Hikaru no Go Vol. #04 - 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: A-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Viz Media
  • MSRP: 24.95
  • 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. #04

By Chris Beveridge     September 26, 2006
Release Date: September 26, 2006

Hikaru no Go Vol. #04
© Viz Media

What They Say
With another tournament between Haze and Kaio in the books, Hikaru continues to strengthen his game against his fellow teammates. But when Hikaru stumbles onto Internet Go, he gives Sai a whole new outlet for channeling his love for the game and a place to challenge Go Players from New York to the Netherlands!

Contains episodes 13-16:
A Personal Resolve
The Third Match
The Ghost in the Net
Who Is Sai?

The Review!
Finally taking up the game once more against Toya, Hikaru and the rest of the Haze team put forth their best efforts.

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.

The cover art for this volume is quite good as it gives Sai the center of attention while Hikaru plays out his piece but also in how it brings in his opponents through the floating digitally designed Go boards. The mixture of the colors and designs really looks good here. The background of the Go board itself is good and they surprise a bit by giving up so much of the top part of the cover to black space. 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 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)
Only at the fourth volume and the series feels like it's come so far yet still has a ways to go. Hikaru's efforts have him playing leaps and bounds ahead of where he was when he first sat down at the game but he still has an immense amount of distance to go yet. This is definitely in his favor as a player but for those around him it continues to be almost downright infuriating. But that anger covers Hikaru's tracks in a sense since they cannot see how far he has truly come, only the shadow of what Sai has done to them.

The growth of the Haze team over the last several episodes has been interesting to say the least and it's now come to the time where there efforts have to really shine. But the past is still haunting them as Yuki's time as a cheater is apparently more well known than they thought as it comes up before the matches start. Yuki's competition in the Kaio captain is amusing since he has that smooth and cool demeanor around him which really puts Yuki at a disadvantage as he's surprisingly easily swayed by it. But the real tension comes in when Toya finally arrives and he's practically aggressive and adversarial towards Hikaru over the match. Though the three matches we get to see here aren't done in great detail, it's fun to see the tension and near anger in Toya's face as he feels like he's being continually insulted. This is really nice paralleled by Yuki's frustration over an opponent who is definitely stronger than him not even breaking a sweat.

To say the matches go as expected would be an understatement and having them go that way is the right thing to do. Instead of having a group that continually wins in even the most adverse situations, we have something closer to reality. This is particularly important for Hikaru as he's really trying his best to learn the game and its nuances and is doing so well at it. But he can go only so far so quickly and keeping that bit of reality about it instead of letting him shoot to the lead of the pack is far better. I could easily see this in lesser hands having him face off Toya's father in some sort of series finale match, but that wouldn't harness the real strengths of the show.

What does happen though, and I'll admit that to someone like me who has been online for as long as I can remember, is the show takes a really interesting turn into the Internet world. Hikaru's finding that it's so hard to let Sai play through him in public because it puts him in situations like the one that he's in now. When he "discovers" the Internet and the ability to play Go online without giving away any sense of himself, he's found the perfect outlet for Sai. Even for this taking place back in the early part of the decade, games like this had been going online for quite some time and I'm sort of surprised that someone of Hikaru's age even has to ask questioningly about the Internet. It's simply so pervasive in so many devices even back then in Japan that you are sort of taken aback. Even more so when seeing it (or reading it in the manga) for the first time in 2006.

This avenue allows Sai to play a lot more through Hikaru since he's able to camp out at an Internet Café that Yuki's older sister works at. The anonymity of it lets him play to his full strength and as long as he doesn't write back to anyone or comment during the game then he just comes across as a very aloof pro player. The timing for this is interesting though as he starts in just before a big international series of Go tournaments taking place in Japan and Sai strikes a chord with a number of very strong players around the world. With players coming from all over to participate, many of them have the secondary goal of finding out who exactly this player is. It's the series of coincidences and small nods here and there that starts the cycle of it becoming a much more connected event and watching it all unfold as Hikaru unknowingly just plays along is both fun and engaging.

In Summary:
Hikaru no Go continues to be a real treat of a show that is still challenged in a pair of ways for me. The first continues to be the slow pace of release but that is now changing with the next volume as it looks to be going bi-monthly. The other is that I started reading the manga beforehand so a lot of this feels like déjà vu and I'm finding that the manga really plays a lot more smoothly than the anime. But when shown to those who aren't aware of the schedule or haven't read the manga, it's a show that has captivated across genders and ages. Even for myself, having seen much of what's to come already, I still sit glued to the set when it's on and look forward to seeing how closely they follow it and what deviations they do make. Plain and simple, Hikaru no Go is one of those rare series that actually takes something that the bulk of people would find uninteresting to watch as a non-participant and makes it exciting.

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

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray 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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