So we're now in the final arc of the series, which much like the earlier multi-volume pro-test arc, is the series of qualifiers leading up to the Japan-Korea-China Junior Tournament. Although I'll be amazed if Akira and Hikaru aren't both members of the Japan team, this volume does manage to make each game tense, just like some of the better volumes earlier in the series.
The "threat" is rather gimmicky. Since we already know the established players in Hikaru's league, Hotta introduces the Kansai Go League and yet another brash new player to represent Hikaru's major "boss fight." He's a fifteen-year-old named Kiyoharu Yashiro. He has bleached white hair and he makes "stunt" moves like playing tengen (the center star point) as his first move.
On the one hand, this isn't terribly original storytelling -- Hotta is just doing the Pokemon/Dragonball thing, where in order to challenge the main character you keep bringing in new opponents who have some new trick up their sleeve. It's particularly hard to do this with go, since how many "tricks" can you realistically depict in a go game? But I liked it even if the outcome is almost a foregone conclusion.
This late in the series, there are more go terms being bandied about, so while you still don't need to be a good player to follow the story, it definitely helps to have learned the basics by now.
The other final match is between Ochi and Waya. Ochi has always been an annoying little punk, and I greatly enjoyed seeing him called a "four-eyed little mushroom."
Meanwhile, we see more evidence that Ogata 9-dan is turning into an egotistical jackass.
So, a bit of character development and some exciting go. I don't think Hotta can keep pulling these "Most Exciting Go Ever!" moments out of a hat, but there are only four volumes left.
Incidentally, this volume is where Hikaru graduates from middle school, but he's not going to high school since he's already making a living as a go professional. And so perhaps we have seen the last of Akari. Too bad that Hotta seems not to intend to make any kind of subplot involving Hikaru's non-go personal life.