Hikaru No Go
Genre: Comedy, Competition, Educational
Episodes: 75, there are also 2 specials (one occurs during the series and a post series OVA where Hikaru competes to be one of Japan's representatives in a junior tournament)
Twelve year old Shindou Hikaru meets a ghost inhabiting an antique Go board. Fujiwarao Sai was one of two Go tutors for the Emperor during the Heian period of Japan (794 - 1192). After a match in which his competitor, the other tutor, cheated, Sai was disgraced and committed suicide by drowning. But his spirit still desired to play Go and pursue "the Hand of God." With his guidance, Hikaru gradually learns to appreciate the game and the hard work and persistence required to become an expert Go player.
Very good clean lines with bright colors and characters with unusually colored hair (Hikaru has yellow and black hair and his rival Akira has green hair). Good character designs in typical anime style. The difference in age of the many characters is well depicted. The series spans 3 years and you get to see the main characters grow taller and see the subtle changes in their facial features. Lovely opening and ending themes and the overall score is very good, dramatic, and really adds to the "action" to make Go seem exciting. Voices are well cast. Sai goes nicely from a serious Go player to a naïve fish out of water.
You would think a 75 episode anime about playing a board game that seems even more complicated and less interesting than chess would be boring, but this series is strangely additive despite having no real action. Maybe it's the way the characters slam their little Go stones on the board, punctuated by a dramatic score, or maybe it's the numerous heart-felt developed characters.
After releasing the spirit Sai from an antique Go board found in his grandfather's attic, Hikaru, at Sai's ardent plea, visits a Go salon. Hikaru sees a child his age and sits down for a game. Unbeknownst to Hikaru, Touya Akira is better than any of the adults there, and his father is a top ranked Go professional. To Akira's shock, Hikaru, or rather Sai, beats him, setting off the rivalry for the rest of the series.
The story is told in various stages as Hikaru progresses from just being Sai's stand-in, to his joining the Go club, playing games on his own, playing tournament games on his own, enrolling in Japan's Go Institute to become a professional Go player, etc.
The characters are all likeable and well developed throughout the series. Each episode involves a game of Go and a live-action tutorial at the end. Like most sports-competition anime, it is somewhat episodic but is best viewed in sequence to observe the development of the main character who starts off as a non-motivated and aimless loser to becoming a serious Go player in pursuit of his rival.
Unlike in American movies, Hikaru's rival, Akira, is not an obnoxious bully. He is a serious, passionately obsessed competitor with a genuine love for the game. You feel for both Hikaru and Akira, and it's hard to decide who to root for, the hardworking prodigy or the exuberant rookie with great potential. Other good characters include Hikaru's Go club and teammates Mitan (a tough unscrupulous player), Kaga (Akira's ex-rival who turned to shogi - Japanese chess), Tsutsui, (a sensitive soul with a true love of the game), and Akari (Hikaru's would be sweetheart who learns Go to be closer to him). Then more memorable characters are introduced as Hikaru grows apart from his school friends.
The only complaint is that Sai is relegated to a relatively minor character, a bystander, who appears only when playing Go and little is done with the great potential of his character in the modern age. One exception is when Sai learns about playing Go over the internet. But at least the series stays away from any ghost potential ecchi content. There is also little about Hikaru's life outside of Go, but through Go he learns about life and values and goals and having something to strive for and you see his growth while caring for something important.
Rated G, one of the few animes that should be of interest for the entire family. You don't need to know anything about Go, nor do you need to care to learn Go to enjoy this sweet series. Not for hardcore action fans.