Welcome back to another episodic review of Hikaru no Go my dear Island Guests. This series has been the first one I have faithfully kept up with. It sure has its ups and downs .. although mostly ups. The last few episodes have been stellar so I was kinda disappointed that this episode broke that streak. It isn’t bad it is just no way up to bar with the rest of the episodes that came after the Internet-Go Arc started.
I will have a bit of trouble filling two paragraphs with the plot this week because it is really quite simple! Last episode we saw Hikaru move on from his Middle School Go Club to go and head on to the Insei Exam, this week picks up with the start of the test. At first glance Hikaru seems rather unimpressive with the examinatior. His matches are sloppy, his playing style is too aggressive and he doesn’t have any notes of playing worthy opponents. As the exam goes along he discovers more and more about Hikaru’s potential though. For example he finds out Hikaru has only been playing Go for a year and he played his 3 matches simultaneously. After losing the match to the examinator Hikaru.. barely .. passes the test. With some doubt in the head of the examinator and a lot of stress in Hikaru’s body!
The second part of the episode we see Hikaru play matches against the other Insei about a week later.. they are all intrigued in himn because he blabbed about being Akira Touya’s rival which makes everone want to play him..and Hikaru loses all his matches, showing he is back on the bottom of the foodchain again. We slowly see him becoming.. “half” friends with Waya and a guy whose name did not stick yet for me! Waya’s buddy at least They have lunch together and Waya jokes about a very weak player from Kaio High. We get a bit of an explantion to how the Insei classes work.. there are two tiers , first and second class Insei and by winning your way among your class and against superiors you can climb up the ladder. This Kaoi guy was known for how unremarkable he was and the lack of talent, eventually leading him to drop out. This guy turns out to be Kaoi’s First Board.. a guy Hikaru thinks is way out of his league… demotivated Hikaru leaves the class.
This episode is significantly weaker as the episodes that came before. Many of the show’s normal strengths are not present in this episode. The cinematography is a lot more bland, the pacing seems off and the natural flow the series has is stifled with a few plot points here and there. What the show does well however is creating that sense of unfamiliarity. Hikaru had to give up playing with his friends for this.. he is in a strange environment and he basically went from the strongest player to being the weakest again. The show does a very good job at fleshing this out in the second part of the episode. My favourite scene is where Hikaru loses to a girl. He has always disrespected Akiri to a certain level as a Go-Player so making him suffer a loss like this is a good way to put him with his feet on the ground again and awaken a passion to grow.
The fact that we do not cut to see what the others are doing helps in establishing this sense of Isolation. We see Waya’s cruel and mocking side. In a way to me this reminded me from the behaviour change from primary school to middle school… or whatever definition is used from the one you leave at 11 onto the next one. Suddenly all the people you grew up with are gone or in different classes, the whole Kumbaya atmosphere has dried up and kids are more cruel and mocking to each other. This truely made it feel for me like Hikaru has indeed advanced to the next level. We also finally get an explanation on why he on occasion ignores Sai.. apparently Hikaru can’t speak to him when he is concentrating really bad… I kind of wonder how that works with a voice in your head.. but sure! As long as it’s established it can happen I am a happy camper! Sai addresses it so .. that issue is fixed for me now. All in all I would say the episodes nails what it is trying to tell… the way it is dressed up though….
I was super excited to see the Insei exam… it could have been something really special .. but instead it’s a rather bland match against the examinator that get’s plagued by the shows weird sense of comedy again. There is a cultural thing about the sitting position and etiquette that did not land..but well that of course is forgiven.. but all in all it’s just a bit of an odd element. We see the stress in his eyes in the beginning..but as soon as he learns he does not need to win to pass the test all tension is broken. The exam isn’t over yet and I would have liked to see that reflected a bit more.. perhaps maybe even offer a written test with several Go puzzles to solve.. like the ones Hikaru got in Go School earlier on.. having it all come down to a single match, lacked some serious tension. This also comes into play in the second part, where Hikaru first doesn’t seem to bothered by his losses.. which DOES make sense with the character he is but it doesn’t make for a great and enticing chain of events.
The trigger that pushes Hikaru into the next phase is most stupid yet. It’s a conversation about black coffee. The subjected needed to land on Kaio’s first Board and apparantly he was a student that at a young age like the Insei already drank Black coffee. Waya and the other Insei remember this trough a wrongly purchased drink.. and seeing the man Hikaru admires in terms of skill being nothing but mediore at best deflates him. It’s a natural chain of events that can occur in daily life.. but it isn’t a particularly interesting one. As the audience we are not in the know of this and can not link that to the guy so for the majority of the talk it’s just banter about black Coffee. The eventual reveal isn’t that impactful either.. because if Kaio’s first board really had the talent to become a pro.. he would have done so.. so it makes perfect sense that he is a mid tier Insei. While I do get the impact it would have on a kid as Hikaru we as the audience don’t really get anything to be excited about from this exchange… not even that much from this episode even.
I do get that this is where the story needs to go, but it doesn’t match up with the pacing we had of the last episodes, suddenly everything stagnates.. which is fine.. that happens, but it happens with a whimper. If we could see Hikaru struggle more with his own confidence from the moment he passed the Insei test and see him start reading more about Go to close the gap already that would have made an impact. Instead we just gloss over the test and then see Hikaru struggle..but that struggle only becomes a burden when some kind of obviious knowledge is revealed. It just doesn’t flow very well. Had this episode been a two parter, with the exam in this part and the introduction to class as a second this way of approaching things could work. With the relief lingering in episode A and the Road ahead being paved out in Part B. This does the right thing but it has no weight.
I do not feel as frustrated as some of the other “bad” Hikaru no Go Episodes, but this one genuinely had me bored. Obviously Hikaru is a .. barely passable.. level Insei because he loses to Kaga and Kaio’s players still who don’t even try out for Insei. The exam isn’t exciting because it is glossed over and half of it ..is comedy. The early losses don’t matter because Hikaru doesn’t care yet. Had he heard Kaoi’s first board was weak just after passing the exam and would have frustrated him prior to coming to the school doubting his skill, everything would have had a much bigger impact, yet as things were now I did not care. With no investment I can’t rule otherwise than to me this episode was just Okiwi.