2020 may not have been a good year over-all, but it was indeed a treat for drama lovers. What better way to end this year than with Hikaru no Go, a light watch that will surely put a smile on your face and leave you with wonderful life lessons?
WARNING: This article contains minor spoilers.
Hikaru no Go (native title: 棋魂, translates to Soul of Chess) is a 2020 Chinese drama and a live action adaptation of a Japanese manga of the same title. It is about a kid called Shi Guang who meets a 1,000 plus-year-old spirit and Go Master, Chu Ying, and a young Go prodigy, Yu Liang. Years later we follow him in his journey to become a professional Go player.
Now the number of times "Go" was mentioned might have overwhelmed you but worry not, you can definitely dive in and enjoy this drama without knowing the rules of the game. For context though, Go is a strategy board game invented in China more than a thousand years ago and is still being continuously played in different countries up to this day.
So what are the things that will make you smile?
SHI GUANG AND CHU YING
Friendship Formed by a Supernatural Bond
"He said that God has chosen me for him. If he is right, I thank God from the bottom of my heart."
Shi Guang and Chu Ying are inseparable, and Shi Guang is the only one who completely understands Chu Ying and vice-versa. Chu Ying has closely witnessed Shi Guang's growth day by day and is no longer just a spirit beside him, but has become a part of him. He knows Shi Guang's deepest thoughts and Shi Guang is always honest with him. In the same way, Shi Guang is a loyal friend to Chu Ying and does his best to accommodate his earnest wishes.
SHI GUANG AND YU LIANG
Friendship Formed by Rivalry
"I've been playing everyday. But no matter who I was up against, I always thought of you."
Shi Guang and Yu Liang have a very interesting dynamic in which they both can't seem to tolerate each other, but at the same time secretly care about each other. Their encounter started 6 years ago when Yu Liang is both astonished and angry that someone of his own age has defeated him at Go. Thus he tried his hardest to hone his skills further in hopes to defeat him one day. Likewise Shi Guang, who is fully-aware of his own skills, considers the other as his role model. This mindset of "catching up to the other" causes the both of them to look out for each other and make sure that their personal catalyst doesn't fall.
13TH HIGH SCHOOL GO CLUB
Friendship Formed by Complete Trust
Shi Guang forms a Go Club at their school with his childhood friends Wu Di (played by Jiang Yi Ru) and Jiang Xue Ming (played by Wu Qian Ying), and is later joined by Gu Yu (played by Ji Li of The Untamed fame). He Jia Jia (played by Fu Wei Lun), a member of the Chinese Chess Club, also acts as the group's cheerleader at times. When Wu Di made a critical decision that might jeopardize the future of the club, the others supported him wholeheartedly and gave him sincere encouragement. When Shi Guang resolves to a seemingly-impossible and unconventional path of becoming a professional Go player, the club believed in his conviction to turn a boulder into a mountain and completely cheered him on.
YIJIANGHU GO CLUB
Friendship Formed by Mutual Support
Shi Guang joins a Go Club that develops professional players and meets Hong He (played by Zhao Hao Hong) and Shen Yi Lang (played by Sun Can). He was initially a very weak player at the bottom of the rankings but not once did they belittle him nor judge his ability. Subsequently when he started to unleash his full potential and threatened Hong He and Shen Yi Lang's ranks, they didn't try to bring him down. Instead they become proud of him and train earnestly (with each other!) in order to get stronger.
Think of little things like bringing food when one is staying up at night to study, or visiting one to his home when the latter is acting out of the ordinary, or sticking by to do manual labor to help the other - this trio has seriously one of the most precious friendships in dramaland.
We first see Shi Guang as a child obsessed with toy cars and pocket money, and Chu Ying’s presence and the game of Go to him were mostly an aid to get additional brownie points from his family and bragging rights from winning games. As he grew up and encountered various circumstances and people, he developed a stronger sense of respect not only to Chu Ying and Go, but to others who are passionate about the game he once considered detestable. He then pays this character development forward by uplifting and showing empathy towards everyone, even to complete strangers, that he meets in his journey.
There are various facets of love to family in this drama - Shi Guang to his mother and grandfather, Gu Yu to his foster grandfather, Hong He to his father, and many more. From Shi Guang who constantly shows adorable physical affection to his family (a rare trait for boys his age if you think about it), to Gu Yu accepting his wrongs and setting aside his pride to be kinder to his grandfather - this show will leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
THEME 1: REALIZING YOUR DREAM
All of us live our days in a probably routine way, but don’t you find it amazing how sometimes the encounters we consider mostly “ordinary” are actually paving the way for something unprecedented and greater? This is the same with our main character. What started as a small bet was not something he would have expected to plant a desire in him to pursue a new passion. What started as a small meeting with a stranger (or strangers) was not something he would have expected to touch his heart in ways he couldn’t have imagined. We see Shi Guang live his days idly and as carefree as he wants at first, and seeing him realizing his dream and giving his all to a concrete path that he wishes to take is both intensely satisfying and even inspiring.
THEME 2: ACKNOWLEDGING AND STRENGTHENING YOUR WEAKNESSES
Another thing that you will surely love is how the main characters are honest in admitting their mistakes and putting efforts to improve themselves. A common theme in this drama is the Go students and players taking the initiative to seek teachers and masters, ask colleagues on things they can improve on, challenge other players no matter how unknown or strong they are, and visit places where they can strengthen their weaknesses.
Last but not the least, what's better than a smile? A laugh! To not spoil the fun, let's just say that some of the funniest moments involve Chu Ying's unexpected reversal of cuteness, people's reactions to seeing Shi Guang talk and interact with visibly nothing (i.e. Chu Ying), raising chicks, and peeling potatoes. See it for yourself for maximum fun!
These are just some of the things that will make you smile while watching this. If you still have some doubts though, hopefully these next few notes will help you change your mind.
RATING AND RECEPTION
While this drama may not have a stellar rating on this site, it is acclaimed in its home country, receiving a rating of 8.5 from more than 100,000 reviews on Douban, one of the most influential websites in China. It is also nominated in Weibo TV Series Awards and Golden Blossom Internet Film and Television Awards.
FOR THE FANS OF THE ORIGINAL MANGA AND ANIME
If you're worried that the live action adaptation may not live up to your expectations, don't worry. The author and artist of the manga personally wrote letters to the drama team showing their support and satisfaction with the final product.
The drama's main theme will also bring you nostalgia as it is a Chinese remake of one of the anime's ending songs.
Here's to an insanely long year 2020 and may you complete it with a smile! :)