Animini: Hikaru no Go – Episode 25 – Fear and Impatience

Steaming Springs and Sprockets! This anime is just so good! This episode is quite amazing. My dear Island guests I am super happy I started Hikaru no Go.. it is such a humble show.. with such real problems.. it should be boring me to tears because I still don’t understand Go that well.. but I am truly fascinated.  I loved how this episode brought us a conflict that wasn’t really set up…yet makes so much sense in the context of where the journey is going currently! It’s amazing!

The Summary

Hikaru is stuck against a wall again. He has mostly been getting losses recently and isn’t progressing anymore. His chart does show a few wins  but things aren’t going that smoothly. Waya notices this and invites him to join a game session with his masters and some pro’s. Hikaru thinks this is boring but Sai forces him to do so. While waiting for their first session to begin.. Hikaru encounters Ogata in the main lobby when he gets cold feet to join the pro’s.  This leads Hikaru to be invited to the pro-workshop of Meiji Touya where Akira also will be. Hikaru refuses this.. he does not want to train with Akira.. but FOR Akira. Sai cries as Hikaru refuses.. but then Waya steps in , takes them to  meet his teacher and Hikaru feels quite overwhelmed and uncomfortable.  We also get talk of some tournament.. where young pro’s fight Insei! Hikaru wishes to participate and face Akira…but he then finds out he has to become number 16 of class one to even participate.. the pressure is on.

We cut to Hikaru losing a lot of matches and dropping all the way to the bottom of class two again. Dejected we see him get a Soda while listening to another Insei.. much older than him giving up hope to become a pro!  Seeing this inspires Hikaru to try harder… but victories aren’t coming to him. Sai knows why! It is because Hikaru is facing off against an opponent as strong as Sai.. he  punishes every mistake.. and because of that Hikaru has taken a much too defensive playstyle.. He doesn’t risk anything and because of that he can be countered and beaten rather easily! He needs courage in his moves again. Sai trains this in Hikaru and we see the boy perform better and better in the workshop! One day his old teacher, who is part of the workshop , challenges Hikaru to a match! Hikaru now fights with more courage as he goes in for the attack.

The Positives

It has been a while but Sai really comes in clutch for this episode. We finally see him again in the capacity of Hikaru’s teacher, which before was mostly implied to happen offscreen instead.  I am happy we finally see us get some mileage out of Sai as well. It even got some nice set up with the topic of teachers being discussed, thus once again the show slides into its subject matter in a very organic way. The lesson we learn today feels like it’s fits.. because we build up to it. Even though Hikaru’s wall is a completely new obstacle and mostly used as a narrative crutch to probably let him become a lot stronger a lot faster.. the show makes it feel earned. Hikaru training with Sai to master a new step of mastery of the game feels satisfying on all levels. We also see Akira is not bothered by his loss… also showing he has grown!  He handled losses poorly in the past… REALLY poorly yet here we see a much more complex Akira, one that is much more following his own path. He doesn’t care about Oza, he cares about staying ahead of those currently behind him. Losses don’t matter because Akira’s goal lies behind him. Hikaru experiences the reverse. losses matter because his goal lies in front of him.

The last episode I complained about not using any metaphorical visuals.. which can make scenes a bit bland and sterile.. and lo and behold this episode uses visual metaphors. We see Hikaru and Sai battle with Katana’s on that neon version of the Go Board that signifies important matches. THANK YOU that is all I wanted from last week’s episode. This episode is visually so much more interesting than the previous one.  We get less subtle references.. but there is also much less at stake here.. but we get a lot more colour, interesting set pieces, visual metaphors and just all kinds of goodness to keep us with the action. The cast this episode also has a bit more oomph and flavor..  they are more definable to me as.. moustachio man that writes stuff.  The presentation is up by a lot.

The Negatives

Not really any negatives for me this week, just pointers that could have made this episode even better. The first element they could have done is .. not have Sai cry when Hikaru refused to play with Meijn and Akira.Sai lives in Hikaru’s head .. he should know how Hikaru feels , plus there was never really any sense of loss, he would still see pro’s play games.  It is just not THE pro. With Sai realising that Hikaru’s current level has stagnated I feel like he should be smart enough to realise this and him crying once again played for comedy.  I know the man is excited about the sports.. but he is also fascinated by all levels of it.. this felt a bit..ungrateful or something. Nothing too bad, it doesn’t feel like the same Sai we see for the rest of the episode. 

I do still think that the show has too many characters to juggle around. Ogata pushing the rivalry between Hikaru and Akira seems a bit strange but somewhat fascinating.. but now we get Waya’s teacher and his group and we have Mejin’s  workshop click as well, along with the girl Insei now showing up more regularly.. and that boy that really looks like Weevil Underwood from Insei class. It really helps the world of Go feeling large but it also really invokes.. “Wait who is that again”.. and the moment you start thinking you move out of the episode a bit.  Maybe a flashback here or there for the viewer could have come in handy.  This will probably be less of an issue if you binge this show a bit.. but since there usually is a week before I watch these ( I tend to watch them on Saturdays unless I have no time)   if someone doesn’t show up for a couple of weeks all is kind of vague.  A name sign appearing or a flashback could really benefit this cast.. even add some details like rank and stuff. Great info would make the show a bit easier to follow.

The Score

Episode 25 of Hikaru no Go once again gets my highest grade.  Despite Sai crying is a weak scene, I can not say anything but positive about the rest of the episode. It offers a new obstacle.. a new element in the Go puzzle! Emotion! Hikaru must not just play with his head but also with his heart. Otherwise he will get ruled by fear.. and while I do not understand it in terms of Go .. I do know lots of gamers both analogue as digital who are held back by fear who I can wash because I dare to take risks. They play games a lot better than me but because they play the meta.. they become predictable and that can be punished. So I am happy to see the show also addresses this aspect of the game. It makes sense Hikaru becomes super careful from facing superiority all the time. 

There is also yet another subtle reference in this. Akira has his father as a teacher, he  trains the same way Hikaru trains.. but Sai acknowledges that Akira does not share the same flaw as Hikaru. This establishes that Akira still is pretty far ahead..  Because the Insei Akira they faced in the first episode… or at least in the rematch.. was already past this point.  In a way Hikaru is at least one year of Akira’s pace development away from Akira himself. This episode does show that he grows faster though..They will come to clash.. a sense of inevitability is established in this episode.. but when it happens will all depend on if Hikaru can make his current deadline .. adding tension for the future!

Animini: Hikaru No Go -Episode 22 – The Insei Test

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. 

The Summary

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.

The Positives

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….

The Negatives

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.

The Score

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.