This is the first time that I actually feel nervous doing an episodic review. It might sound strange, but I’m unsure of doing full justice to this magnificent saga, which has me hooked from the beginning! While the first twelve episodes focused on building the characters and establishing their storylines, the journey is yet to begin. As Shi Guang starts training to be a Professional Player and transverses through the various difficulties that block his path to victory, he learns valuable life lessons that set this show apart from most Chinese Bromances. I must applaud the show’s Producers and Directors for daring to inject romance into this sports-genre drama.
—Edited by TheFNGee
The show would have lost its substance if it was solely focused on the main lead’s trials and tests. But “Hikaru No Go” scores high on maintaining the delicate balance between the main and supporting casts’ storytelling. You fall in love with each character, keenly observe their journey, and invariably become a part of their lives. Although Shi Guang remains at the center of this story, his relationship with each character is unique and relatable. So let’s take a walk down memory lane as we reminisce over some of the best moments in this beautiful journey.
The current episodes mostly concentrated on both Shi Guang and Yu Liang’s emotional and physical duress. Entering a new club brings its own set of problems for Shi Guang. He is left bewildered and overwhelmed, but his new friends Hong He and Shen Yi Lang become his saving grace. As he learns the intricacies of the game, his unchecked insecurities breed major issues. The only things that help him move forward are his desire to win Yu Liang’s respect and Chu Ying’s unconditional support. While Shi Guang is paving his own path, Yu Liang is battling his own demons as well. He is burned out and seeks a timeout. However, a chance encounter with Shi Guang sets the ball rolling, and he is back in true form to take down his rivals. Both of our main leads walk different paths, but their focal points remain the same – trying to win each other’s respect and adoration. On this journey, they make new friends and enemies and, along the way, learn important yet understandable life lessons.
My Thoughts on These Episodes
As Shi Guang begins his training, he is basically at the bottom of the stack. His skills are sorely lacking and overall unimpressive. While his teacher Mr. Ban tries to be tactful about his shortcomings, the aggressive Mr. Zhu decides that provoking and hurting Shi Guang’s self-esteem is the only way out. Surprisingly enough, the trick works, and Shi Guang shows a sudden improvement in his form. Along the way, he grows closer to his new roommates Hong He and Shen Yi Lang (the Camp Instructor). Here the storyline focuses mainly on these three character’s self-growth and development. While Shi Guang wades his way through the various difficulties that stand in his way to becoming a Professional Player, Yu Liang goes through a reclusive phase. He is spacing out and acting out of sorts. Even his father’s harsh words of warning don’t seem to have any effect on him. Fang Xu (Yu Liang’s Senior and Yu Xiao Yang’s first Disciple) takes matters into his own hands and finally pulls Yu Liang out of his gloomy countenance.
Before we proceed, a special mention to Shi Guang’s inner circle of close friends, Hong He, Shen Yi Lang, and Bai Xiao Xiao. Each of them helps Shi Guang at a definitive point in his life and also each other. You can’t help but feel envious of Shi Guang for having a friend like Hong He. He has been trying for a year to seek Ling Li’s guidance (Third Rank Go World Champion). Normally Mr.Ling never trains students, and pleasing him is an arduous task. Despite that, Hong He introduces Shi Guang to Mr. Li and gives up on his own chance so that Shi Guang can seek guidance from the Master.
Shen Yi Lang, on the other hand, is the best supporting character ever written in the history of Bromance dramas. He is gentle, mature, and solely the responsible one in this triad. Even though he has his fears and insecurities and moments when he has to face off with Shi Guang in the tournaments, Yi Lang never blames him for the subsequent defeats. I enjoyed this drama mostly because of their close friendship because Hong He and Shen Yi Lang are as important as Chu Ying. They stood beside Shi Guang throughout his tribulations and gave him the best possible support. Bai Xiao Xiao is more related to Shen Yi Lang because they are romantically involved. But make no mistake; she is not a side character. From doing her best to help Shi Guang to playing the last game of Go with complete honesty (because if she fails, Shen Yi Lang would be ejected), Bai Xiao Xiao stands tall and strong. I have seen very few female characters with such grit and honesty in these Bromance dramas. Although she didn’t get a chance to achieve her dreams, she did pave the way for others.
Another person that needs a special mention is Mr. Zhu. He is absolutely terrorizing, and the entire institute is afraid of him. Although he spends most of his time drunk, he is very dedicated and can catch even minor mistakes at a glance. However, his favorite subjects are Shi Guang, Hong He, and Shen Yi Lang. While he cracks down hard on all three of them, his relationship is different with each. Mr. Zhu breaks down Shi Guang’s mental defenses and provokes him to make bold moves. He might seem like a tyrant on the surface, but the fact remains that he is truly soft-hearted. Being a loner, Mr. Zhu’s entire life is focused on cultivating the talent of his students. Of course, he has his own biases and trains the ones he finds talented. It’s hilarious that he has no interest in the institute’s “Top Student” – Yue Zhi (his grandfather provides financial aid to the club). Yue Zhi’s high-handed attitude leaves a lot to be desired, and you hope that someday Shi Guang would kick him out of the high chair.
Shi Guang swiftly changes his game plan and paves his way to the institute’s Top 8 slot. As the students battle the semi-finals of the Grading Tournament (Go National Examination, where the students have to clear to get their Dan grade), Shi Guang is again faced with major difficulties. Each of our heroes walks a tight rope and somehow manages to reach the Grading Tournament’s final round. Now the story gets even more interesting from here on. Shen Yi Lang decides that they need to do some soul searching on vacations instead of whiling away their time. The plan seems feasible enough but lands them in major trouble. Shi Guang gets a list of wayward places from Gu Yu, where Go enthusiasts assemble to play the game (unfortunately, Go Clubs were being shut down during that period). They are playing at a wood factory, and Hong He gets embroiled in a fight in one such instance. The factory owner arrives, and they decide on a bet. Shi Guang singularly wins the game, and the owner is impressed. He drives them to the Lan Yin Temple, and this is where our heroes get their foothold.
Each of them has a different issue, and the Monks (who are actually Go Masters) decide to train them individually. Shen Yi Lang, who has major issues with concentration, gets trained by the Elder Monk while they spend their time sweeping the steps. It might seem odd, but the Elder Monk breaks through Yi Lang’s personal boundaries and pesters him to improve his concentration. Hong He, on the other hand, has problems with making slow moves. He has this irritating habit of making fast moves without thinking it through. Hilariously enough, he is put on the kitchen duty, and the Monk assigned to him plays the slowest game ever. This was my favorite part because watching Hong He’s growth was an overwhelming experience. He goes through different phases of denial, anger, and confusion. Finally, he learns to focus on the game and gets trained to slow down his motions. I loved how the scriptwriters interspersed mundane daily jobs at the Temple with the encompassing lessons of Go.
However, the surprise element was the Elderly Monk assigned to Shi Guang. The Director of the series, Liu Chang, makes a cameo appearance as “Lazy Master” (yes, that’s Shi Guang’s nickname for him). These two have odd dynamics, and Lazy Master loves baiting Shi Guang. Our rude main lead has no respect for the Elderly Monk, and the only thing that gets him under control is that Lazy Master owns the old Go record with Chu Ying’s game. These two have the least harmonious relationship, and yet Shi Guang’s skills improve as he trains with Lazy Master on his 21×21 Go Board. The fact that Lazy Master can sense Chu Ying’s presence is entirely baffling, but he does.
As they leave the Temple, our triad of heroes is now well trained. It becomes more evident when Shi Guang easily defeats Yu Liang’s friend from his Korean Institute (Yu Liang’s friend is a Professional Player); it should be really difficult to win against him. But Shi Guang does it in an instant. As our heroes enter into the final round of the grading tournament, both Hong He and Shen Yi Lang face their own issues. While Hong He faces disapproval from his father, Shen Yi Lang still faces major insecurities despite his improved stance. Hong He’s saving grace comes in the form of Mr.Lin Li, who accepts him as his Disciple. I loved this trajectory because while Hong He’s father disowns him for his love of Go, Mr. Lin accepts him at the lowest point of He’s life.
On the other hand, Yue Zhi creates new problems for Shi Guang and breeds more insecure thoughts into Shen Yi Lang. Acting on an impulse, Shen Yi Lang commits a major rule violation, which leads to disagreements between the two best friends. Will Shi Guang be able to save their friendship? Will he make it through the final round and get the 1-Dan grade?
While the storyline majorly focuses on Shi Guang’s development, we are also given a glimpse into Yu Liang’s career trajectory. He unwillingly gets signed by a Go Team, but instead of letting him compete, they bench him for arduous tasks. On the other hand, Fang Xu decides to sell his glorious Go Team because he can’t face the pressure from his own Father and his Master, Yu Xiao Yang. Both end up having an outburst, where Yu Liang resigns from the Go Team, and Fang Xu decides to concentrate on developing his Go Team. Fang Xu has to shell out a lot of money to relieve Yu Liang from his contract and sign him for his Go Team. He mortgages his own house to pay for it and doesn’t let Yu Liang know about the deal. His sacrifice really made me appreciate this character. I enjoy the camaraderie between these two. Since Yu Xiao Yang spent most of his time training Fang Xu, the latter feels guilty. Fang Xu treats Yu Liang as his little brother and goes out of his way to indulge him or meet his demands.
Chemistry Between The Main Leads
Yu Liang and Shi Guang
Yu Liang may never accept it, but Shi Guang is a major trigger for him. Just as he is slacking off and acts disinterested, Fang Xu forcibly takes him to the club where Shi Guang is training. Watching Shi Guang train there scares Liang. On the other hand, Shi Guang is having self-doubts and wants to give up on the training. However, this chance meeting with Yu Liang and his rude demeanor fires Shi Guang’s self-esteem up. Like I have mentioned before, our main couple has unusual dynamics. While Shi Guang’s persistence surprises and scares Yu Liang, Liang’s disrespect makes Shi Guang even more impertinent. I have never met a couple who improve each other’s stance through barbs and insults, like the scene where Shi Guang messages Yu Liang about coming to watch his match with one of the Go Masters. The next day, Yu Liang plays in a completely different style, and although he loses the game, his offensive play leaves everyone surprised. Chu Ying correctly guesses that Yu Liang changed his style specifically to impress Shi Guang. Shi Guang is so stunned that he readily agrees to Chu Ying’s observation, “You fell in love with the game of Go because of Yu Liang.”
Their affections become more apparent at a friendly match. While Shi Guang keeps searching for Yu Liang in the crowd, Chu Ying teases him about his search. Surprisingly, they are placed right next to each other at the tournament. Despite facing off with his competitor, Yu Liang spends too much time concentrating on Shi Guang’s game instead. It leads to hilarious situations because Yu Liang is left baffled and shell shocked at Shi Guang’s progress. Both Chu Ying and Fang Xu observe the same. While Chu Ying sees through their deception as usual and understands their care for each other, Fang Xu is intrigued by Yu Liang’s obsession. He rightly points out that Yu Liang seems oddly excited about Shi Guang’s impressive stance and wonders why he isn’t scared anymore.
The situation grows dire when Shi Guang makes steady progress in the Go Grading Tournament’s semi-final rounds. Yu Liang gets positively obsessed, going to the extent of training the impudent Yue Zhi and using him as a bait to test Shi Guang’s skills. Yue Zhi understands the situation and grows angry with Yu Liang’s preferential treatment of Shi Guang. Even while they are training, Yu Liang only questions him about Shi Guang’s game moves, and Yue Zhi rudely declines Yu Liang’s guidance. The tables are turned when Shi Guang wins a game against Shen Yi Lang, and Yue Zhi is scared shitless. Yu Liang’s smug expression when he learns about Shi Guang’s win makes their relationship very clear. That makes Yue Zhi even angrier and tries to drive a wedge between our couple.
Chu Ying and Shi Guang
Shi Guang’s strongest support throughout his journey is Chu Ying. When Shi Guang loses his focus and wants to give up on his arduous training, Chu Ying becomes his sounding board. He tries to soothe Shi Guang’s fears and anxiety. The majority of their heartwarming conversations happen whenever Shi Guang is faced with a new problem, and it’s surprising how Chu Ying always manages to allay his fears. They were born centuries apart and have a significant age difference, but their friendship is sweet and adorable. Chu Ying can never stand anyone berating Shi Guang or his abilities, and that’s put him on the top of my “Best Bromance Character’s” list. This show would be impossible if Chu Ying and his persistent nature didn’t exist! Their relationship is unique, and it makes me envious of their relationship. Chu Ying is a complete package – a legendary player and has a huge appetite for BL dramas and the patience to handle Shi Guang’s major mood swings.
There are times when you feel his earnest yearnings and sadness, and you can’t help but be enamored. That Chu Ying hasn’t given up on his passion and love for the game of Go, despite suffering for centuries, makes this spirit more innately human. You enjoy their friendship and learn to appreciate their moments together.
Apart from Yu Liang and Shi Guang’s romantic implications, Shi Guang’s friendship with Chu Ying is the major highlight of this drama. They are each other’s biggest support as well as strength. Apart from being comic relief, Chu Ying has his moments to shine, and Juck Zhang never fails to impress the audiences with his solid performances. Apart from helping Shi Guang in his active sports career, Chu Ying is a major “GuangLiang” shipper, and it’s quite amusing. He always sees through their colorful lies and points out their obvious affections.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. [See our Review Guide]