Lasts month’s OWLS tour really lit a fire under my behind. We’ve been getting a steady influx of really talented writers for the past few months that has reinvigorated everyone in the group. As a result, January was just a spectacular tour. I was a little afraid that we wouldn’t be able to live up to it but once again, these guys proved me all wrong! Not only is everyone continuing to bring out their A Game but they are ACTIVE. Did you guys notice – we almost had the month completely filled!

Huge props to everybody, I’m humbled and proud to be a part of the group.

February is the time when a young woman’s fancy turns to chocolate because it’s really cold and dark outside and there hasn’t been a statutory holiday in like forever! And since love is a battlefield our theme of the month is COMPETITION

In honor of the 2018 Winter Olympics, this month topic will focus on the theme, “Competition” because the Olympics is where athletes from all countries join together to compete in sporting events. Through these events, we see how “competition” brings out the grit, the teamwork, and the competitive spirit within athletes. This month, we will be exploring anime and pop culture media that discusses the good and the bad when it comes to competition and what it can teach us about ourselves and the world around us.

I am currently lulling my mortal enemies  esteemed opponents into a false sense of security in the Winter Games so I have some very topical first hand experience with this theme.

the slight distinction between rival and friend (Tori)

I really didn’t want to pick a Sports!! anime. Everybody would be expecting me to. It’s too on the nose, too obvious, too perfect. Sure, I batted around ideas of love triangle animes or workplace dramas but in the end, the simplest answer is often the best. And let’s face it, we all want to be the best!

Competition is an elaborate concept which is often presented in a deceptively straightforward manner. It’s an oddity when you think about it. As a species, one of our greatest strengths is working as a group, coordinating efforts so the whole can achieve things the one never could. And yet, competition is almost instinctive in us. We feel a need to prove ourselves in some way *better*, no matter how arbitrary that way may be, and we drive ourselves to painful heights and ill-advised ends to reach these goals. We add these touches of rivalry or contest to almost every aspect of our lives. They serve both as inspiration that allows us to soar above the rest and crushing pressure that shackles us to the ground. It’s unclear just how primal the urge to compete is but it is a very real, physical need that affects us all in one way or another.

I’ve rarely seen a series take the time to explore all the different facets of this concept. We usually only get one at the time and have it presented as a simplistic catalyst rather than a central thesis. However, I always enjoyed the nuanced and multifaceted way the classic Hikaru no Go treated the idea of competition and how it obviously affected each character in different ways. 

The beginnings of the long race (Ayatoki)

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, the basic premise is that Hikaru is a generally carefree young man, with some serious hair style game, that meets and gets *haunted* by the spirit of a deceased Go prodigy from the Heian period named Sai, that had been bound to an ancient Go table. Initially, it seems Sai’s only interest, his only reason to exist in fact, is to play Go but as a disembodied spirit, he needs Hikaru to willingly act as his vessel. As Hikaru grapples with a whiny ghost that constantly pesters him to play Go, an odd relationship begins to form and Hikaru discovers his own love and talent for the game. When Hikaru enters the professional Go world, meeting a wide range of passionate players along the way, his life is chaned forever. As you can imagine, this is a highly competitive environment and rivalry is second nature.

It’s a great anime based on an equally great manga. I strongly recommend it. And although it is considered a classic of the Sports!! anime genre, it does handle most of the tropes differently which is what makes it both a perfect and unique representation of this month’s theme.

Getting ready for the fight (Pixiv Id 2835825)

Hikaru and the thrill of competition

When we meet Hikaru he is a carefree, happy go lucky, overly energetic middle school boy. In many ways he resembles much more the classic shonen hero archetype than the short timid boys that usually serve as Sports!! anime protagonists. Hikaru is at that age. On the cusp of becoming himself. He is still searching for something to define him as a person, for some direction to head in. Up until his discovery of Go, Hikaru is a happy enough kid but generally aimless. He’s not particularly skilled in anything nor passionate about any specific pursuit. He’s simply ambling along a little edgy, a little frustrated, trying to make out what lies ahead.

Although the game of Go finally gives him a concrete aim to pour his energy into, a skill to sharpen and a discipline to practice, it’s his introduction to the highly competitive amateur and professional tournaments that give him a purpose. For Hikaru, competition is a driving force, his chance to prove himself to the world and in his own mind. He is being forge in it, slowly changed by it and as we see him grow up, he is more and more defined by it.

For Hikaru, competition is a formative part of his personality and experience. Both glorious victories and devastating defeats have shaped him more than anything else in his life and when we last see him, we know that he will continue to chase that thrill at least for some time to come.

looking back on the battle (みそら)

Sai and the spirit of competition

Sai has known and thrived in competition all his life. He is a Go Master and as such competition is an inherent part of his being as well as his ultimate downfall (he was murdered by a jealous rival). After centuries, competition is the only way of life Sai knows. It’s the most comfortable and natural state for him. He longs for it desperately even though a real challenge is almost impossible to find at his level. Without it, he withers. For Sai competition isn’t a simple incentive, it is the ends unto itself.

Sai relates to everything in the world in terms of a contest. Even if it’s one he has no chance of loosing. Competition creeps into all his actions and taints all his relationships. He even feels the competitive towards Hikaru who is his young pupil (and something of a son or younger brother). Sai simply doesn’t know how to exist without competing and he isn’t particularly interested in learning either.

As the story progresses and it becomes increasingly clear to Sai that he will not be able to simply go on as he has, the thought of casting aside his competitive nature and taking a step back from contests and rivalries is actually painful to him. When he finally relinquishes the spirit of competition it unravels his very ties to existence. Sai isn’t prone to competition, he IS competition.

Tags: Anime, Pixiv Id 2835825, Hikaru no Go, Touya Akira
in the heat of the sruggle (Pixiv Id 2835825)

Touya and the burden of competition

Finally, my beloved little prince Touya, a tragic antihero if ever there was one, has known nothing but competition. As the very gifted son of the current leading Go master, he’s trained to follow in his father’s footsteps his entire life. He’s never enjoyed the game for the simple pleasure of playing (only winning). Every aspect of his existence has been in some way limited by competition and expectation.

The world of professional Go is an odd place. The game is usually played alone but you can occasionally form loose 3-man teams. However, as there is a very limited number of Go players that can rival the skills of a professional, you unavoidably end up practicing with players that are destined to become your rivals. 

Touya has done very little else than practice Go. All his friends are just future opponents. This inescapable reality has isolated him from his peers and robbed him of the chance of forming any real ties with those around him. The weight of competition has also tainted his relationship with his father leaving him completely rudderless.

For Touya, there is little joy in winning. It is a simple reality. An end he must reach because that is what everyone wants of him. He has been seeped in imposed competition since before he could truly grasp the reality of it and has been trying to support the load ever since. He believes competition to be an inescapable reality. He simply doesn’t know of any other way. Yet, he is slowly trying to find something beyond it. He knows that he needs to find a balance, a way to live with and despite the constant competition before the weight finally crushes him.

the fierce duel (JELLY兔)

A double-edged sword (why is that a bad thing?), competition can be a myriad of things. The exact same competition is an inspiration for Hikaru, a necessity for Sai and an affliction for Touya. Like most things, competition is what you make of it and I am the very best at competitiveness!!!

This said, I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this group. All the OWLS posts have been fantastic, and even I am not quite so delusional as to declare myself the OWLS winner. I did have a T-Shirt printed that says that…

Tags: Anime, Sabachon, Hikaru no Go, Shindou Hikaru, Fujiwara no Sai, Fanart, Pixiv, Hikaru's Go
I’ve always loved this pic (Sabachon)

Point and case: Takuto’s post on the current Olympics is about to come out. I hate posting so close to Taku (I mean it’s an intimidating follow) but man I love reading his posts!

In fact, have you read:

And coming up we have Crimson which is probably going to have her signature mix of impressive writing and lovably warm tone. Man, I got sandwiched between two amazing bloggers. This seems unfair. Next up we got more incredible OWLS:

23: Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews)

24: Andrea (Andrealinia)

26: LynLyn (LynLynSays)

27: Pink (PinkysPalace)

28: Lita (Lita Kino Anime Corner)

Well, at least I still got the t-shirt.

Pixiv Id 75104

36 thoughts

    1. Everyone keeps getting better – it makes no sense! Thanks a lot, It’s a challenge keeping up with you guys but also an inspiration!

  1. HIkaru no Go is an old favorite of mine. It motivated me to learn the game, and I eventually became the best go player on my campus…until a professional 6-dan from China enrolled, at any rate. 🙂 The show used to be wildly popular, but not as many people seem to know about the anime now.

    1. I first watched it quite young and a lot of the subtler points escaped me at the time. I think this has some deceptively deep elements that can easily be overlooked. It’s worth a second look.

  2. I have heard about this game, AND the series, a million times! But somehow I just can’t get the motivation to start it. Maybe because I’m more interested in anime that deals with the generic outdoor sports and go doesn’t counts as one.

    However, I’m sure I will eventually try it and who knows, I might end up liking it.

    This sure was a great post, and I support Auri’s words: OWLS tour got a triple strike of awesome!

  3. Ok, Rin-san, I need to confess.
    I gave up on this manga halfway through.
    I just couldn’t get the rules of go ^^*

    Sandwiched between two marvelous people LOL More like OWLS tour got a triple strike of awesome……

  4. It’s been a while since I did anything related to Hikaru no Go (because I remember reading the first volume or so at some point in the past)…and that reminds me that I’ve got the anime on my PTW and actually need to watch it sometime…

  5. Aahhh, Hikaru no Go! This reminds me that it’s on my re-watch list! I watched this when I was young but I can’t remember much of it, only that I liked Sai so much. Hahaha! Great post as always! 🙂

      1. I’ll find time for it sometime this year! It’s got many episodes and I think I kinda want to binge-watch it so a lot of time for it is needed.

  6. I’ve often thought I might pick up Hikaru no Go, but then I always saw it’s 75 episodes and I’d go for something else…

    I’m not the most competitive person in the world, and I sometimes get put off by how seriously anime takes winning (in line with publishing ranked results in school). The element of competition is an integral part of what makes me dislike Your Lie in April so much (as it’s bound up with trauma, and the idea that traumatised people are just letting themselves go).

    I’m not against competition per se. I think the opening episodes of Saki adress this rather skillfully, where our titular heroine refuses to join the Mah-Jong club, because she had bad experiences at home, where a highly competitive family would always play, and they’d get mad at her for winning, and then they’d get mad at her for losing, so she learned to play in a way that she’d always come out +/- zero, which ironically is much, much harder than simply winning. The way this plays out is a thing a beauty.

    Similarly, I got a kick out of Ben-to, where they combined being poor and having to buy cheap with the tropes and conventions of the sports genre, by having people fight each other for the priviledge to buy half-price bentos. Pity that they quickly forget about the concept and buy into their own nonsense too soon, but it’s still a pretty entertaining show throughout.

    But yeah, at times anime takes the spirit of competition a tad too far for my tastes.

    1. I’m obviously biased but I would say the depiction here is extremely well balanced. I focused on it in the post because that is our theme but the series does a good job in highlighting all the different aspects of professional competitors including dealing with and accepting constant defeat as a simple reality that’s shrugged off without much thought.

  7. YES! An academic post about Hikaru no Go! You did a great job writing it. I liked your analysis of Akira Touya so much. You made an amazing point about him being raised to be a pure competitor and how all of his friends are just future opponents. That really plays into his rivalry with Hikaru so much. I’m glad people are giving some props to this overlooked anime/manga series. HnG is definitely one of the better Shonen Jump series.

      1. I agree. There were so many things good about it. Sure, from an animation standpoint it isn’t one of Pierrot’s best, but the storytelling and characterization makes up for it. I had never even heard of Go until I read the manga and watched the anime. Hikaru no Go was so original at the time (shoot, even now). It would be great to get back into playing Go again. I also need to check out this one documentary about a Go player playing against an AI opponent and it’s on Netflix. It’s also weird that Takeshi Obata (co-creator/illustrator) would get way more popular after this series like when he helped make Death Note and Bakuman.

    1. We got a lot of new members lately but there are still tons of great and very popular blogs that haven’t joined. There’s also blogs of all sizes that have. We’re a pretty diverse group

  8. And as usual it’s a series that I have never heard about. (Or watched..sorry). But I love games (especially board games) So this is one that I need to check. Having never played Go, I have seen it appear in so many movies/series, that I am quite curious about it. As strange as this may sound I have never been competitive in games. Sure I like it when I win, but when I don’t I can still be happy if I had fun playing the game. Especially when it was with some good friends. That’s why these days I play a lot cooperative games, where the goal is to work together in order to beat the game itself. So much fun!
    And you know what was also fun? Your post! (Not a big surprise there I guess lol). 😊

    1. Oh the love of games and playing is also beautifully illustrated. So much so that it made me take up Go. Thanks Raistlin! If you decide to give it a try, lemme know!

  9. Loved this post! I watched Hikaru no Go with my brother back when he was really into Go. Believe it or not, there are actually Go competitions in our area. My brother no longer plays Go now and I think it has to do with competition and expectations as well.
    This post is making me feel all nostalgic… thanks, I guess? 😁

    1. I believe it. This show got me so into go I joined a club and ended up going to a few competitions as well and if there can be Go here…. Glad people still remember Hikaru

  10. hikaru no go is a series i love to death and i think this is a great way to frame it. i dont think you have anything to worry about in relation to the other OWLS posts. when i step back and think about it, the main characters of the show really are influenced by a sense of competition in vastly different ways. i think if anyone, i would relate most to touya. i dont say that because i feel like a natural gift forced me to bear the weight of a spirit of competition. i love competing and would never refer to it as a burden. but i think ive felt the pain of competing with the expectations placed on me.

    1. I remember reading the manga and being constantly worried for Touya. How would he take defeat, will he snap? I was so worried – I took my eyes off Sai…

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