Something I don’t think I’ve mentioned is that I’m a hockey fan. A pretty dedicated one at that since I regularly used a VPN in order to watch my team (Chicago Blackhawks) on occasion. It’s about the only sport minus baseball that I regularly chat with my students about. Mostly me babbling and them nodding their heads at my extended opinions. Ice hockey isn’t the most popular sport in Japan, let alone the states. It’s on the rise though. Which is why me and my hockey-loving heart was broken this past season when it was cancelled due to COVID-19. So I needed something, perhaps a manga about hockey to soothe my soul. But, not just any hockey manga, one that I knew I’d like… so of course when I saw who wrote Go Ahead; you can guess how it went.
Go Ahead is the story of Izaki Yuuki, a boy who is in love with hockey. Unfortunately he lives in one of the worst possible locations to try and practice, let alone compete in hockey, Miyazaki prefecture. By chance he meets his new teacher, Aiba Gouhei, who seems to have a lot of experiance with the sport, despite his vehement denials. The duo clash, and can’t even settle it on ice! So what happens when the heat turns up?
As stated; I love hockey. So when I discovered that my favorite mangaka had made a series based on one of my favorite sports, I was sold. From the first period of the series until the bitter end I was absorbed. I mean, the bias and groundwork was all laid out for me to be right?
Somewhat. I had some concerns on how it would compare to Whistle! since it was the follow up series. There was bound to be some comparison points, either in plot, characters or elsewhere. I mean, they’re both sports manga by the same author after all. Yet, I didn’t see to many points of overlap or reusing themes.
Yuuki already has a lot of experiance in the world of hockey, and is considered above average for his age. While Go Ahead is still a tale of underdogs like Whistle!, there’s a distinct difference. Whistle! focused on Sho, who really sucks at soccer getting better, opening his opportunities to play by rebuilding his new school’s team with the help of a few talented players and then progressing beyond his wildest dreams. Go Ahead is more of, Yuuki literally has no one to play with, has no where to play, no real means to try and build a team at his school, and therefore can’t even really aspire to compete with other teams. Go Ahead also has Gouhei as a guiding force for Yuuki and the other recruits, as an adult figure, something that Whistle! doesn’t have until the latter half of the series.
In fact, Go Ahead has several relationships that are leagues better then Whistle!. The first being the dynamic of Yuuki and Gouhei. Yuuki being a punk-ass kid who all he really knows how to do it incite people, rather then invite people is a unique character. Hockey isn’t a one man show, but Yuuki still has a lot to learn about that. Gouhei is a young teacher, and therefore for better or worse still gets baited by Yuuki’s shenanigans. Some might call it childish, but for me it was really refreshing to see a more passionate teacher and student bonding over sports. Also, it’s fun watching two blockheads getting into hockey based mini-games from time to time.
Another aspect that works a lot for this series is how female characters are incorporated. I was absolutely delighted that Takagi Hinako was included from chapter one as a main character and later on a key player. Especially for literally how badass Hinako gets to be in later chapters. It really showed me that Higuchi-Sensei was really working on re-working how teams, could look in sports manga. In Japan, a lot of Jr. High School teams can be co-ed especially when they first start up or in more rural areas. I really appreciated that this side of Japanese school culture was being shown in a series, however small.
On the technical side, all the terminology, training techniques, and equipment are on point. It’s clear that Higuchi-Sensei took the time to research all this and make it as accurate as possible. From the first chapter, the fact that Yuuki is using inline skates as an off-season training session was amazing. The later details, from the different types and styles of skates, padding, sticks and more was just perfect. Even when Gouhei does a few makeshift things (such as manufacturing a mini-rink in a storage unit), are all done with some serious knowledge of the sport and the elements to curate an accurate image. At the end of each volume, she does a small segment with a hockey expert Hori, explaining more elements and lingo used within international ice hockey and more! It made my little hockey fan heart go into over drive and cementing the idea that Higuchi-Sensei is my favorite mangaka of all time for sports titles.
About the only thing wrong with Go Ahead, was the timing. The Japanese public was not ready for a manga about ice hockey. Higuchi-Sensei was clearly ahead of her time with this series and it shows in the amount of detailing and set up. I could tell the entire time that it was building up even better premise-wise then even Whistle! to a large competition but alas, it never got the chance to fully tell this story.
It was clear that Go Ahead wasn’t popular enough when serializing and it was wrapped in four volumes. I felt like a player on the bench, banging my stick in anticipation for a competition that wouldn’t come. It’s truly a tragedy for the genre, and especially for fans like me. As always, Higuchi-Sensei gave it a strong and upbeat ending worthy of our small but passionate cast of characters.
Despite the flaw of having the series called off prematurely, Go Ahead is a brilliant hockey story worthy of being enjoyed to this day. It’s smartly paced, filled with all the details to make an fan cheer and chuckle, beautiful art and direction and so much more. Go Ahead stands proudly on the ice and deserves more readers in this off-season.
I sincerely hope that others check this out in some capacity. Like all works minus Whistle!, Go Ahead has never been published in English. But… I think it’s available in some capacities online. Hopefully for other hockey fans, give this series a read and join me in my camaraderie since we have been denied a proper hockey season this year. With that, I’ll see you guys next post!