Genres: Slice of Life, Drama, Supernatural
Aired: April 2009 to September 2009
Also Known As: 咲-Saki-
Summary: Miyanaga Saki, a freshman at Kiyosumi high school, hates mahjong as she was essentially forced to play with her family when she was young. However, those days are over since her family has been split for years: she lives with her father while her older sister went with her mother. The two sisters’ relationship remains very strained.
One day, Saki’s childhood friend drags her to their school’s mahjong club where she encounters girls who have their eyes set on the Annual National Mahjong Team Tournament. Deciding that winning the tournament is the best way to attract the attention of her older sister, Saki chooses to join the club and to prepare for the Nagano Prefecture Tournament which will decide which schools will participate in the nationals. How will Saki resolve her mixed feelings towards mahjong?
I watched Saki when I was a high school sophomore who knew nothing about mahjong and I still had a blast. So even if you don’t know anything about the tile game, you can still enjoy the show. In fact, you might even enjoy it more if you’re clueless because the girls within this series pulls off nearly impossible feats with both ease and poise.
Viewers have to accept that Saki is very much entwined with the supernatural, which makes sense since there’s two schools of thought when it comes to mahjong. The Occult players believe in flow; crazy things are destined to happen when the conditions are right. Most characters within Saki fall under this category. Meanwhile, Digital players think that mahjong has nothing to do with the supernatural and that it’s a game about efficiency and probability. Haramura Nodoka, who plays a lot of online mahjong, is fond of proclaiming SOA, or “Sono Occult Arimasen,” which basically means “The occult isn’t worth a hill of beans.”
As such, viewers shouldn’t be picky about what’s realistic or not. Not only do girls have mahjong powers, but no one seems to wear underwear underneath their fluttering skirts and mahjong is actually super popular within this setting. What’s also unrealistic is how many times Miyanga Saki and Haramura Nodoka say each other’s names. If you were to play a drinking game, you’d be sure to suffer from alcohol poisoning before you even finish half the episodes. Same goes for the amount of fanservice scenes.
The show starts off rather slow. I could thoroughly summarize the first few episodes with a few sentences each. Once the main characters start playing at the Prefecture Tournament, however, the pace picks up quite a bit. Nevertheless, some matches take longer than others and span several episodes; the captains’ match in particular goes on for five episodes. This happens because Saki isn’t just about Kiyosumi high school. Yes, they’re the main characters, but they’re fighting other high school girls with their own backstories and dreams. In this case, it works out and I appreciate learning more about their opponents, but it’s not as successful in Achiga-hen (which I will go over in more detail some other time).
The Individual Tournament mini-arc after the Prefecture Tournament is not actually shown in the manga, but Ritz apparently confirmed what happened was canon. A girl who only appeared during those episodes was also mentioned in the manga, so there’s that. I disliked how Miyanaga Saki regressed as a character during the Individuals and how plot armor makes two of the top 3 very predictable, but at least one particular character finally got her chance to shine since she secured first place.
The animation is acceptable. Some frames are a little lazy, but that’s because most of the awesome effects go to the mahjong scenes, so I imagine some sacrifices had to be made in order to keep up with the deadlines.
The OPs and EDs are very catchy. They’re still classics to this day, in my opinion.
And yes, Saki’s childhood friend, Kyoutaro, is a guy and yes, there’s guys in this series. However, the total amount of named male characters within the first season of Saki is minimal as with their on-screen presence in general (sorry, Kyou-chan).
I recommend Saki if you’re a fan of yuri. Hand-holding, blushing: almost all of the light and soft stuff happens, folks! The fanservice is rather excessive at times, however.
It’s fine if you don’t understand mahjong since the show briefly goes over the basics, but you might miss out what’s happening during the high-tension matches. Personally, this show was what pushed me to learn mahjong and I still appreciate the series all the same.