I've been a subscriber to the English version of Shonen Jump since it started up in the States a couple of years ago. Along with Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, Yugioh and other action based manga strips, there was a rather unique series that started early on: Hikaru No Go. When I first encountered it I was a little confused. This wasn't a fighting series, like all of the others were. It was based on the game of Go, a complex strategic game that is the eastern equivalent to chess. Surely there must be a mistake. After reading the first installment though, I was hooked. The series has all of the drama and excitement of it's more violent counterparts while telling a story that quickly hooks the reader. As with many popular manga, Hikaru No Go has been turned into an anime show, and the first volumes are now being released in the US. Like the manga, the first volume is all you need to get hooked.
In the Heian era (about 1000 years ago), Fujiwara-no-Sai was one of two Go teachers who instructed the Emperor in the fine points of the game. One day the two instructors played against each other to see who would be the sole tutor for the Emperor, and Sai lost after his opponent cheated. Unable to deal with the disgrace and having no other skills, Sai took his life.
Jump to the present day where a young boy named Hikaru discovers an old go board in his grandfather's attic that has a brown stain on it. The only thing is that no one else can see the stain. When Hikaru tries to clean the board and get rid of the discoloration, he hears a voice in his head...the ghost of Fujiwara-no-Sai.
It's been 150 years since someone with the same passion for the game of Go has touched the board that Sai's spirit is trapped in. Now he's raring to play the game again. The only problem is that Hikaru has no interest in the game. He's a slacker who gets poor grades and has never played Go.
After Sai pesters him enough, Hikaru goes to a Go club and lets the ghost play a game Sai tells Hikaru where to place the stones, and the boy follows his instructions. Unfortunately Hikaru challenges Akira Toya, son of the reigning Go champion of Japan and a boy who is planning on becoming a professional player soon...and Sai manages to beat him with ease. The budding professional can't believe another child his age beat him without breaking a sweat, much less one who has never played the game before. Now Hikaru has a rival, one that doesn't realize that he actually has little skill.
This is a fun show that works just as well as the manga does. There's a fair amount of humor, especially with Sai discovering all of the new things that have been invented since he died. The story of Hikaru learning to play the game himself and his rivalry with Akira is the meat of the show though and this plot is able to hold the viewer's interest and keep them coming back for more.
One of the nice things about this show is you don't have to know anything about Go in order to enjoy it. They mention the basic rules over the course of the program, and there are Go playing tips for youngsters at the end of every episode, but you can easily follow the plot even if you don't know the difference between a komi and a star point.
The animation is about average for a TV show. There's a fair amount of detail, but not a lot, and the movements look natural and smooth. This isn't a show with a lot of impressive battle scenes, so the images aren't astounding, but the style fits the tone of the show.
This show comes with the original Japanese soundtrack and an English dub, both in stereo. I alternated tracks while viewing the disc and preferred the original language over the English track. Some of the English voices were a little exaggerated and unnatural sounding, especially those of the minor characters. Both tracks were free of defects and sounded nice and clear.
The full frame image looked pretty good overall. The colors were bright and solid, and the lines were clean and strong. The only real problem was a fair amount of aliasing that appears throughout the show, especially when the camera pans across the grid of the go board. Aside from this defect, the show looks good.
There are only a few extras on this disc. First off is a "Know your Go" glossary which defines some Go terms and gives brief biographies of historical people mentioned in the show. There is also a 20 image art gallery, a preview of the manga, and a clean opening and closing.
Even if you've never heard of the game of Go before, this is an entertaining show. Filled with light humor and an engrossing plot, the show is easy to get hooked on. A fun show that's worth viewing. This disc gets a strong recommendation.