Format: 25 episodes
Dates: 5 Apr 2009 – 27 Sep 2009
Synopsis: Miyanaga Saki is a casual mahjong player with a natural talent for the game. However, she never cultivated this talent because her family would become upset if she won or lost by a large margin. As a result, she learned to play by maintaining a score close to zero — a goal that is arguably much harder than winning. When Saki enters her first year of high school, she is dragged into the mahjong club by a friend and learns to play the game competitively.
Style: It’s shounen, everything is exaggerated.
Realism: Nonexistent, for better or worse.
Saki is what it looks like. Adapted from an ongoing and fairly long-running manga being serialized in a shounen magazine, the Saki anime is more or less a standard male-targeted sports series. The prevalence of female characters is hard to miss, but fortunately, the series isn’t dragged down by the usual unsubtle titillation. The camera lingers but most of the comedy falls on punchlines in the dialogue rather than slapstick fanservice.
Still, comedy is not the show’s strong suit. Its strength is its lighthearted, fast-paced, borderline yuri character interactions. The cast never truly matures or develops strong bonds with one another, but each individual’s quirks quickly become a source of entertainment. There is chemistry in the group’s personality archetypes. Pacing is important here: like the rest of its genre, Saki rarely stops to breathe, cramming each episode with either comedic dialogue or action. This isn’t to say that the plot moves fast — it’s quite the opposite — but regardless of how relevant the events of an episode are, they are usually presented with little room in between. Fortunately, the show’s lack of thematic or formal complexity means that its pace is still easy to digest. The bigger question is whether its type of humour and hijinks click with the viewer.
Lightheartedness is also a key factor in the plot. Like many sports anime, Saki‘s action scenes are ridiculous. Characters rely more on unreasonable luck than detailed hand analyses and Kaiji-esque monologues explaining the mindgames. The style is attention-grabbing: characters draw and slam tiles with as many special effects as any shounen combat series. The content of the games isn’t too different. Various characters possess “special abilities” that affect their opponents in some ridiculous way, often requiring unorthodox play to overcome them. Yet this ridiculousness is not a bad thing — the series never takes itself too seriously and it lets the lighthearted antics of the comedic moments bleed into the dramatic ones.
The downside to all of this is that the comedy is fun but shallow and the action is exciting but too unreal to be tense. This is not the place to go for serious mahjong games and emotional yuri rom-com. That said, Saki does not encourage any false expectations in its presentation. It is what it looks like. It’s a shame that it ends on a low note: as dramatic as the ending is, it is not an ending. The manga is ongoing and the anime represents only a portion of the overall story. Saki‘s themes aren’t complex enough to require proper closure but it’s still dissatisfying to know that none of the arcs are the “main” arc. One never wants to complete a series and say “okay; now what?”
Altogether, the show’s ups and downs are shared by most of its genre. It’s decent until it admits that it doesn’t have many tricks up its sleeve. There is very little in Saki to pull it down and it handles the absurdity of its material well, but it’s unoriginal on the whole and doesn’t offer much that you can’t see from the first episode.
The Rating: 5
Reviewed by: Eternal