I've been burning through this series lately, so my ratings are kind of relative to other volumes, and maybe not so much relative to what I read in general. So "5 stars" for a volume of Hikaru no Go
means it's one of my favorite volumes in the series. The overall rank of the series I'd put at about 4 or 4.5 right now.
Anyway, I liked volume 9, The Pro Test Begins
, because it's really showing how Hikaru is progressing, and also brings in some new conflicts.
First, Hikaru is 14 now, which means about two years have passed in the series. He's now taking the test to become a professional go player, and the ongoing trials run throughout the previous volume, this volume, and into the next. I continue to be rather astonished at how a manga can stretch a single go game across multiple chapters and make it interesting.
Hikaru's Insei friends are taking him to go salons to play against grown-ups, which is improving his game a lot. They show up at one salon and find out most of the patrons are foreigners from Korea. (Actually, in Japan, people of Korean ethnicity who have been living in Japan for generations are still considered "foreigners.") Hikaru accidentally gets into a scuffle with a 12-year-old Korean boy named Suyong Hong. The two of them behave exactly like you'd expect a couple of puffed up tween boys to act, but it turns out Suyong is also a child prodigy testing to become a professional back in Korea. So naturally, they must settle things over the go board. Suyong, it turns out, has been having mental blocks to overcome much like Hikaru, and their game is both boys' current situation in life in black and white.
Meanwhile, Akira Toya gets his own subplot in this volume. As a rookie professional go player, he has to play against a buffoonish politician at a major go event. The politician is a VIP and Akira finds out he is expected to lose. There is some nuance here that someone not familiar with Japanese culture might miss, since a typical American response would be "Screw that, what kind of idiot expects a professional to pretend to lose to a pretentious amateur?" But in Japan, these sorts of face-saving gestures are expected, especially if you're a middle school student like Akira dealing with an important older man. Akira does, however, find a clever face-saving way to keep his pride without wounding the politician's (too much).
Finally, there is a bit of foreshadowing here when Hikaru becomes a bit full of himself and disses Sai. The ghost's participation in the plot is kind of off and on, but lately he's seemed less and less important (appropriate, as Hikaru is becoming a better go player). So I wonder if Yumi Hotta is going to do something with the nominal "supernatural" element of this series. Sai had an origin story and an archnemesis who hasn't been mentioned since maybe volume one or two.