First released in Japan in Shueisha's Weekly Shōnen Jump in 1998, Hikaru no Go achieved tremendous success, spawning a popular Go fad of almost unprecedented proportions; it received the Shogakukan Manga Award in 2000 and its creators received the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2003 for the series. Twenty-three volumes of manga were published in Japan, comprising 189 chapters plus 11 extra chapters (see Omake). The anime series, which was created by Studio Pierrot, ran for 75 half hour episodes from 2001 to 2003 on TV Tokyo, along with the 77-minute extra New Year's Special that aired in January 2004.
In January 2004, the manga series debuted in the United States in the English languageperiodicalShonen Jump published by VIZ, now VIZ Media. In 2005 it was announced that VIZ Media also has the license to the anime. Hikaru no Go Volume 1 DVD was released on December 27, 2005. A Hikaru no Go "Sneak Preview" DVD (first episode) was released in the January 2006 issue of Shonen Jump (Volume 4, Issue 1) to subscribers. Hikaru no Go aired on ImaginAsian TV in the United States. It premiered on the online streaming service Toonami Jetstream on July 14, 2006. In the April 2008 issue of Shonen Jump, it was revealed that this was the last chapter to be published in the Shonen Jump magazine. As of May 2011[update], all 23 volumes of the graphic novel have been released in the US. The entire anime series can be viewed on Hulu.
The same basic storyline is followed by the manga and anime, with a few small changes between the versions. While exploring his grandfather's shed, Hikaru stumbles across a Go board haunted by the spirit of Fujiwara-no-Sai, a fictional Go player from the Heian era. Sai wishes to play Go again, having not been able to since the late Edo period, when his ghost appeared to Honinbō Shūsaku, an actual top Go player of that period. Sai's greatest desire is to attain the Kami-no-Itte (神の一手) – "Divine Move" – a perfect move. Because Hikaru is apparently the only person who can perceive him, Sai inhabits a part of Hikaru's mind as a separate personality, coexisting, although not always comfortably, with the child.
Urged by Sai, Hikaru begins playing Go despite an initial lack of interest in the game. He begins by simply executing the moves Sai dictates to him, but Sai tells him to try to understand each move. In a Go salon, Hikaru defeats Akira Toya twice, a boy his age who plays Go at professional level, by following Sai's instruction. Akira subsequently begins a quest to discover the source of Hikaru's strength, an obsession which will come to dominate his life.
Hikaru becomes intrigued by the great dedication of Akira and Sai to the game and decides to start playing solely on his own. He is a complete novice at first, but has some unique abilities to his advantage; for instance, once he has a basic understanding of Go, he can reconstruct a game play by play from memory. Through training at Go clubs, study groups, and practice games with Sai, he manages to become an insei and later a pro, meeting various dedicated Go players of different ages and styles along the way. While Hikaru is at this point not yet up to the level of Akira, he demonstrates a natural talent for the game and remains determined to prove his own abilities to Akira, Sai, and himself.
Although the anime generally followed the manga's plotline, faithful readers of the manga were disappointed that the last arc was not aired. Where the anime ended, the manga continued with Hikaru planning to enter the Hokuto Cup, an international tournament for under-18 Japanese, Chinese, and Korean Go professionals. As the highest-ranking under-18 pro, Akira qualifies for the tournament, but Hikaru has to compete in a series of games to become one of the three Japanese competitors. His friends Waya and Ochi also enter the qualifying matches. He meets Kiyoharu Yashiro, a player from the Kansai Ki-in (Western Go Institute), whose style is as strange and offbeat as his own.
Hikaru, along with Akira and Kiyoharu Yashiro, are selected to represent Japan, while Suyong Hong (a Korean Go player who was beaten by Hikaru earlier in the series) and two others represent Korea and three of Shinichiro Isumi's Chinese friends represent their country.
The captain of the Korean Go team, Ko Yong Ha, is interviewed and his remarks translated for Japanese viewers. The translator makes an error which causes it to appear that he is disparaging the skill of Honinbo Shusaku, who, like Hikaru, was possessed by Sai. Although Ko Yong Ha later finds out, he refuses to correct the error and instead emphasizes it when he realizes that it enrages Hikaru, who takes it as a direct affront to Sai. Considering both achievements and skills, Hikaru is still slightly under Akira. Therefore, their team guidance, Atsushi Kurata, choose Akira to be the captain. However, Hikaru wants to play against Ko Yong Ha, which is the captain in Korea, in order to show him that Sai is the most skillful Go player in the history. Atsushi Kurata granted Hikaru's request when they play against Korea in the tournament because he sees the burning spirit in Hikaru. At the end, Hikaru loses by only half a point. Japan eventually comes in last, behind Korea and China. But the Japanese team impressed both professionals from China and Korea because they did much better than what was expected.
At the end of the game, Ko Yong Ha asks Hikaru for his reason for playing Go. With tears in his eyes, he answers with the line "To link the far past, with the far future". The hidden meaning of this line indicate the links and emotional relationships between Sai, Shusaku, and Hikaru. However, no one understands the context of this line besides Hikaru.
A bonus story set shortly after shows two inseis who are ranked 14th and 16th in the group were discussing whether Akira Toya or Hikaru Shindo were stronger. In the Young Lions tournament, they are each paired with Hikaru and Akira, making them change their minds about who is stronger. In the second round, Hikaru and Akira are paired against each other and begin a match, but the conclusion is unknown.
The plot of the manga "Hikaru no Go" revolves around the Japanese Go world. Several of the manga's prominent characters hold Go titles. The title holder is then called by a combination of their name and the title they hold. In the case of a multiple title holder the most prestigious title they hold is used. The 7 major titles mentioned in the manga are Kisei, Meijin, Honinbō, Jūdan, Tengen, Ōza, and Gosei.
Hikaru no Go is published in English in Shonen Jump magazine, and in individual graphic novels. Viz Media also licensed the anime and contacted The Ocean Group to produce an English voice dub. The anime was shown in English on ImaginAsian TV to USA residents and the first 72 episodes were available for streaming on Toonami Jetstream. DVDs are also available from Viz, although only 10 volumes were released (covering 50 episodes) before they were canceled due to low sales. The remaining 3 English dubbed episodes not released to either DVD or streaming were finally released when the series was put up for download on iTunes in February 2011. The manga is unedited in the Shonen Jump version and the manga chapters that can be read on the Shonen Jump website. Unlike the earlier Shonen Jump versions, instances of cigarettes are removed from the Hikaru no Go graphic novels so that they can be labelled as appropriate for everyone. For instance, the cigarette that Tetsuo Kaga puts on a Go board is changed to a wad of chewing gum in the graphic novel. Other changes include removal of clothing designs (e.g. vol. 5) and actual trademarks.
The cigarette habits were edited in 2005 Shonen Jump editions along with the graphic novels, though not all were caught before translation. In Volume 2, Sai communicates his outrage about Tetsuo's "dirty cigarette" (graphic novel vol. 2, p. 9), and in another edition Sai says "He put his gum out on the board!" and in another panel Tetsuo is shown in the background smoking. As of September 2006[update], references to cigarettes and smoking are prevalent in the version seen in Shonen Jump.
Similar changes were made when it was adapted as an anime, inside Japan.
Names are in Western order (first name before surname) except for Fujiwara no Sai's.
Hikaru Shindo(進藤 ヒカル,Shindō Hikaru?) - The protagonist. At the beginning of the series, Hikaru is a sixth grader in elementary school. An important factor in the development of Hikaru's passion for Go is an encounter early on in which Hikaru becomes the rival of Go prodigy Akira Toya. At first, he thinks that Go is just for old folks and he is annoyed at Sai's demand to play, but little by little his passion for Go increases as he plays more and more. From being a member of a school Go club to becoming an insei and finally a professional Go player (at 14 years old) a year after Akira, Hikaru matures throughout the course of the series. Throughout the series, Hikaru gets older in age as both the manga volumes and animated series follow him from 6th grade to high school. Hikaru is often portrayed wearing clothing having the numeral "5". This is a pun on the Japanese word for five: 五, which is pronounced go. Part of his strength is his ability to read far into the game very fast, and to make seemingly stupid moves, which, in fact, lure the opponent to playing what looks like the obviously correct move, which Hikaru then uses against them. He is voiced by Tomoko Kawakami.
Fujiwara-no-Sai(藤原佐為?) - A spirit from the Heian era of Japan and mentor of Hikaru Shindo. Once the Go instructor to the Emperor, Sai continually plays Go, his goal being to one day play the divine move (also known as the Hand of God or Kami No Itte). In the manga and anime, Sai's ghost had possessed the real-life figure Honinbo Shusaku who became a renowned Go player. Sai holds a rivalry towards Koyo Toya (a.k.a. Toya Meijin) and through Hikaru persuades Koyo Toya to have a game with him. His wish is realized when Koyo Toya accepts the challenge and plays a game through the Internet. After the legendary match that ends with Sai's triumph by the narrowest margin (a ½ point), Hikaru discovers another move which would have turned the game around. Witnessing Hikaru's maturity, Sai comes to feel that his one-thousand-year time in the world is going to end without his fulfilling his wish of obtaining the divine move; but he reasons that perhaps he was fated to awaken and teach Hikaru, who might obtain it in the future. A few days after the game with Toya Meijin, Sai suddenly disappears as he feared he would. Hikaru was dozing during their last game, so he could neither terminate his last match with Hikaru nor say goodbye to him. Sai is gone, leaving Hikaru depressed and wanting to quit the game. When Hikaru plays Isumi, Hikaru realizes that he will continue to play Go, for Sai lives on in Hikaru's Go. Extremely effeminate by today's standards (as is appropriate for a high-born Heian man), Sai is often drawn with traditionally feminine features and mannerisms. Yumi Hotta has joked about fans mistakenly calling him a "she" in the "intermission" pages of the manga. Sai's extremely emotional behavior is also proper for a Heian male; he sometimes cries copiously in chibi style (usually in an episode introduction), soaking his long sleeves with tears, which in his own time would be respected as a sign of intelligence and sensitivity. His name Fujiwara suggests that he is related to a noble family of extremely high prestige in the Heian period, the Fujiwara clan. Sai has a high sense of honour, abhorring cheating and bullying. He is voiced by Susumu Chiba.
Akira Toya(塔矢 アキラ,Tōya Akira?) - Hikaru's biggest rival and Kaio Middle School student. The son of Koyo Toya, Akira is already a very strong go player when Hikaru first begins playing. Akira is amazed by Hikaru's seemingly impossible ability and becomes obsessed with discovering the secret behind Hikaru's strength. Meanwhile, Hikaru is impressed with how serious and focused Akira is for being only a 6th grader like him when they first meet. As the series goes along, the plot brings these two characters together to play each other under many circumstances, each time adding to the mystery. Like Hikaru, Akira also gets taller throughout the series. He is voiced by Sanae Kobayashi.
Koyo Toya(塔矢 行洋,Tōya Kōyō?) - Akira Toya's father. His title in the go world is Toya Meijin(塔矢 名人,Tōya Meijin?); Meijin is one of the titles he earned. He rivals Sai and like Sai he also pursues the divine move. Following his defeat by Sai he retires from the Japanese Go circuit and plays in China. He has an interest in Hikaru and requested to play him in the Beginner Dan series after Hikaru becomes a pro. He is usually pictured in traditional Japanese dress. He is voiced by Eizo Tsuda.
Haze Middle School Go club
Akari Fujisaki(藤崎 あかり,Fujisaki Akari?) - Hikaru's childhood friend. She learns a little bit about Go, when Hikaru becomes interested, and she later joins the Haze Middle School Go club, serving as vice captain of the girls' team, despite her being a weak player. She loves Hikaru, as noted by her two friends in the carnival and various other characters. Hikaru shows interest in her only little by little, though. The two remain friends throughout the course of the series. Her birthday is May 17.
Kimihiro Tsutsui(筒井 公宏,Tsutsui Kimihiro?) - Captain and founder of the Haze Middle School Go Club. Initially he relies on a strategy book, though he has excellent Yose (end game) skills. Kaga persuades him to abandon the book in favor of trusting his strength. When he founded the Haze Middle School Go club he is the only member, but through the efforts of Hikaru and Akari the club grows. Kimihiro graduates from Haze Middle School before his dream of defeating the Kaio Middle School Go club can be realized.
Tetsuo Kaga(加賀 鉄男,Kaga Tetsuo?) - President of Haze Middle School's shogi club. Kaga hates go and prefers shogi because his father forbade shogi and forced him to play go from an extremely early age, and he could never please the old man no matter how well he did, because he always lost to Akira Toya. In a flashback to Kaga's childhood, he is not only defeated by Akira, he feels disrespected by Akira's detached attitude towards his opponents. He still plays go from time to time to keep his skills limber. During the course of the series, he (along with Kimihiro Tsutsui) graduates from Haze Middle School. Tetsuo smokes cigarettes, which were kept in the earlier U.S. Shonen Jump versions of Hikaru no Go, but were removed from the U.S. graphic novels and the later Shonen Jump versions.
Yuki Mitani(三谷 祐輝,Mitani Yūki?) - A player at the Go Club at Haze Middle School who overcomes his cheating habit. He is angry at Hikaru for choosing to be an Insei rather than stay at the school Go club when they have a tournament around the corner. Yuki and Hikaru are no longer seen as friends. Yuki remains in the Go club, but only after much convincing.
Yoshitaka Waya(和谷 義高,Waya Yoshitaka?) - Hikaru's "big brother" insei. Like Kaga, he has a dislike for Akira Toya because he can never defeat him and because of what he perceives as Akira's disdain for his opponents. He has once faced Sai in Internet Go using the nickname 'zelda.' He becomes a pro (at age 15) in the same year as Hikaru. He is also known to be very reckless and short-tempered, even punching former insei Mashiba in the face because the latter rattled his friend Isumi. Waya's birthday is August 12. He takes the pro exam 4 times before passing.
Shinichiro Isumi(伊角 慎一郎,Isumi Shin'ichirō?) - Another insei friendly with Hikaru, Isumi is the eldest in Hikaru's peer group, turning 18 during the series. He appears to be doing very well in the first pro exam shown in the manga, going undefeated until his match with Hikaru. During that match, rumors about Hikaru's incredible strength add to the pressure of time constraints, and he misplaces a stone; his attempt to move the stone after letting go of it prompts his honorable resignation before Hikaru can accuse him of cheating. The match weighs on his mind and he loses his next two games and the chance to become a pro. He later goes to study Go in China in one of the few character arcs in the series that does not center on Hikaru. There, he learns to control his emotions and passes the next year's pro exam without a single loss. Isumi also unknowingly helps Hikaru get over his grief for Sai when their practice game makes Hikaru realize that by playing, he can find Sai within his moves, the Go that Sai passed on to Hikaru. Isumi's birthday is April 18.
Kosuke Ochi(越智 康介,Ochi Kōsuke?) - Yet another insei in the same group as Hikaru, Ochi is one of the youngest (12 years old when introduced), yet very outspoken about his ability. His bragging about his strength hides his insecurity; after each loss he is known to disappear into the restroom for long periods of time. Akira tutors him to find out about Hikaru's current strength. Ochi is unnerved by Hikaru because Akira's obsession about him seems to suggest there is more to Hikaru than what Ochi knows. Ochi is also angry that Akira acknowledges Hikaru as a rival, but not Ochi himself. He demands that Akira view him as a rival if he can defeat Hikaru in the pro exam. Ochi loses to Hikaru, but does pass the pro exam. He comes from a wealthy family, as evidenced by the number of pros that come to his household to tutor him privately in go.
Yuta Fukui(福井 雄太,Fukui Yūta?), nicknamed "Fuku" (フク?) - An insei and classmate of Waya who is known for his extremely fast-paced style of play. Although Waya is the stronger player, he cannot seem to defeat Fuku. Hikaru loses one game to him during the pro exam.
Asumi Nase(奈瀬 明日美,Nase Asumi?) - The only female insei that has a prominent role in the manga and anime. She is able to defeat Honda in the pro exams.
Kaio Middle School Go club
Kaoru Kishimoto(岸本 薫,Kishimoto Kaoru?) - Kaio Middle School Go club president and former insei who did not become a professional. He played Akira in a game, and had to resign early and admitted he was outclassed and right not to pursue professional play. Later he plays a match against Hikaru to gauge his strength, and defeats him easily. His dismissive attitude to Hikaru's plan to rise to Akira's level while playing in the school club spurs Hikaru on to register as an insei. His liking for black coffee allows Hikaru to realize that he is the failed insei that the other insei are discussing shortly after Hikaru becomes an insei.
Mr. Yun - Yun is Akira's Middle School teacher who is in charge of the school Go club. He is originally from Korea. He worked as a go instructor for children in Korea, and was initially disappointed in young go players in Japan, until he joined the Kaio faculty.
Yuri Hidaka(日高 由梨,Hidaka Yuri?) - A 3rd year Kaio Middle School student who stands up for Akira when he gets bullied by three other members of the go club who resent his presence in the club. She hates bullying of all kinds, but this does not stop her from bullying others. Her birthday is February 11.
Itō(伊藤,Itō?), Kojima(小島?), and *Okumura(奥村?) - three students who dislike Akira Toya's presence in the Kaio Middle School Go club, and try to humiliate him into quitting the club by making him play "blind go" (i.e. calling out the moves without looking at the go board, like blindfold chess). Yuri Hidaka catches them in the act and puts a stop to the bullying.
Shu(修,Shū?)- The owner of a Go salon where Hikaru finds Yuki Mitani. Shu recognises that Mitani is cheating, so he hires Dake-san to teach him a lesson.
Dake(だけ,Dake?) - A go hustler hired by Shu to teach Yuki Mitani not to cheat. He poses as a regular at the Go salon and hides his strength. He bets money on the game and wins 10,000 yen (about $110 U.S.) from Yuki. Hikaru and Sai later win the money back, and Hikaru uses this to persuade him to join the school go club. Dake sings romantic songs while playing Go as part of his act to appear like a harmless buffoon, and plays with his right hand (although he is left-handed) to appear clumsy.
Heihachi Shindo(進藤 平八,Shindō Heihachi?) - Hikaru's grandfather, a regional go champion, who owns the board where Hikaru first discovered Sai. He claims his brother bought the board in an antique shop, intrigued by the rumor that a "ghost in a tall hat" would appear from it sometimes. He keeps the board as a memento after his brother's death and refused to give it to Hikaru, but after seeing how much Hikaru has improved in Go in one year's time, he buys him a nice go board to practice on his own.
Kuwabara Honinbo(桑原本因坊,Kuwabara Honinbō?) - An elderly professional and current holder of the Honinbo title in Hikaru no Go. Kuwabara is friends with Toya Meijin, but rivals Ogata, whose challenge he defeats. In his title defence next year, he defeats the young fast-improving Kurata. He is able to vaguely sense Sai's presence, and develops an interest in Hikaru. Kuwabara bets on Hikaru in his Beginner Dan series game. Kuwabara was Shusaku's real family name.
Harumi Ichikawa(市河 晴美,Ichikawa Harumi?) - Ms. Ichikawa is the cashier of the Go salon owned by the Toyas. She feels saddened when Akira frequents the club less often because of his pro schedule, and in the manga refuses to start calling him "sensei" when he goes pro, preferring to keep calling him by the nickname "Akira-kun." She frequently drives him to different places and he sometimes tutors her in go.
Shigeo Morishita(森下 茂男,Morishita Shigeo?), also known as Morishita Sensei or Mr. Morishita - A 9-dan pro who is Waya's go teacher and leader of the study group which Hikaru also frequents on Waya's invitation. He considers Toya Meijin a rival, since the two of them became pros at the same time. Morishita also mentors Michio Shirakawa (7-dan), the community Go leader.
Mitani's sister(三谷の姉,Mitani no Ane?) / Yuki's Older Sister - A girl who works at an internet cafe and lets Hikaru play go on the computers for free during her shifts. She also helps Hikaru with his English. The name used to describe Yuki's sister is different in the English version since Yuki Mitani is usually called by his given name, "Yuki", in the English versions. In the Japanese versions Yuki is referred to by his family name, "Mitani" - therefore his sister is called "Mitani's sister" in the Japanese versions.
Su-Young Hong (Hong Su-yeong, 홍수영) - A Korean Go professional, 2 years younger than Hikaru. He is 12 when he first appears in the manga. Hikaru, Waya, and Isumi travel to go salons to sharpen their skills while they are insei. In one of them they meet Suyong, whose uncle runs a go salon, while Suyong is on vacation from Korea. At the time, Suyong is a Yeon'gusaeng (the Korean equivalent of an insei), but is disillusioned with playing Go. Heated words between him and Hikaru lead to the two playing an intense, exciting match at the Go salon. Hikaru defeats Suyong and this spurs Suyong to work harder to become a pro. Su-Young becomes famous after beating a 9-dan in Korea. He appears again in the manga as the third representative for Korea in the Hokuto Cup.
Seiji Ogata(緒方 精次,Ogata Seiji,?, 10-dan) - A Go professional who recognizes Hikaru's talent when he comments on a go move during a children's tournament that even professional Go players would take some time to see (although this is Sai's insight - Hikaru had not yet attained much skill by this time). He is also a student of Koyo Toya and soon takes the Judan and Gosei titles when Koyo Toya retires. He keeps tropical fish and smokes heavily.
This section requires expansion. (November 2009)
The manga has sold more than 22,000,000 copies in Japan.
Effect on the popularity of Go
Hikaru no Go dramatically increased the popularity of Go in Japan and elsewhere, particularly among young children. Go professional Yukari Umezawa served as the technical advisor for the anime and promoted the game on behalf of the Nihon Ki-in. She had a short one-minute special at the end of every episode instructing kids how to play Go. One of the reasons she helped increase Go's popularity was from being called the "best looking Go professional". Hikaru no Go also caused an increase in popularity and awareness of Go throughout all other countries where it was read or seen. As a result, many Go clubs were started by people influenced by the manga.