Hikaru no Go Vol. #02 - Mania.com

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Mania Grade: B+

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  • 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
  • MSRP: 24.99
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Hikaru no Go

Hikaru no Go Vol. #02

By Chris Beveridge     May 03, 2006
Release Date: March 28, 2006

Hikaru no Go Vol. #02
© Viz Media

What They Say
Spurred on by the arrogant Tetsuo and the nervous Kimihiro, Hikaru is pulled into the new and exciting world of Go Tournaments. The only problem is Hikaru isn't even old enough to play!

As if the pressure of getting caught and playing in the tournament weren't bad enough, Akira Toya's got Hikaru on the run, eager to catch up and defeat this Go-playing upstart! Can Hikaru and his teammates win it all before their cover is blown?

Contains episodes 5-8:
An Inkling of an Awakening
A Game of Beauty
I'm not going to play you!
Rainy Day Strategy

The Review!
Hikaru continues to grow as a Go player and Sai starts to see more sparks of a real player appearing underneath.

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. With playback on the HD DVD player a new quirk emerged. As 4:3 material is forced into a window box mode, there were a few instances during the four episodes where on the right side there was a shimmering couple of lines that would appear briefly and disappear. On a standard 4:3 TV this is off the screen and not noticeable. It's reminiscent of some of the problems with older traditionally animated material where the gutter would be seen sometimes. It's not a major problem but it was a brief distraction.

Bringing together a few different shots again which make up the three players of the new team, the front cover is again very busy looking with the large logo and the surprisingly large volume number along the bottom. The character artwork in the middle looks like it's being squashed from both sides and fairly cramped. The overall pieces used in the layout are good with the numerous Go pieces but the execution isn't holding up too well. 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 another of the manga preview sections.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Hikaru no Go hits up its second set of episodes and the enthusiasm and addictive nature of the show kicks in right away even though it's been several months between releases. As hard as it would seem to be, a show about people putting pieces on a board manages to become rather engaging, something that you'd never think would be possible. This set of episodes lets Hikaru take more of the center stage as he learns to play more for himself and less by reliance on Sai.

Hikaru's growth as a go player is one that's neat to see since as we see from how Sai watches him that there's some big potential to him deep down. Now this isn't exactly a surprise since Sai was drawn to him and it's easy to make the leap that the two are drawn together because they'll eventually help each other, but seeing those moments is fun to watch. The opening of the volume where he tries to recover from the mistake against the Shogi player shows just how much he's picking up along the way while when he's actually at the tournament we get to see just how impressive his memory is when it's working through something that he's interested in. While it's treated as something every good go player can do, I can't imagine being able to replay a game that someone else was playing piece by piece. That's just plain impressive.

The initial tournament that takes place is fun to watch since it again shows just how outclassed most of them are against the regulars that are playing in it, Hikaru especially, since he's just unaware of many of the basics. While his amateur status is really shown for all to see, the sparks that make up his interest in the game become something displayed in an almost poetically beautiful way as the board takes on the shape of open space and the black and white pieces become space and stars itself. It's a moment where you can almost really feel the reverence and love for something as expressed by someone else in such a manner. The tournament doesn't have too much in the way of real surprises to it but it works towards bringing the main couple of characters closer together and letting Hikaru realize that this is definitely something that he wants to pursue and enjoy. And that's the real key in that he's having fun.

Hikaru's challenges for the rest of the volume tend to come from trying to form the club at Haze so that they can partake in more tournaments which means trying to find more members since their stand-in from the Shogi club isn't going to do this regularly. It's a slow paced affair that's more of a backdrop in the second half of the volume as the main focus is more on the fairly dramatic and tense moments at the Kaio middle school where Akira has decided to join the Go club there so he can compete against Hikaru at some point. His arrival in the club, which is something that the school principal is all in favor of as well as the class advisor/teacher, brings a lot of tension since it means one of the seniors in the club will lose their position on the team since it can have only three people to it. It mixes in some basic school politics and age related angst that's not surprising. What is surprising is just how many people are in the Go club at the school and how much interest there is. I can't remember any club or activity during my school days, particularly at that age level, where even half the number of people were interested in participating.

The series manages to look good even though it seems like it's on a budget sometimes since they do simple movements of hands and pieces being played which surely helps keep the costs down overall. But a lot of the scenes look really gorgeous and stand out strongly against the rest, typically scenes with Akira or Sai as they get long views about how emotional they're feeling about things. The show has a good bright color palette to it which gives it a very lively feel that balances out well against the stark nature of seeing so much action on the board with the black and white pieces. The series is well animated but it's also the kind of series where the animation is more towards simple movements and facial expressions, so it doesn't have to deal with big action sequences.

In Summary:
Similar to a number of sports titles that I never thought I'd find myself watching never mind enjoying, Hikaru no Go brings the game of Go to the table and makes it fascinating, engaging and simply fun to watch. It's more than just the game of course because without the characters it'd be pretty dull but the setup for the series and its execution based off of the manga is just spot on and little wonder that it's so easily accessible. As much as I enjoy the show though the releases continue to be flawed, between the extra month between each volume or the locked nature of the subtitles. The show draws us in but the release keeps feeling like it's pushing us away instead. It's almost worthwhile to ignore the series for a year or two and buy it all up at once or wait for a possible box set just to avoid the large gap between releases.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Go Glossary,Storyboards & Sketches

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Toshiba HD-A1 Progressive Scan HD DVD player 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.


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