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Hikaru no Go, Vol. 18: Six Characters, Six Stories - Yumi Hotta, Takeshi Obata Volume 17 ended with what should have been the series finale, so it seems obvious that volume 18, which is a collection of six "side stories" about secondary characters, is what Yumi Hotta came up with to fill the gap while trying to decide what to do next.

None of these stories are bad, and it's always nice to see an author explore some of the minor characters or forgotten scenes that can't be included in the main storyline. However, none of the stories actually added much to our understanding of the characters or had any impact on the series either, so it's very much a "filler" volume.

The six characters each featured in a short story are:

Akira Toya: Like most of the stories, this one takes place way back during the first year of the series. We see that Akira is kind of a lonely kid, being the only go player his age who can play at his level. Evidently he has no interests outside of go. He plays another kid, a "junior meijin" champion, who's no match for him, and then meets Hikaru. End of story, basically just a bit of an insertion prior to the events we already read.

Tetsuo Kaga: A minor character from early in the series I never found very interesting, the shogi club president who was also a go expert. We see him return to Haze Middle School, which is struggling to keep its go club alive now that Hikaru and all his friends have moved on.

Asumi Nase: One thing disappointing about Hikaru no Go is that despite being written by a woman, female characters never have more than bit roles. Asumi Nase is the only named female Insei character we've seen in the series (and she and Akari are the only named female go players, period). So I was pretty excited to see that she actually gets a story of her own. It's actually one of the more interesting stories in this volume, if only because we've seen so little of Asumi before now. Basically, she decides to play hooky from her go study group and winds up going on a date with a guy who thinks she's really hot, until she takes him to a go salon and starts beating the pants off of older go players. He promptly ditches her, and poor Asumi decides she's better off sticking to go. It seems nobody in this series can be a go player and have a social life.

Yuki Mitani: This story was just a retelling of Mitani's introduction in the series, when he was cheating at go to supplement his income until a "go shark" got called in to teach him a lesson.

Atsushi Kurata: Kurata 6-dan, the roly-poly professional go player we met later in the series, gets a story about his middle school days. It turns out before he took up go, he was a genius at predicting horse races, much to the avaricious delight of a student teacher who learns his secret. This was one of the more interesting stories in the volume, even if Kurata remains a side character.

Fujiwara no Sai: Finally, a story about Sai and Hikaru. A story featuring Sai's earlier life, when he was actually alive, or possibly when he was haunting Torajiro during the Edo period, would have been interesting, but Hotta hasn't shown much interest in really doing anything historical. So instead, we get a story that's exactly the same plot as one we saw in an earlier volume, where Sai spots a sleazy merchant selling fake "antiques" and gets Hikaru to challenge the fraud to a go game. That's one of those plots you can use once, and after that it's just repetitive.

So, while the stories were all okay, I think Hotta could have been much more creative with them.