Hello again my sweet Island Guests. It is time to watch animated characters place some black and white stones on wooden boards again. My return to Hikaru no Go did not disappoint! It also did not blow me out of the water, we get a very good development episode that leads us into a new arc.
In this episode we pick up immediately after the realisation that if Hikaru becomes an Insei he can not play in School Tournaments anymore. Mitani takes this particularly hard saying he was forced to play with them in the first place. Refusing to believe that Hikaru is going to leave them.. clutching on to the idea that this is all a mistake. This forces Hikaru to freeze up! His friends all want him to stay and sacrifice his dream. Then Kaga shows up and supports Hikaru’s dream.. to demonstrate how far he has grown Kaga suggests Hikaru does three simultaneous matches against Kaga, Mitani and Tsutsui. Hikaru wins against Mitani and Tsutsui but loses against Kaga. However during these matches we see a small visual cue in a blink and you miss it moment. During his match with Kaga.. . Hikaru shows the same type of look on his face that Touya has.. cueing us in on the fact that he is VERY serious.
We see Akiri be determined to learn the game more since Hikaru won’t quit Go .. just the club, and so in this final match we see how strong Hikaru actually is. Not only did he win 2 out of 3 matches, he also remembers them one by one, stone for stone in the order they played out in. A talent that may be useful to him later on. We then see Hikaru head to his Insei exam and are reintroduced to Waya, who by just glancing at Hikaru thinks he will pass the test. The examinator however does not seem to be very impressed by Hikaru and his written matches. As Hikaru is given a three stone handicap for this match we see his gaze turn all serious again as he places his first stone and the exam has begun. Which is something we will see in the next episode.
A very strong episode once more for Hikaru no Go, while I had trouble with it’s pacing earlier on, the show has been on a streak lately of setting it’s pace very nicely and making all episodes relevant. This episode once again does an excellent job on providing us a measuring stick on where Hikaru is in terms of “power”. The show has been doing an excellent job at this lately! Since the exam is held in December, and summer vacation usually ends in September, we are at least 3 months past the Internet Go story bit. Last episode we got the amazing fall visual and now we have the impending deadline telling us the progress of time. By spreading these events over such a large span of time you really get the feeling Hikaru’s skill increases are earned, compared to for example Yu-Gi-Oh or Saki where skill levels get boosted out of nowhere.
The strongest moment in the episode was of course Hikaru showing that look he knows Akira for, we see that the boy who thought it was just something to appease Sai has vanished and now we see an actual Go Prodigee who wishes to delve deeper into the world of Go. The Hikaru we see now is not the same Hikaru from episode 1 .. not even the one from Episode 18 even. This Hikaru is what our protagonist wanted to be way back in episode 2 and in just a few frames that is made perfectly clear to us! Once again this same emotion is reflected in the cinematography of the matches. When Akira faced his “boss” we saw a colossal hand on a board aglow.. These matches..we barely see any stones… it symbolised Touya feeling overwhelmed.. and out of his league. This time .. we do not even see the stones being placed on the board. We just see Hikaru mostly calm.. but feeling the tension between the people playing.. by seeing them depicted in a face off. The only match we see stones placed is the one with Kaga.. his skill matters.. but Hikaru has outgrown the other two.. This is very nicely depicted once again. The show is great at that.
The episode does have a few downsides for me which mostly come to play in the second half. The first half only makes me wish that we would see an episode that is focussed around the females of the Haze Middle School Go Club, showing Akiri’s determination to keep on learning. Yet Akiri is somewhat more of a background character with text.. which is a bit of a shame. The second part makes Hikaru go to the exam with his mother .. who is completely under utilised.. he went there alone the first time and now she just tags along to go drink some coffee. She has no real role there other than shifting the camera perspective on Waya for a brief moment. She doesn’t feel very supportive yet she isn’t unsupportive either.. she is just there. We have seen her show up a lot lately which I would have assumed would hint that she has some role to play or will see her son play.. maybe reveal she was very good as well.. but nothing happened causing a bit of a “filler dialogue” feeling when she is around.
Other than that there are a few moments where characters shift facial expression to a more cartoony comedy expression. While I do not mind it on Hikaru, I already said I disliked it on Sai and this time they use it for Kaga. The comedy moments aren’t funny as it is just a teacher looking for the guy and him making a funny expression for it. I get works as a reintroduction for Kaga and establishes a motive for him to be where he is.. but after they return to it and to me it really doesn’t fit the moment, nor the character. I told it once before the show isn’t that good at comedy. I get why they would think they need it ..but the way it is utilized clashes with the rest. Hikaru can be funny.. but the others.. I remain unsure.
A very good episode that very well did what it was supposed to do, yet at the same time due to some strange choices surrounding a few characters it wasn’t as compelling as it could have been. It does everything it needs to do and it does it well yet ends up somewhat restrained. I had a lot of fun with this episode and i am looking forward to the next episode.. but I am mostly interested in just “one” thing.. aside from seeing the Akiri centered episode.. which I doubt i am going to get anytime soon. It’s Hikaru’s exam. It’s a very straight path forward and that means I enjoy it a lot .. but also I feel it has less potential to surprise me in the future.
I would have loved it if Mitani’s plight had been played up a bit more.. but a comedy moment of Kaga smashing him into the floor kind of ruined that thread for me. He just got knocked down and was told to get over it. Hikaru is a friend and they should support him.. deal with it. We may still see Mitani’s character come into play surrounding this but now I am not sure. This is where the show drops of from the highest grade to one step lower for me. It feels as if comedy shut of a plotline I was quite invested in and it annoyed me a bunch. I’ve come to love all these characters and would love to see them stay at least a bit relevant as time comes. I get phasing out Tsutsui after all he is graduating but snuffing out plotlines with comedy.. feels a tad iffy.. It might not have happend but it is the feeling I got.. which is enough down to bump it down JUST a nodge.