How an Old Shonen Jump Manga Revived an Ancient Board Game
The Shonen Jump classic, Hikaru no Go, singlehandedly brought the ancient game of Go back from the brink, both in Japan and worldwide.
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Though its heyday has passed, Hikaru no Go was a fairly popular anime and manga series in its time. Sharing some thematic similarities to Yu-Gi-Oh!, the series is based around a traditional Chinese board game, Go, and a boy who uses the help of a spirit to ascend through the competitive scene. Go had fallen out of public favor beforehand but Hikaru no Go was a major force in reviving the culture around the game, both in Japan and worldwide.
However, the series’ popularity wasn’t just because of Go — the manga went on to receive several awards in its own right. As the anime adaptation of the manga will be turning 20 years old later this year, let’s take a look back at one of the most culturally influential manga in the last several decades.
What Was Hikaru no Go?
Hikaru no Go centers around Hikaru Shindo, a boy who finds a board for the traditional Asian game Go. Said board contains the ghost of Fujiwara-no-Sai, who yearns to play the game once more. As only Hikaru can see him, Fujiwara essentially possesses part of his mind, instructing him on the best tactics for playing Go. Playing against local Go professional Akira, Hikaru develops a fondness for the game and eventually goes pro himself.
The manga series was written by Yumi Hotta and drawn by Takeshi Obata, the latter of whom would later find massive success drawing Death Note and Platinum End. With the individual chapters being published through Weekly Shonen Jump, Hikaru no Go’s 23 volumes sold over 25 million copies in the book’s heyday, and the series’ success was further validated by winning the Shogakukan Manga Award and Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize. The Studio Pierrot-created anime was also successful in its own right, airing for over 70 episodes in the early 2000s. Easily the show’s biggest point of legacy, however, was its success in bringing its eponymous board game back into fashion.
The Impact of Hikaru no Go on Go’s Popularity
The game of Go is somewhat analogous to chess and checkers, as well as the Japanese game Shogi. It involves players moving their stones, with one team’s being black and the other white. Said stones can not be moved once they’re placed on the board, and the goal is to surround an enemy’s stones and have as many of your own on the board as possible. Yukari Umezawa, a Go expert, supervised the series in order to ensure its authenticity. This focus on making the manga and anime as accurate as possible, as well as its fairly realistic stakes, meant that even the supernatural elements took a backseat to the game and its strategy. The series’ huge success saw the game of Go become popular again in Japan, as it had previously not been especially big among the youth.
As anime’s global popularity began to rise in the early 2000s, so too did the influence of Hikaru no Go. For instance, there was a young student all the way in El Paso, Texas who was introduced to the series, and through it, Go. From there, he became obsessed with the game and the mental challenge that it provided, even forming a club for it at his school. Sadly, the series has been somewhat dormant ever since it concluded in the 2000s, but as recently as last year, a Chinese film adaptation of Hikaru no Go revived the franchise. It remains to be seen if this will revitalize the manga or the game in Japan once more, but it seems that a good manga like the original is all that’s needed to get the Japanese public to give Go another go.