters as it features Shindo and Ochi together while the oversized image of Akira is in the background, one that's definitely looking a bit older. To really throw off the design, a burst sticker for Toonami Jetstream is on the plastic itself and not on the shrink wrap. 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)
Hikaru no Go makes an interesting bump up to five episodes which in turn manages to be quite the tease in terms of the actual story. The five episodes here keeps the show moving right along, even with the numerous quick recaps at the start of each episode, and the Pro Exam Finals inch ever closer to being finished. With it taking over three months to go through though and that it's been over two years since Hikaru embarked into the world of Go, this is actually moving rather well.

The final matches are now underway and everyone is feeling the pressure. The previous couple of rounds have had various Insei really testing their skills and emotional balance, with some of them succumbing to all of it. Hikaru had a bad run briefly which through him off balance and even Isumi has found himself not dealing well with all the pressure. Each of them has to find a way to bounce back in order to claw harder towards victory but there are so many people going for it that it's becoming increasingly difficult. This is even more true for those that aren't considered the cream of the crop as the top ranked players are holding on firmly to their positions. Most frustrating of all is that Ochi has basically secured his position early on and is guaranteed a spot. That has everyone else fighting over the other two open positions even more fiercely.

While the majority of the time tends to focus on Hikaru, whether it's his training with Sai or the brief bouts with Ochi and others that are trying to get to him, we do spend more time with the varied cast this time around. As the matches become more serious due to past wins and losses, seeing the fallout on others becomes a regular occurrence. With it's Tsubaki or Honda or even Nase, they're facing their futures with great uncertainty now since trying again means another year. For some, like Tsubaki, that's not even an option after this and he does his best to try to impart his desires and goals onto Hikaru. The relationship between the two may not be fleshed out much, and there really may not be much to it, but it's small things like that which really help to make this a fuller show.

Some of the best material in this comes from Ochi however, or at least in his presence. With his assured position as a pro now in place, he only has a few matches left to go but is intent on winning all of them in order to maintain the best record for this particular exam. He's also been given quite a few things to think about with his final match with Hikaru, something that he's having a hard time coming to grips with based on how some of their Inset competitive matches went. But as he's seen Hikaru go through the motions in the pro exam and upon hearing feedback and experiences from others, he's becoming concerned about it. What's really driving him though is that Toya continues to see Hikaru as his main problem rather than the up and coming Ochi. Bringing Toya in to teach him is difficult for Ochi but the long term benefits are there since he gets to place a wager of sorts with him about the final match.

That match, of course, concludes with the next volume. Such teases!

In Summary:
The bump up to five episodes thankfully doesn't make this volume feel longer than it should be, partially because the core part of the episode outside of all opening, closing and other fluff is under twenty minutes. The Pro Exam has been a lot of fun to watch since there is more pressure here than in any of the other matches so everyone is handling it differently. The previous installments of it weren't quite as tense as this since it was just the start of the exam, but now it's getting even more intense as you wonder how it's all going to close out. Essentially, everything that's made this show so enjoyable since the start is still here and it has me on the edge of my seat as it's getting closer to its conclusion. The next volume cannot come fast enough!

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: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Hikaru no Go