story by Yumi Hotta; art by Takeshi Obata; adaptation by Naoko Amemiya
published by Viz; $7.95 US
After the turning point of the last book, Hikaru has given up on go as a way of punishing himself. His former classmates and competition don’t want to let him leave, though, seeking him out to find out what’s going on, since he disappeared without giving anyone a reason.
Meanwhile, Isumi is playing demonstration matches in China. Isumi previously left his go club after struggling and failing to pass the test to become a professional. His story parallels Hikaru’s journey by demonstrating how many different paths there are to becoming a champion. Isumi’s dedicated to improving his game, even staying in China on his own to continue studying and playing against the country’s strongest players, students whose whole lives revolve around the game.
For true pros, the game is not about winning or losing but about doing one’s best. Players must set aside worries about competition and strive for their own satisfaction in the game they play. Self-control brings focus. Plus, they’re constantly learning from games others have played.
Isumi’s most difficult struggle is against himself; he must learn to have confidence in himself and to appraise his own abilities and skills honestly. I found this lesson one I could take to heart myself in recent days, the need to believe in yourself and overcome your own weaknesses. Isumi has found the challenge he needs — one that will stretch him without overwhelming him. It’s scary but it’s something he can succeed at if he doesn’t lose heart.
The art is firmly in the manga tradition: lots of head shots, big eyes, spiky hair, and determined expressions, but it’s beautiful in its clarity and detail. It’s easy to read but rewarding if the reader pays close attention to the scenes. (They’re filled with background detail, keeping the settings clear and the characters grounded.) I’m astounded that people sitting at game boards can be so interesting, but their figures almost vibrate with the intensity of their passion.
It’s also impressive to note how much of this volume is dedicated to exploring a character other than the lead. Although I barely recalled Isumi when I started, by the end, his quest meant almost as much to me as Hikaru’s did, and I appreciated the chance to learn more about an older player. As the book ends, Isumi and Hikaru are preparing to play each other. The game has importance to both of them, marking major changes in their lives, and the execution is immensely touching.