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Ghosts for Go

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The concept of a restless spirit clinging to (the after) life by means of a weapon or personal object and using a living being to carry out its desires is nothing new to comic readers. It was the central concept behind Top Cow’s “No Honor” mini series, has appeared from time to time in Dark Horse’s “Usagi Yojimbo,” appeared in “Love Hina,” and has appeared in various other comics, both American and Asian. Similar concepts fueled DC’s Spirit of Vengeance and the Spectre as well as Kikyo and Naraku, two of the principle catalysts of Viz’s “Inu Yasha,” and others.

Another Viz title, “Hikaru no Go,” has a slightly different spin on this concept. During Japan’s Heian period (794 AD - 1185 AD), Fujiwara-no-Sai was Go instructor to Japan’s emperor, but was disgraced when another player accused him of cheating, causing him to lose the game they were playing before the emperor, which in turn caused him to lose his position in court and his reputation. Dishonored and depressed, he committed suicide and his spirit became trapped inside of a Go board, only able to come out when someone was able to see his tears that stained the board. Unfortunately, this has only happened twice.
The first time was in the Edo period (1600 AD - 1868 AD), by an aspiring Go player named Hon’inbo Shusaku (who, it seems, was an actual historic figure) who is regarded as the greatest Go player of all time. The second time, unfortunately for Sai, was with Hikaru, a modern sixth grader with no interest whatsoever in Go. In fact, he views the game as boring and can’t see why any kid his age would be interested in it. 

Unfortunately for Hikaru, Sai has taken up permanent residence within him. Now, when Sai is happy or simply content, this isn’t a problem aside from the constant talking, which, for obvious reasons, is rather useful in history class when dealing with a ghost who can’t resist sharing his knowledge. However, when Sai is unhappy, which is anytime Hikaru isn’t playing Go, talks about not wanting to play Go, calls Go boring, etc., Sai’s depression makes Hikaru need to throw up. Faced with the prospect of learning Go or spending the rest of his life running for the nearest sink, Hikaru decides to let Sai play Go through him. Not surprisingly, Hikaru eventually starts to like Go, enough that he sometimes asks Sai to let him play alone. Fortunately, Sai likes to watch almost as much as he likes to play.

One of their first opponents is Akira Meijin, a child prodigy Hikaru’s age who’s so good that there’s no point in his playing with others, even other boys who are aspiring pros. In fact, he only meets Hikaru because he likes to mingle with the little people at times. Among the chief driving forces of the series is Akira’s desire to beat Hikaru (not realizing that it’s actually Sai that he wants to beat) and Hikaru’s desire to be good enough to beat Akira without Sai’s help. If the two could get over that, they’d probably end up being friends, something they’ve both indicated a desire for when not caught up being adolescent boys out to be the best.

If there was one word that would apply to all the characters of this book, it would be “likable.” There’s Hikaru, a nice, standard, outgoing twelve year old with a short attention span and Sai, who pretty much exists to play Go, watch Go games, and share whatever he knows. Then there’s Akari, Hikaru’s friend and the token cute girl, Tetsuo, a player of both Go and Shindo who’s more than a bit of a punk, Kimihiro, a Go player with confidence issues who goes to Hikaru’s school, and Yuki, another classmate who’s a rather immoral Go player (he cheats but he’s working on fixing that). There are also random adults, such as Hikaru’s grandfather, Akira’s father and the woman who works at the Go parlor Akira frequents, but they’re ultimately fairly unimportant to the series. Of all the characters, I find Akira to be the most interesting. While Hikaru and the others are all enjoyable, for the most part, they’re straightforward and uncomplicated. Akira, while a genuinely nice boy, was raised, not only with the knowledge that his father is the world’s foremost Go player, but with the knowledge that his own ability is at least equal to his father’s. His arrogance doesn’t come from the fact that he thinks he’s better than everyone else; he knows he is and accepts it as a simple fact of life and doesn’t really care. Unfortunately, everyone around him knows it as well and even if they initially like him, they usually end up coming to hold it against him; simply because, being twelve, he just doesn’t know how to not do his best when playing against others and always ends up making his opponents look like complete amateurs.

While this is certainly not my normal style of manga, it was still highly enjoyable. Both the art and story are straightforward and avoid the manic tendencies of many other shonen manga, and, also unlike many other shonen manga, there’s no violence, no bad language, and no innuendo. In short, what we have is the rare “all ages book” that can actually call itself “all ages” without any reservations.

- Megan B. Moore

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