Hikaru no Go: All Systems Go!
It’s the middle of the night. You and I are standing on a dock in pitch darkness, about to get our first look at the breathtaking exterior of one of the world’s largest ocean liners—and we have only a miniature flashlight to shine on it. Aaaargh!
This nightmarish scene pretty much sums up how I feel as I try to write about one of my favorite series, Hikaru no Go
by Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata. How are we going to get a proper look at this vessel before my little battery runs out?
Well, actually, before we get started I have a confession to make. Hikaru no Go is the reason I’m here working at the manga’s American publisher in San Francisco. It’s a long story, but I’ll make it quick.
I first read Hikaru no Go in the manga magazine Shonen Jump in 2004. Back then it still had stories about ninja and pirates as it does now, but they shared the page with shamans, alien martial artists, underworld detectives, and a pointy-haired fellow known as the King of Games. It was quite a mixed crowd. One manga in particular stood out for me, because to my mind it was sneakier than the rest. By that I mean it looked so ordinary and so realistic that it made you wonder how it belonged with the others, and yet Hikaru no Go turned out to have everything the other series had: otherworldly characters, friendship and rivalry, hair-raising duels, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat—all told from the point of view of a kid who’s just trying to get through school. I read chapter 2 in the magazine and got swept away. I remember thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be great to work at SHONEN JUMP and be the editor of the English version of Hikaru no Go. About a year later my dream came true!
So Hikaru no Go and I have a bit of history, which makes me a little reluctant to sum it up in 600 words. In the most basic sense, it’s the story of a sixth-grader who stumbles onto a haunted Go board (a board on which the ancient game of Go is played) and suddenly finds himself forced to share his consciousness with the spirit of a genius player named Fujiwara-no-Sai. Sai died hundreds of years ago, and has been trapped in the Go board, except for a brief time when another boy let Sai inhabit his soul. That boy eventually went on to become the top Go player of the Edo period (1600–1868). Sai’s presence in Hikaru awakens his natural talent for the game, and the two begin the simultaneously thrilling and grueling journey to the world of professional Go. Along the way, they meet Go players from all walks of life and witness their struggles to prove themselves—something that Hikaru comes to understand all too well.
There’s a whole lot more to the story (the series is 23 volumes in all), but I won’t spoil it for you other than to say that when the series begins, Hikaru is in the sixth grade, but time passes and he grows up just like everyone does, only to discover that there’s more to life than he expected. In fact, if you’re one of the fortunate people to have read the series in the original Japanese, then you already know that Hikaru no Go is much more than anything I’ve described so far. I really hope that you’ll take a moment to give this manga a try, because it’s the only way for you to find out what you’re missing!
-- Yuki Takagaki (Editor, VIZ Media)