Hikaru No Go (2020) 棋魂 : C Drama Series Review

Hikaru No Go is originally a manga by Japanese duo Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata set in the early 2000. 9-year old Shi Guang, an active & mischievous little boy, accidentally finds a go chessboard and meets Go-lover spirit, Chu Ying, of whom only Shi Guang can see. The two sets out on an adventure, whereby Chu Ying is keen to play Go games again, while Shi Guang is more interested to earn more money to buy toys.

Young Shi Guang & Chu Ying

Beginner : Shi Guang is convinced to help Chu Ying to find Go’s Divine Move by playing with skilled Go players. When both meet Yu Liang, a young genius at Go at a clubhouse, Chu Ying playing under the instructions of Shi Guang, defeated Yu Liang whose young pride & ego are deeply shaken. When Shi Guang realises that the Divine Move is not something that is easily attainable, he has a breakdown and refuses to play Go anymore. With that, Chu Ying disappears.

Intermediate : 6 years later, Shi Guang is bullied at school and is forced to play a game of Go with He JiaJia, losing at the end and almost drowned when Chu Ying reappears. Hence Shi Guang begins his discovery of passion for Go game, whereby he meets like-minded friends who are passionate about Go, facing challenges in learning about themselves & the Go. When he is accepted into a Go specialised school, he meets more ambitious young players who are striving to be professional Go players, who are required to go for competitions to be graded. More bumpy roads await Shi Guang and his friends. Yu Liang, upon returning from Korea in his quest to learn Go, returns & meets Shi Guang rendering the two as arch nemesis.

Advanced : As Shi Guang explores the world of Go in the professional field, he finds his way through the mazes. On his journey, his friendship is tested and his own passion with the game is also put to question. When Chu Ying plays his final games with Yu Xiao Yang (Yu Liang’s father) & finally disappears for good, Shi Guang misses him terribly and gives up Go. With encouragement from his friends, especially Yu Liang, Shi Guang finally picks up the game, going for Pair Go.  

Trio good friends – Hong He, Shen Yi Lang, Shi Guang

Lenses on Social Issues

The series also explores different social issues, albeit superficially. At the school, the series explores on bullying, the pressure of taking examinations & prioritisation. High-school examination features prominently, whereby the expectations of society, parents & teachers are great on students to do well. When He JiaJia and Wu Di have to choose between their love for Go and examination, both prioritise examination.

The premise that a game of Go can be played by anyone is uniting indeed. The introduction of web games in a new platform (in the old-style websites and internet café too! For those not in the know, these are almost extinct) enabling everyone to play is inspiring.

The exploration on a “professional” career versus a more “entrepreneur” route is examined, with a slow change in view & acceptances of the risk-taking route. It is reflective of what has been happening in China in the past 20 odd years (late 1990s to current period).

Friendship Bond

The bond on friendship is the focus of the series. Shi Guang & Chu Ying has a strong bond – first of master-disciple, then of equal friends and finally extending to family love. Shi Guang’s character is very loveable and I especially love the young actor who portrays Shi Guang. Shi Guang’s character is written to be mischievous but has a heart of gold. He is always concerned about his friends.  

Shi Guang describes Chu Ying as moody and I tend to agree. His passion for Go is stated obviously, but in the series I could not sense it. Chu Ying is excited to play with other skilled players, but the character seems to be too engrossed in finding the Divine Move without having a clear path on how to achieve it. Even his “enlightenment” is a bit dubious. I did not really understand Chu Ying’s character and am very curious as to his real identity in the history, as he is described as Anonymous even though he claims to be the top Go player of the Southern Liang. The character could be better developed.  

The Rivals

Shi Guang and Yu Liang are supposed to be arch nemesis – the young generation of twin geniuses of Go game. They are as different as sun and moon, one an extrovert and the other an introvert. But the attractions are real, as both are catalysts to their development of their skillsets & experiences – motivating them to complete & excel. Yu Liang’s character is written to be cold & calculating, and his motive is really to win Shi Guang at all cost. I didn’t like the way that he treated Yue Zhi in his role as a coach. Am glad that he learns to respect his rivals & to accepts games as part of life journey rather than a journey towards perfection.

During his school time, the friendship carved out with He JiaJia, Wu Di and Gu Yu spells of innocence to look for fun in their daily boring school life. Love their camaraderie. As Shi Guang advances, his circle of friends widens with different challenges. His specialised school friends face the usual difficulties of dorm (or college life) but showing perseverance for their commitment. The 2 room mates – Hong He and Shen Yi Lang are just the right kind of personality to balance out the trio. Love their mischief in their quest to develop their own skills and experiences. The students & the 2 teachers Mr Ban and Mr Zhu are so cute together. Committed as teachers to the students, but showing concerns to the students in their own way – Mr Ban the good cop, Mr Zhu the bad cop.  

Even in the professional environment, the rivalry amongst the players is clear but motivating. Bai Chuan and Fang Xu’s friendships survives throughout the years although each took very different route in their career. The relationship of the elder professional go players is equally great to see. Passing the baton to the new generation, the game is also quite different with new platforms allowing greater access to the games. It was apt that the series ended with Pair Go, showing how an individual competitive game can be reflective of team play.

Serenity in the temple of Go

The scenes whereby the friends seek guidance from the monks at the monastery was very cute. Yi Lang, Hong He & Shi Guang’s respective teachers manages their weaknesses spot on. Love it!

Calming the nerves before the strategic Go games?

The introduction of the ending theme song is one that I like due to its catchy tune, sharing the starting part of Our Risk-Taking Adventures  我们的冒险.

Conclusion 8/10

Generally, the show gives me good vibes and is entertaining. The main leads – Shi Guang & Yu Liang’s performances are top-notch and I love their camaraderie with the other characters. Some of the characters may need a bit more development. When you need a drama to motivate you, this is the go-to drama. Unfortunately, I have not read the manga nor watched the anime. Will be interesting to see how these stack up.  

The Japanese Manga Cover

What are my key takeaways from the series?

  • Perseverance without talent will not lead to top performances
  • Choosing a specialised career is not easy especially if the target is to be the top percentile. Talent, perseverance, luck all plays some part.
  • Winning is not the ultimate aim for for an enjoyable game, it is the route & experience that matters.

Interesting Tid-bits – Shi Guang’s character is Hikaru while Yu Liang’s character is Akira.

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