Saki Miyanaga is a high school freshman who doesn't like mahjong. Ever since she was a child, she would lose her New Year's gift money during her family mahjong game. If she won, her parents would be upset, and if she lost, well, she lost. As a result, she's learned to play in such a way that her score differential always remains ±0: not good enough to win, but not bad enough to lose. When we meet her, she's being dragged to her school's mahjong club by an old friend. How will a girl who hates mahjong, yet has become adept at the game as a result of her upbringing, survive in this environment?
#1: "Glossy:MMM" by Miyuki Hashimoto (eps 1, 25) #2: "Netsuretsu Kangei Wonderland (熱烈歓迎わんだーらんど)" by Kana Ueda, Ami Koshimizu, Rie Kugimiya, Ryoko Shiraishi, and Shizuka Itou (eps 2-6, 8-9, 11-14) #3: "Zankoku na Negai no Naka de (残酷な願いの中で)" by Kana Ueda and Ami Koshimizu (eps 7, 10, 16, 18, 22) #4: "Shikakui Uchuu de Matteru yo (四角い宇宙で待ってるよ)" by Kana Ueda, Ami Koshimizu, Rie Kugimiya, Ryoko Shiraishi, and Shizuka Itou (eps 15, 17, 19-21, 23-24 )
I have to admit I went into my viewing of Saki with next to zero knowledge about the game of Mahjong, its terminology, or its rules. Besides a short wiki article and just the visual similarities to some domino games I have played before, most of it still is quite vague and mysterious. I was drawn to Saki by the cute character designs, a hint of yuri romance, and my own curiosity over the game of Mahjong.
Despite my curiosity, the idea of a 25 episode anime revolving around a table game doesn’t sound all that exciting. Most likely that is going to
be the reaction of quite a few people who just give Saki a casual glance. However they would be wrong. Saki manages to take something that doesn’t have any real action or makes for an interesting spectator sport and injects energy and excitement into it. While it’s decidedly over the top and completely implausible, it nonetheless works brilliantly.
The basic premise of the story revolves around Saki Miyanaga, a high school freshman who finds herself participating in the schools Mahjong club even though she hates the game. Though she is a very skillful player, bad memories of playing with her family has left a bad taste for the game with her. However she finds playing with people other than her family to be fun and her love of the game begins to be rekindled. Soon Saki and her new friends set their sights on making the national Mahjong tournament, and it’s this goal which dominates the plot.
As I mentioned, Saki does an excellent job of creating drama and action from something that isn’t in reality exciting. Characters are animated making special "finishing moves" when completing important hands and also some have special powers to intimidate or confuse their opponents. So don’t be expecting a lot of realism, both in terms of game play or the players themselves. Besides the game action, there is a fair amount of character building and touches of yuri themed romance. Saki overall is quite fun to watch and entertaining.
However it’s not all positive. While the actual plot revolving the Mahjong tournament is exciting and compelling the story does manage to derail itself quite a few times. The most glaring being the open ending. While it seems extremely likely that a second season is probable, I really wonder if it was even necessary. There were too many filler and service episodes and way too much story time devoted to developing unimportant and often nauseatingly annoying characters. I would have much more preferred the story spend its time developing the relationship between Saki and Nodoka. While the yuri aspects of the story are quite obviously present they are also unsatisfying. Beyond the wistful stares and blushing glances there is nothing of substance.
My opinions of the characters are decidedly mixed. Saki and Nodoka, as well as their friends in the Mahjong club are very enjoyable and interesting characters. Particularly in the case of Yuuki who steals the show a bit, adding comedic moments and also just being a funny character. Saki and Nodoka have a lot of chemistry together and make for a cute pair, though an unfulfilling couple. We get some background on both of them but really considering how important they are to the story it really is quite small. All of these subplots are left unresolved by the ending, so it will take a new season for them to be satisfactorily completed.
What really drags Saki's story and characters down is an enormous amount of dead weight in the supporting cast. There is absolutely no need to have this many "named" characters. The middle portions of the series give way to much screen time to developing the rival schools and players characters. This is not to say it shouldn’t have been done at all, but there was no need to have this done with basically everyone! It doesn’t help that I was completely uninterested in the majority of them and downright hated a few others. Annoying cat girl Kana? Please go eat a bowl of cat food laced with arsenic. Disappearing girl Momoko? Please get run over by a speeding city bus. There are a few memorable supporting characters but most are just various standard stereotypes we see in every other anime made.
The voice cast turns in a solid performance. Saki's enormous cast is brought out well by a bit of a dream team of seiyuu performers. However despite their talent the very fact that there are so many of them means that there just wasn’t enough screen time for many of them to make much of an impact. Additionally I found the music to be pretty plain and uninspired with a few exceptions. Some of the songs were catchy and they were cute many of them sounded like the singer was off-key. Others like the second OP theme I just didn’t like.
Artistically, Saki is very good. The character designs are typical of what you would expect in a Gonzo production. Saki reminds me of another series protagonist from this studio, Miyafugi from Strike Witches who is almost identical in both looks and personality. Also typical of Gonzo, they enjoy mixing in a lot of CGI effects with mixed results. The Mahjong automated tables looked pretty good but the "Nodocci" vs. Touka battle animation looked silly and out of place when compared to the rest of the series artwork. The visuals did a good job though into bringing in excitement and action into the games.
While I would classify my viewing experience of Saki to be very enjoyable, the overload of unnecessary characters and the lack of a proper ending or any substance in yuri relationships bring its score down. Hopefully a sequel will be coming soon that will address all of the plot issues and relationships that were left unresolved. I would say my own lack of knowledge of the game also hampered my enjoyment, though I did watch a sub version with notes that explained most of the terminology, it was still pretty confusing. It’s still overall, a fun and light hearted comedy that I recommend.
There once was a woman named Saki
Who used to think Mahjong was yucky
But her friends got the chills
When she showed off her skills
She was so unbelievably lucky
Then the Mahjong club was reinstated
In a manner that made it seem fated
And Saki fell in love
With a woman part of
The same club and she wished that they dated
So with that comes the start of our story
As they all began playing for glory
When the hour was nigh
They held their heads up high
And they joined the prefectural tourney
Then the girls started showing their powers
And they played like in god mode for hours
There was also in store
Yuri service galore
They were clearly
no innocent flowers
But even with a blushing red face
They still played at ridiculous pace
While maintaining their grace
With the skills of an ace
They accepted no less than first place
When the story was finally done
And the champion eventually won
I leaned back in my chair
And asked the open air:
'Who knew Mahjong could be so much fun?'
Yup, that's basically Saki for you ^^
If you thought moe shows couldn't be intense and action-packed, you were wrong. Saki is basically an anime about moe girls playing mahjong... with super powers. The girls all have their own (incredibly far-fetched) abilities which affect the flow of the game, their luck or even their own physical capabilities directly. However the bottom line is that the exaggerated theme of the show makes it SO much fun to watch. The mahjong games (or moejong as I like to call it here) in this show leaves most sports/game anime in the dust as far as intensity and addictiveness goes. Of course if you've never played mahjong before then it might be a bit difficult to properly understand what's going on a lot of the time, but I know countless people who have loved the show to death even despite that fact.
There isn't really much of a story beyond the fact that everyone's playing in various mahjong tournaments for their own reasons, but the sole focal point of Saki lies in the gameplay itself, and that's where it absolutely shines. This is one of my all-time favorite moe shows and definitely the most addictive one. You can easily marathon the entire anime in one sitting if you have the time to spare. It's very hard to stop watching it once you've started.
Oh, and as the cherry on top the entire show is also softcore Yuri... just to give it that little extra nosebleed-inducing flavor. Can never say no to that~
What do you get when you take mahjong, you shoot massive amounts ridiculous special effects, you add a huge cast of high school girls, you give them POWERLEVELS, and then you make them 90% lesbian? Does it sound ridiculous yet? Regardless of how you feel about what I just described, Saki somehow managed to take all the above points, mush them up together, and regurgitate one of the most fun and entertaining show I've seen in a while.
+ Simple and straight through story
+ Easy to swallow and get into
+ The mahjong games are SO MUCH FUN to watch and the show has PLENTY of them
It tries to create drama that just doesn't fit in sometimes
- It can get really corny when it comes to character development
- Game time gets interrupted right in the middle in favour of "development" time from time to time.
+ Cute character designs
+ Bright and very nice colour palette
+ Special effects used on mahjong games are very cool to watch and greatly increase enjoyment
- Animation quality can get poor at times (but not very often)
+ An all star cast of seiyuus makes the show very fun to listen to
+ The background songs used for the mahjong games are upbeat and GREATLY increases the enjoyment of the matches
- I wasn't a fan of the OP and ED songs but they are not bad
+ Large cast of characters and all with different personalities. You are bound to find someone you will like.
+ Every character is likeable and they are all unique in skills (mahjong POWERLEVELS)
+ When a series is able to match up 2 or more characters in a game and make you go "OH SHI- THIS MATCH IS GOING TO BE EPIC" every time you know the show has succeeded in creating their characters
- If you are not into yuri moments, you might feel ackward watching this because girl on girl moments happen.....A LOT!
- Although the show succeeds in giving most of their characters reasons to move forward and continue playing. Sometimes some of those reasons can get a little corny (but its not a big issue)
THIS SHOW WAS SO MUCH FUN TO WATCH, every time a game was going on the show suddently became so entertaining that the episode would end and you wouldnt feel like u had just watched 24 minutes of Saki. Even though the show could have some improvements I cannot complain about the work GONZO and Picture Magic has produced here.
Overall: Saki is not a masterpiece, it does not have amazing production values, nor does it have a compelling story....however what it manages to produce is a level of entertainment that just leaves you wanting to have more. The ability of taking a generally quiet game like mahjong and turn it completely over the top and extreme and yet still keep it from becoming chaotic is 1 of the reasons why Saki is a show that everyone should give a try at one point, it will surely entertain you.
Saki is exactly what you'd expect from a tournament-style "sports" game, minus exceedingly high testosterone levels, and plus lots and lots of moe. Now, Saki is about mahjong, which really... isn't a sport, but it's treated like one, and it's, as they say, serious business— every character lives and breathes mahjong.
The premise is not what you would call exceptional in any case. You have your protagonist who possesses remarkable talent, and through training and perservance, will become the best of the best. Who learns lessons through trials and tribulations, deepening and strenghtening bonds with teammates as time goes along. Your standard
So why should you watch Saki?
I think there are various demographics who would like Saki. Let's list them out first.
It's pretty obvious why sports/tournament-style anime fans will like this series, 'cause that's exactly what it is. If you like seeing your protagonist face off with increasingly harder opponents, learning new things and gaining others' respect slowly and surely, then this is definitely for you. I think Saki reminds me a lot of Hikaru no Go and Prince of Tennis (but, as I've mentioned, a lot lower with the testosterone level).
As for moe, 99% of the cast consists of cute high school girls. I'm serious. Let's see, the only guys who get more than two lines are the commentator (for the prefectural qualifiers), someone's grandpa, and the one guy that's the protagonist's childhood friend (who is largely absent in most episodes). And if I told you that there was one guy surrounded by five girls, you'd think "harem!" right away, right? Wrong. It's remarkable how little presence the guy has in this series. Half the time you forget he actually exists. But there are a couple of gratuitous fantasy scenes from him (i.e. well-endowed girls in bikinis), so you might like it if you like harem series, but you have to remember that the guy barely exists.
Now, for yuri. It's unbelievable how... yuriffic Saki is. At first I thought it was my imagination, but it's laden with so much subtext that it'll send you reeling. The girls keep blushing at each other (half the time the blushes don't even make much sense) and it's about as unsubtle as subtext can get. (If you don't like yuri, I suppose it's still possible to see it as "just" friendship, but you gotta wonder sometimes...)
I think the character designs are pretty cute (it's moe, after all), and a lot of the mahjong parts are CG, which looks really sleek. (And who knew about automatic mahjong tables? I sure didn't.) Gonzo's animation quality is inconsistent though, so sometimes the characters look a little blobby, but overall I think it's fairly good.
The cast for Saki is HUGE. Nevertheless, the seiyuu cast is very solid, with quite a few big names. The OP and ED are okay, but nothing exceptional. And character development is next to none, which is pretty much what you'd expect for a "sports"/tournament-style series. It's not trying to be deep or anything; it's just entertainment.
People who dislike lots of confusing terminology (and who are not familiar with Japanese names for mahjong terms) probably should stay away. They keep talking about terms and giving 5-second explanations that will leave you even more confused than before. But if you can take it all in stride, I think Saki's a good guilty-pleasure that you can blaze through mindlessly.
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