Reviews: Saki

Mahjong... Interesting...

I'm going to save you a lot of trouble and say this:
Do not watch this show if you do not know how to play mahjong!
Seriously. I mean it.

Actually, you need to have a (very) basic understanding of Japanese mahjong, which is a variant of the game popular in Japan, but damn near unheard of in the western world. Which is a pity, I think, since the concept of a zero-sum scoring system intrigues me.

But to get to the show, I never expected Mahjong of all things to be so… engaging. I mean, it's about as anti-climactic as a game of chess. Boring as all hell unless you're one of the ones playing or someone good enough to understand and analyse the players' actions. Then again, mahjong is more like poker than chess (yes that's not doing it justice but… well… just roll with it), so I can see why there could be that element of excitement that comes with games of chance.

I'm still digressing…

Okay, to actually talk about the show, it's alright I suppose. It lacks what you would conventionally call 'action' but it has that little thrill that comes with watching a game of chance. I suppose it's the closest you could get to an anime version of the World Poker Tournament. Just with tiles instead of cards.

It's a show based entirely on a board game, what did you expect? The characters were far from amazing, but they were a hell of a lot better than some, and there is character development for most of them, although it varies from character to character. Some of them felt as though they were just… there. They added nothing. But it worked, and how can you complain about that?

Acting and animation were pretty standard, as was the plot. Really, the only thing that makes this anime stand out from the crowd is the fact that they based it on mahjong. I mean, who does that? It was a brilliant idea; I've got to say, but really?

If you can follow what's happening (it takes some practice but you do need to follow what's happening) this isn't a bad show. You could do far worse and it is certainly better than the majority of shows I've watched (not that that's saying much), but of course Your Mileage May Vary. If you think you can handle it, I'd recommend you give it a go.

An unlikely concept done well, but not perfectly

Saki is a manga series that, of all things, deals with mahjong. It's an unlikely concept for a series, but it's done surprisingly well, even if there are significant flaws in its execution.

The plot is essentially about five girls from a small town high school competing in a mahjong tournament(and one guy who is neither skilled enough or the correct gender to participate in the girls only tournament). The eponymous main character used to hate the game because her Dysfunctional Family made it a very unpleasant experience for her, but when her parents separate and her sister Teru stops talking to her, she hopes to reach out to her sister and reunite her family through mahjong.

Familiarity with mahjong is helpful for understanding what is going on. However, the series does explain things as they become relevant, and one group of scanlators provides extra pages with mahjong rules.

There's a wide variety of interesting characters, with quite a few different motivations for entering. Some schools qualify for underdog status as much as the main characters do, while many of the stronger teams have sympathetic motivations, such as helping a friend(who may or may not be more than a friend, as many of the girls are quite close to each other). It's quite easy to sympathize with those who would be considered the antagonists, and many viewers like the rival teams more.

The major flaw in this series is the pacing. Several chapters in a row, comprising months in real time, will be devoted to a single mahjong match, and since there are five matches per tournament round, the story has spent years on the national tournament. Some chapters cover as little as a single hand of mahjong. The "Are we still on Namek?" meme often comes to mind, and it results in little progress on wider storylines, such as Saki's efforts to reconcile with Teru. Even if you're a fan of mahjong, it's likely that you'll find yourself wishing that the matches will end and the story will get on with the plot.

All in all, Saki is quite enjoyable, provided you're patient.

Great, Underrated Anime

It's no surprise most people don't give this anime a chance when they first see it. Confusing Japanese games and subliminal jokes confuse most viewers, and it's no surprise it's not popular in America.

I'm not sure of it's popularity status in Japan, (which I'm guessing is pretty big) but I'm honestly dissapointed that it's not more known where I live. I know nothing about mahjong, but the games in the show are so exciting and adrenaline rushing, and you can't wait to see what happens next. The characters are likeable and the plot overall is quite good. Hell, there's even some sexual jokes thrown here and there (which, mind you, are hilarious.)

Overall, this is a good show. Even if you don't know much about mahjong, I'd reccomend you'd watch it for excitement and likeable characters. The dialouge can be confusing with the characters shouting out the names of mahjong moves, and in my opinion that is the low point of the show, but it's still pretty good. My favorite characters are Yuki, Saki, Hisa, Kaori, Tomoki and Toka. Reccomended if you like a lighthearted show, with very few moments taken seriously.