Hikaru no Go 9 by Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata: A-

From the back cover:
Practicing at Go salons is turning out to be more fun than Hikaru thought. But at one salon he meets his match in Suyong Hong, a sullen 12-year-old who is studying for the pro test in his native Korea. By mistake, Hikaru insults Suyong, and now the only way they can settle their differences is by playing a grudge match!

This volume picks up where the last left off, with Hikaru and friends playing against adults in various Go salons around town. Through the experience, Hikaru learns valuable confidence, as well as the ability to count points during play and control the outcome of a game to force a tie. These bits are okay, but not very suspenseful.

The match with Suyong is surprisingly enjoyable, even though Suyong is annoying. I liked how the other patrons of the salon really got into the match. The most significant bit, however, is that Kaio’s Go coach happens by and praises Hikaru, comparing his play to that in the first junior high tournament he entered, when Sai was actually dictating the moves. Hikaru is elated, but Sai is worried.

We end up with a couple of chapters devoted to the resumption of the pro test, which is about where I started bemoaning the small amount of pages left, because these bits are so crazily addictive. Akira, who had already shown that he feels Hikaru on his trail, checks the results from home and freaks at Hikaru’s winning streak, accepting a lowly teaching job with another kid in the test just to indulge his curiosity on his rival’s progress.

Although a manga about a board game might seem dull (the uninspired back cover text doesn’t help this impression), this volume disproves that notion when it focuses on the rivalry between Hikaru and Akira and how it fuels each of them to improve. The earlier chapters weren’t bad, but it was the latter half of the volume that was truly exciting. Also, though I’ve seen the anime and know what is coming, I’m still eager to see the plot with Sai play out because it brings a lot to the story.

Hikaru no Go 8 by Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata: A

From the back cover:
Hikaru faces the preliminary rounds of the pro test, during which he must eliminate not only his classmates at the insei school but also any outsiders who want to take the test. One of them in particular appears to know how to exploit Hikaru’s weaknesses, and poor Hikaru seems powerless to stop him.

I really like how the passage of time is handled in Hikaru no Go. Hikaru is improving quickly, true, but it’s still taken him a fairly long time to advance through the insei ranks. Now, in preparing for the pro test, Hikaru is walking his rival’s path one year later. As Hikaru continues to grow, we see a few panels that indicate that Akira is doing the same. Akira doesn’t look energized in any of these panels, though, and we all know he’ll benefit from finally having a true rival.

I thought it was interesting that the reaction of Hikaru’s parents and family was taken into account, too. They have no real way to gauge his abilities. They’re letting him do what he wants for now, but understandably concerned about his future. This isn’t something that I’ve personally seen in a tournament style story before, so it’s neat. The closest parallel would be Prince of Tennis, but everyone there universally acknowledges that Ryoma is awesome, and his dad would be in a position to know.

Lastly, I particularly appreciated that the preliminary round arc is resolved within a single volume. With the wait between volumes what it is, it was nice to get it all at once, and leave off with the boys in preparation for the real thing.

Hikaru no Go 7 by Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata: A

From the back cover:
Hikaru is horrified to find that he’s losing all of his games at the insei school! The Young Lions Tournament is just three months away, and the insei who qualify will play against rookie pros, including Akira. Hikaru sees his chance to impress his rival, but can he turn his losing streak around in time?

It’s hard to articulate why I love this series so much, but I really do. The plot is not a new one in shounen manga, but the characters are so endearing, and the art so great, that it still feels fresh. Hikaru is your typical boy, thoughtless at times, but still with the occasional sweet moment when he is determined to do something good for Sai. And, of course, Sai could not be prettier and/or cuter. I particularly like when all that’s in his thought bubble is a little heart.

It’s also pretty unique how far we’ve progressed so far. A little over a year has passed since Hikaru started playing, several months are covered in this volume alone, and I think the story is somewhere over the halfway point of the anime series. With 16 volumes after this one, it makes me think there’s tons of story that wasn’t animated, and since I have remained unspoiled on it, it’s quite a lovely prospect.

In this volume, I liked that Sai is able to diagnose why Hikaru keeps losing, and actually do a bit of instructing that nudges Hikaru’s skill level up some. Plus, the stylized representations of their games as parrying swordplay was a pretty cool way of illustration his progression. The other insei are more interesting than his former clubmates back at his junior high, because they’re better skilled and less worshipful of his abilities, and with this volume, he’s just getting into playing against a couple of characters that I quite like.

Everyone needs to read a bit of shounen tournament-style manga every once in a while, to experience its awesome addictive power. Hikaru no Go would be an excellent choice.