Hikaru no Go: Road to the Hokuto Cup Review

Road to the Hokuto Cup poster

AKA: Hikaru no Go Special, Hikaru no Go: New Year’s Special, Hikaru no Go: Journey to the Hokuto Cup, Hikaru no Go: Road to the North Star Cup, Hikaru no Go: Hokuto-hai e no Michi
Genre: Sports/Drama/Coming of Age
Year Released: 2004
Distributor: Unlicensed

Origin: Japan
Running Time: 77 minutes

Rating/Recommended Audience: 7+

Related Films/Series: Hikaru no Go
, Hikaru no Go (2020 Chinese Live-Action Remake)
For Fans Of:
March Comes In Like a Lion, Chihayafuru, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Queen of Katwe, Go Player, Cardfight!! Vanguard, Shion no Ou, AlphaGo, The Surrounding Game, Saki
Notes:

-Road to the Hokuto Cup takes place after the last episode of Hikaru no Go. One must watch the TV series first to understand what’s going on.

-Warning! Spoilers from Hikaru no Go will be mentioned in this review. Read at your own peril.

Fun Facts:
-Road to the Hokuto Cup was a made-for-TV movie sequel and it is the last thing ever to be animated for Hikaru no Go at the time of this writing.

-The Hikaru no Go manga has sold an excess of 25 million copies worldwide. To compare with other Shonen Jump works, the series sold 2.5 times as much as I’’s, almost three times as much as Ninku, and 10 million more than Bakuman (keep in mind that Takeshi Obata was the co-creator of both HNG and that meta-fiction work with Tsugumi Ohba).

-This movie marks the debut of the character Kiyoharu Yashiro from the manga. He’s played by Katashi Ishizuka who has also voiced characters such as Milki from the original Hunter X Hunter series, Katsuo from Gintama, and he has even played Ryu in multiple Street Fighter and Capcom games such as the Alpha series, EX series, X-Men Vs. Street Fighter and even Marvel Vs. Capcom 2.

-Studio Pierrot has animated a total of 16 different Shonen Jump properties including Hikaru no Go with their entire filmography at the time of this review. That is a record for one animation studio to animate so many works from that manga magazine and brand. Toei wishes they had that many IPs from SJ.

-Road to the Hokuto Cup was written by Michiko Yokote. She has been a screenwriter for .hack//Sign, Naruto, Bleach, Patlabor, and even Cowboy Bebop. Outside of her writing work, she has contributed to four different Super Sentai/Power Rangers series and is the creator of Mermaid Melody Pitchi Pitchi Pitch.

-Hikaru’s noted rival and go prodigy Akira Toya is voiced by Sanae Kobayashi. Some other roles she’s played are Allen Walker from D. Gray-Man, Reinforce from the Lyrical Nanoha series, Asuka/Alexis from Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, and she had the misfortune [sigh] of playing Chris Thorndyke in Sonic X.


I have certainly been promoting Hikaru no Go a lot this year, haven’t I? Despite the pure insanity going on in 2020, rediscovering this unique anime and manga series has given me some solace from time to time. Reviewing Hikaru no Go was really fun and nostalgic for me even though it took a long time given the whopping 75 episode count of the original TV series. Reading all 23 volumes of the manga was great and I thought the whole story was better in hindsight the 2nd time around. This series also has the distinction of not only being the longest anime I’ve reviewed so far, but also the only one to have it’s own Top 7 list with all kinds of fun facts I didn’t put in the original review (most of those facts I didn’t know until long after I wrote it). I hope I haven’t come across as an HNG-bot or stan if you will even though I really enjoyed this work. After Pierrot animated the TV show, they would come back again with a movie sequel which is really good. I’ve read the manga, so I knew the story went farther. Sure, the ending in the TV show was still satisfactory in it’s own right, but more could’ve been told.

What awaits Hikaru Shindo and the other pros as they continue in their careers with this ancient board game? Let’s start by breaking down this New Year’s special edition movie sequel to (in my opinion) the most underrated Shonen Jump work I’ve ever seen. Onegaishimasu!

Hikaru no Go: Road to the Hokuto Cup kicks off the aforementioned tournament arc which is the last major storyline from the manga. The Hokuto Cup is the new big tournament being set up by major companies and various go institutes across Asia. This is a tournament that will pit Japan against China and South Korea with each country having a trio of junior pros eighteen years old or younger. Hikaru gets a call from the Tokyo Go Organization to take part in the Hokuto Cup which he gladly accepts. He becomes eligible to take part in the preliminary rounds alongside the likes of fellow Insei classmates Ochi, Waya, Honda, and the mysterious player from the Kansai region named Yashiro who has a very unorthodox, yet effective style of play. Akira isn’t in the prilims because he was automatically selected to be on the team due to his impressive win/loss records. This causes Hikaru to be jealous (rightfully so) as he has to play for a spot on Team Japan in this upcoming tournament. Along the way, he meets Kadowaki (the arrogant player from season 2) again who wants to prove that he can hang with the pros. Besides this, Hikaru has to prove himself to others especially after Sai disappeared from this world, but carries a fan everywhere as a memento. How will Hikaru fare in the preliminary tournaments to represent Japan and how will he bounce back in the pro world after recovering from his depression?

Before I get into the details of the story or characters, I will say that Road to the Hokuto Cup furthers my argument about how Hikaru no Go destroys shonen cliches including that of the Shonen Jump brand with a big thing about the existence of this special. Pierrot actually made a movie involving a Shonen Jump work that is ZOMG…CANONICAL TO THE SERIES?! This is almost unheard of for those kinds of movies. Let’s be honest with ourselves here, so many movies involving Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, and Yu Yu Hakusho to name a few are filler works even if some of them are fun. The fact that this movie is directly based on a major storyline from the manga that wasn’t covered in the anime was a huge thumbs up from me. Okay, let’s get to the other positive things about this movie. The go action certainly delivers and the addition of Yashiro added a new dynamic in the world of the pros. In his first match with Honda, he plays a Tengen (dead center on the board) in his first move which almost gives everyone a heart attack with how rare of a move it is as well as it being one that would be stupid if some amateur pulled it off. The fact he beats him decisively with his unique style of play makes him a huge threat to the tournament without making him to be some kind of villain or Marty Stu rival to anyone. Yashiro is a very interesting character in the manga during that arc, so it was very cool to finally see him in the anime. Side note: I think Asta from Black Clover looks like him. Just saying. The art style of the movie is a bit of an improvement from the TV series. To be fair, Takeshi Obata’s work has been able to translate well in an animated context. While people only know him because of Death Note and Bakuman which came afterwards, he should get more recognition for his work in Hikaru no Go for his dynamic and unique character designs. I really liked the character development between Hikaru and Akira. It’s hilarious seeing the two of them argue about their games much to the chagrin of the adults in the local go salon, but at the same time they know what they’re talking about and they even have an unorthodox respect for each other as well as a friendship in this point of the game. The possibility that the two of them could team together to represent Japan adds a new layer to their rivalry as Hikaru is still “catching up” while forced to not rely on Sai, but also to prove that he can hang with the go prodigy as both an opponent as well as a potential teammate for what’s hyped up to be an Olympic event in go or at the very least a Pan-Asian Games equivalent. There was so much going on in this movie, it was surprising that they covered so much in and outside of the Hokuto Cup preliminary matches. There are some cameos here and there like Akari during their middle school graduation or even seeing Mitani even if it’s just for a second. Isumi got his own time to shine as he had a match against Kuwabara-sensei. Let’s talk about the themes. They do reuse “Get Over”, the first theme as the opening which is fine since I do like the song. Dream is also in charge of the ending theme “Everlasting Snow” which is a pleasant song with a bit of a 90s R&B throwback kind of vibe to it. While it’s not “Get Over” or “Sincerely ~Ever Dream~” it still stands out as a quality track for this J-pop group.

Road to the Hokuto Cup does get some stones captured here. The background music is rehashed from the original series which is a letdown because the scoring was mediocre. The only really good music in the TV series were most of the theme songs, so they should’ve improved in the incidental music department. The animation quality was just slightly better than the TV series, but that’s still average. For a movie, they should’ve really upped their animation game. Seriously, just look at the Bleach and Naruto movies. Those quality of them can be dubious (that first Shippuden movie insulted my intelligence even if the fight scenes were awesome), but at least Pierrot actually used a higher budget to make sure they looked more cinematic. That studio didn’t need to have a Hollywood budget to make this look better since it’s not like their action-oriented works. There were some moments of background characters freezing occasionally although nowhere near as much as most of the episodes, but they still cheapened things by having the other characters sit, so they didn’t have to move all that much. Road to the Hokuto Cup looked more like a movie-length episode than an actual movie from a visual standpoint. Some of the moments crammed in did feel a bit undercut like some of the prilim matches and especially Ochi’s impromptu match against Yashiro since it happened way too close before the credits rolled. This also brings me to my last point which did affect my score. While the movie does cover the entirety of the Team Japan preliminaries, the Hokuto Cup has still yet to be animated. This is very disappointing because it was a crucial arc for the characters and it was the last major tournament in the manga. I don’t want to give this HNG movie the Children of the Whales treatment because it is better than that TV series, but the anime is still incomplete as a whole. This situation begs the question of how Hikaru no Go should get the remake treatment. It’s not like there have been Shonen Jump works that were incomplete at first, then got remade with more of the story and became uber-successful in the process. Of course, I would be lying in that last sentence because two series precisely fit that description: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Hunter X Hunter! I knew about those anime series before it was cool to like either (okay, I played the Dreamcast game of the former, but I did see the original TV series and OVAs of the latter). I’m sorry, but if Soul Hunter/Hoshin Engi could get remade, then Pierrot or any other studio can’t talk about not giving this a shot to remake Hikaru no Go and to FINALLY animate the entirety of the Hokuto Cup let alone the last stories in the manga (or at the very least make their own version of the ending that makes sense). That was a disappointing aspect especially for someone who read the entirety of the manga.



Hikaru no Go: Road to the Hokuto Cup was a very good sequel even though there could’ve been so much more in the movie let alone the anime property at large. The storylines and characterization are still top-notch as they carried over well from the TV show. There was a good balance of go playing and drama that worked more often than not. The fact that this was a canonical extension of the TV series instead of just a random case of filler fol-de-rol is a major plus. I wished they would’ve improved the animation and music to really make it feel like a movie even if it was made-for-TV. Of course, there should’ve been another sequel involving the Hokuto Cup proper, but that’s a fanboy rant for another day. While Road to the Hokuto Cup may look like a movie-length episode in hindsight, this is still better than so many Shonen Jump movies out there. While not as good as the original TV series as a whole, this was still a worthy extension to this innovative game/sports anime.

Hey, Shueisha! What’s YOUR excuse for not remaking or extending the Hikaru no Go anime when you have remakes of Hunter X Hunter, JoJo, or even the fact that Shaman King will be remade next year?


Adjustable Point Scores:

-Add 1 point if you’re a diehard Hikaru no Go fan.
-Add 1 point if you like anime based on board games.
-Subtract 1-3 points if you want movie-quality animation.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you need full closure in your anime series.

Pros:

-Great characterization and plot development
-Improved art design
-A Shonen Jump movie that’s actually canon for the right reasons? YES! YES!

Cons:
-Average animation quality
-Rehashed mediocre BGM soundtrack
-Doesn’t animate the Hokuto Cup arc proper

Final Score: 8/10 points

Content Advisory: Much like the Hikaru no Go TV series, the movie is a tame watch. The only objectionable facets of Road to the Hokuto Cup are Ogata-sensei smoking in passing and a few cases of mild profanity that doesn’t get harder than the word “damn”. This should be fine for the upper elementary crowd and up. Then again, Hikaru no Go at it’s most inappropriate would be a soft PG at worst when most episodes would range between a TV-Y7 to a TV-G spectrum in terms of objectionable content.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Hikaru no Go: Road to the Hokuto Cup is property of Studio Pierrot. The poster is from IMDb and is property of Studio Pierrot.

7 comments

  1. I only skimmed trough the review to see if this was worth the watch in 43 weeks xD
    Looks like it is! I thought this was an entire second series but apparantly when I am done with the series I am almost done entirely! This one will be reviewed by me in about a year as well xD

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gotcha. It truly is worth watching after you watch the entire series. I wish they would animate the whole Hokuto Cup instead of just the Team Japan preliminaries, but this movie was still worth watching. That would be cool if you watched it after you cover Hikaru no Go. I’ll be looking forward to that review. I would also recommend the manga.

      Like

  2. […] I’m still baffled how this review got more views than Makoto Shinkai’s other works, but I’m still grateful that this animated short got some attention. While I wouldn’t call Dareka no Manazashi the best Shinkai work, it was still a heartwarming story and certainly one of those corporate sponsored works that you couldn’t tell it was a commercial unless someone told you. It still blows my mind how this was a tool for a real estate company, but I would argue there was way more artistic integrity than most Hollywood works out there. Regardless if this was a low-key ad for houses and apartments, this is still something that could resonate with many viewers.5: Hikaru no Go: Road to the Hokuto Cup […]

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