story by Yumi Hotta; art by Takeshi Obata; adaptation by Naoko Amemiya
published by Viz; $9.99 US
It’s the final tournament! As set up in the previous volume, Hikaru and two other Japanese players — his long-time rival and inspiration Akira Toya and a brash new guy named Kiyoharu Yashiro — are facing off against teams of young players from China and Korea. It’s not just a battle for the title; it’s a struggle for the future of the game, bringing it more attention internationally and demonstrating whether these young men are ready to represent their countries.
In addition to the obvious competition, there’s another significant face-off in the book. Hikaru has read an interview with Ko Yong Ha, one of the Korean team members, in which Yong Ha denigrates a famous past Japanese Go player. Hikaru is determined to beat Yong Ha for this insult, made worse for him because the departed ghost Sai was a contemporary of the historical figure. However, the team leaders may not choose to pair up the two players in the match. Will Hikaru get his chance to teach the foreigner a lesson in respect, and by implication show that learning from the past is still relevant? Is Yong Ha’s choice to egg Hikaru on (instead of correcting the mistake that originally resulted from a poor translator) the right one?
It still amazes me how visually interesting these talking face-offs and quiet games become under a talented pen, especially with such distinctive faces and expressions. However, after discussing the questionable treatment of female characters in Bakuman earlier this year — that series is drawn by the same artist, Takeshi Obata, as Hikaru no Go — I couldn’t help but notice that there’s all of two women with speaking roles in this book, and each is seen for only a few pages. One is Hikaru’s mother, unsure whether she should watch the tournament since she doesn’t know how to play the game.
The other is a functionary, someone helping organize the games. She comes across as flighty, since she picks who to vote for based on how cute they are (although I have to admit, the quiet young Chinese player she’s fascinated by is drawn adorably) and remarks on how handsome another player is. Later, she fusses at her boss for being nationalistic. Although it’s probably realistic, I miss seeing any female players. The concepts of maturity and how one presents onself explored here would be given new dimension with some women as competitors. Self-possession becomes part of the arsenal of tactics when one’s games are being widely observed and recorded.
I was surprised to note that several of the young players learned another language in preparation for the tournament. That’s a valuable skill that also demonstrates their seriousness of their approach and depth of their dedication. Hikaru still has lessons to learn in being a true professional. His team leader, Kurata, isn’t going to help, since his selfishness and greed are played for comedy relief, although he’s wiser than he appears. I can’t wait for the next book to complete the series and reveal the final winner.