story by Yumi Hotta; art by Takeshi Obata; adaptation by Naoko Amemiya
published by Viz; $9.99 US
The young players began preparing for the upcoming international tournament in Book 20, playing matches to determine who will represent Japan. The game begun between Kiyoharu and Hikaru started in shocking fashion, with non-traditional moves on both sides. Kiyoharu has fearless energy, and Hikaru responds in kind. We were left at a cliffhanger, wondering which of the two would win and thus secure a spot on the team.
Of course, we’re shown the outcome here. Along the way, I found myself feeling sorry for Ochi, the bespectacled player with a bowl cut and an inflated opinion of himself. He wants attention, but his skill alone won’t draw the notice he craves when Akira is already a pro and Hikaru has the desire and creativity. He’s so mean and curmudgeonly, even at such a young age, because he feels overlooked. If he spent some time facing outwards, helping others instead of focusing only on himself, then attention would come back to him in proportion. But there’s no one to give him that lesson. However, because he’s so self-confident, he can’t stand to be doubted, and it’s his over-developed sense of honor that provides a surprise changeup to the team.
One of the adult observers captures a key point of the series, why it’s so enjoyable to watch these young competitors, while explaining why they may be threats even to seasoned professional players:
Adults know their limits and learn to work with them. Kids don’t know what their limits are, so they’ll try anything. Combine that with serious skill, talent, and focus…
And I had a unique insight into why youth is both potential and threat. I was also reminded why I wish I still had the energy of those times — combined with the experience of adulthood, that would be unstoppable. Unfortunately, by the time you have one, you’ve lost the other. Youngsters don’t realize (or aren’t stymied by) the potential risks of trying new things.
Once the team is assembled, it’s time to face off against the Korean and Chinese team. But first, Akira and Hikaru take time for some practice matches against each other. That’s the second lesson I took away from this volume, that having a good rival, someone who challenges you even though you disagree, is an excellent way to keep yourself sharp and improve your skills.
I barely noticed, while reading, how much Hikaru has grown up since I started reading about him — and that includes visually. He’s no longer a little boy, but a young man. He’s still cute, but a bit more gangly. I’m very impressed by Obata’s linework, and the detail in the backgrounds of all the go cafes and tournament rooms. I also liked Hikaru learning enough about differing circumstances to appreciate the support his mother gives him in his competitive struggles.
In one way, though, he’s still young, and that’s demonstrated by his demonstration of pride, similar to Ochi. Hikaru is all fired up about the tournament because one of the Korean players is thought to have insulted a famous historical Japanese go scholar. That’s a distinct contrast to Akira’s father. One of the best living players, he’s retired and traveling to other countries to compete on an amateur level — the game’s the important thing to him, you see, not history or rankings or location or national pride. He’s seeking the perfect game, remembering the echoes of his play against Sai. (The publisher provided a review copy.)