An anime about different groups of four people sitting around a table whilst shifting tiles around can’t be that interesting, right? Turns out that it can.
Saki is an anime that revolves heavily around the game of Mahjong, which I don’t actually know anything about. Does that spoil the enjoyment? Read on to find out.
Saki Miyanaga is in her first year of high school. A girl passes by her that she happens to think is beautiful. Sometime after that, Saki’s friend Kyoutarou drags her to the school’s Mahjong club. Saki insists that she hates Mahjong. However, the beautiful girl also happens to be a member of the Mahjong Club, introducing herself as Nodoka Haramura.
Saki plays a few games of Mahjong, where she demonstrates an ability to get a +/-0 score every time. That is an extremely rare score in the game of Mahjong. The Mahjong Club president tells Saki that she would have a handicap for the last game. Saki believes she achieves a +/-0 score, but the handicap was never implemented. Saki won the match, and soon rediscovered her love for Mahjong.
After that, the anime focuses on the Kiyosumi School’s Mahjong Club’s efforts to qualify for the Nationals.
There are loads of characters in Saki, though I’ll get to them later. First, I think it would be fitting to go over the members of Kiyosumi’s Mahjong Club.
First, there is Saki Miyanaga. The main character of the anime, and a person who hates Mahjong at first. However, she regains her love for it thanks to the help from the Mahjong Club. Several times she is referred to someone who is ‘loved by the tiles’, which often results in a +/-0 score. She is a bookworm, and prone to getting lost. Her ultimate objective is to get to the nationals so she can see her sister again.
Next is Nodoka Haramura. Just like Saki, she is a first-year. That’s not the only trait she shares with Saki; they both enjoy their books. Nodoka is considered a genius at Mahjong, and is the champion of the previous year’s middle school tournament. Though she does seem quite mature, she has a childish side; she can’t get to sleep comfortably without her penguin plushy Etopen. As the series goes on, she and Saki pretty much fall in love with each other.
Yuuki Kataoka is another first-year at Kiyosumi High School. She has known Nodoka since middle-school, though her stature makes her appear more child-like than anything. Yuuki is energetic, and seems to run on tacos. If she isn’t eating a taco, she is generally wishing she had one.
Hisa Takei is both the president of the Mahjong Club, and the self-proclaimed Student Congress President (which is just her way of saying Student Council President). She is a third year, which means she has one final chance at entering the nationals. Hisa will always go for the lowest odds, and that doesn’t just apply to Mahjong.
Mako Someya is the only second-year in the Mahjong Club. She was the second person to join the Mahjong Club, and is fairly close to Hisa. She talks like an old man, and her family runs a maid café. She has an excellent memory, which she uses to her advantage in Mahjong games.
Kyoutaro Suga is the only male member of Kiyosumi’s Mahjong Club. He is also a first year. His role is basically that of comic relief and the girls’ gofer. He is average at Mahjong at best, and generally the one who was to do shopping trips for the club.
As for the other characters, there are far too many to go over one by one here. However, whenever a new character is introduced in Saki, you get to see their back stories and motivations. The opponents that the Kiyosumi Mahjong Club play against aren’t just nameless obstacles; I think that is a high point of this anime.
Now, for the Mahjong games themselves. As I admitted before, I don’t really know anything about Mahjong. I reckon you can watch Saki without knowing anything about Mahjong, though it probably helps. Regardless, a single match can take up multiple episodes, though there is a perfectly good justification for that.
As mentioned before, the character’s stories are interwoven with the matches, so you’re not sat watching an entire game before learning anything about the people around the table. I think it is done fairly brilliantly, and a great way to keep the viewer interested.
Also, several characters seem to possess unique powers that affect the way they play Mahjong. The variety among them keeps it engrossing. One character has the ability to erase their existence, another becomes better during a certain round, so on, so forth. Watching the players react to and overcome those abilities are fun to watch.
There’s a lot of blushing going on. This doesn’t really affect anything in this review, but I figured it’s worth a mention. The series pretty much starts with a blush from Saki towards Nodoka. I would definitely class this anime under yuri, since Saki and Nodoka form quite a strong relationship with each other. That also happens to be the main source of the blushing.
The soundtrack in Saki also helps to make the games of Mahjong play out far more epically than one would expect. Once that guitar picks up during a game, you know someone is about to score big or stop another player’s winning streak.
The highlight of this anime for me would definitely have to be the way the characterisation intertwines with the games of Mahjong. One character in particular immediately made me draw parallels between her and Flandre Scarlet from Touhou.
Even with so many characters, nobody seems to get pushed aside in favour of others. I reckon anyone who watches Saki would be able to pick out at least one character they like from each team.
An anime that cleverly mixes characterisation with games of Mahjong. Not even a lack of understanding about the game can mar one’s enjoyment.
There is a spin-off of Saki which is called Saki Achiga-hen episode of Side-A. Expect a review of that in the not too distant future.
A second season of Saki will air in 2014, and continue from where the first season left off. I will be keeping an eye open for that one, and you should too.