Now that Hikaru is a professional go player (at age 14) where is the story going to go? Well, obviously the series is building up to the big confrontation between Hikaru and Akira Toya, but as with so many of the games in this series, we see intermediate proxy fights in which Hotta has to come up with a new twist. In volume 12, she has Hikaru playing in the "Shinsodan" series, which pits rookie go professionals against the top veterans. And Akira's father, Toya Meijin, requests Hikaru as his opponent.
Sai, Hikaru's poor ghostly sidekick, has been wanting to play Toya Meijin since they first met. At this point it's hard to know whether to feel more sorry for him, who is stuck haunting a 14-year-old, or Hikaru, who now wants to play for his own development but has a ghost begging him to let him play. Of course if Hikaru lets Sai play against Toya, everyone will see he's playing at a level far above what he's demonstrated previously, which will raise awkward questions and set unreasonable expectations for Hikaru in future games. So how can he let Sai have his wish and not screw himself over? It's a nice bit of character drama which Hotta resolves with yet another bit of go trickery.
The "B" plot in this volume is Hikaru and Sai going to a go festival and meeting an unscrupulous professional and a shady vendor selling cheap go boards fraudulently marked up as valuable antiques. The only purpose to this subplot seemed to be to give Sai something else to do, and to introduce a new character. So, I am knocking this installment down a star for a rather mediocre side plot.
I'm about halfway through the series now. Sooner or later Hikaru and Akira have to have their ultimate showdown, and Sai has to play a "real" game against Toya Meijin. I am guessing that will happen around the series climax, so this is the point where I wonder if Hotta will pull off some brilliant new storylines to maintain the intensity of the series until then, or if we're going to get 12 volumes of "filler." Although even the filler is readable enough so far.
And I am still feeling inspired to improve my own go game.