Miyanaga Saki 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 always remains plus/minus zero: 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?
Ritz Kobayashi's mahjong manga is a relatively simple concept that has been executed well. The title character Saki Miyanaga is a genius player whose ability to manipulate her own score develops from being bullied while playing with members of her family. Despite her hatred for the game, Saki is drawn into her high school's mahjong club and soon aims to help take the club to the national tournament in order to reunite with her older sister who is member of the reigning national team champion.
Artistically, Saki is very clean and easy on the eye. The art does not occupy the reader with individual detailed panels
and makes it easier to read at a faster pace. One initially wonders how Kobayashi would be able to vary the drawings of her characters each time they declare mahjong, but she pulls it off by using different points of view and creative action shots. The reader can almost see the tiles come alive with the players' movements. Depending on reader interest in fan service material, one will find the occasional suggestive angles either distracting or refreshing.
Kobayashi presents her readers with a multitude of named characters that sometimes it becomes difficult to provide an equal amount of development. At one point during the height of the national tournament, the total number of characters introduced doubles from the number of characters in the prefectural tournament. If there is one conclusion readers can draw from this is that each girl has her own reasons for aiming at the national title. This makes it easy to attach oneself to a particular character because she has peculiar characteristics or manners, whether it be her love of tacos, her ability to remain hidden from her opponents, or simply her monocle. Unfortunately, this also means the title character is more easily forgotten than readers will originally expect.
Readers will enjoy this manga for more than its impressive display of mahjong skill (or luck, as some will say). The anticipation of seeing certain characters interact with each other is enough for fans to create multiple relationship pairings, which are abundant. Although readers who do not understand mahjong terminology may find the reading slow in the beginning, it becomes easier to not get caught up in reading explanations and proceed with a general understanding of each match outcome.
There is much similarity between the manga and its anime adaptation. While the two mediums approach the concept of the story differently, they complement each other well and can enhance each other's enjoyment.