Under Your Radar: Saki
Glossy:MMM by Miyuki Hashimoto
It seems you’ve left the present,
Reach that glossy future with your own hands
When you discover that you’re on fire,
Don’t lose your way, don’t stop,
Become completely passive
Where are you carrying your baggage to?
Do you mind being empty-handed? Hurry, hurry!
A riddle is a puzzle with parallel hidden meanings
Since I won’t lose, I laugh “I won’t lose”
I can have fun if I win
Yes! My mine mind
We could have met within the scenery of your unfurling heart
You’re free to a fighting start
It seems you’ve ended your own grief
Return and seize the hand you once experienced
I wonder if the previous road will continue onto tomorrow,
But instead of thinking about that let’s try running together
Well, this one sure took a while to go up. My assignments and such kept delaying me. Nonetheless, today’s Under Your Radar covers the series known as Saki. I should note, however, that, while Saki is a manga series (with three spin-offs and two PSP games), I’ll be splitting my coverage into parts. The spin-offs, as usual, will be treated as separate, but related works in that I won’t throw it in and will instead consider covering separately at some point. As for the main series, there are two distinct halves to it, which are split between a 2009 anime adaptation and an upcoming 2013 anime adaptation. Today, I’ll specifically cover the first anime, which is simply titled Saki, and the parts of the manga that it adapts and expands upon.
Saki is a bi-weekly/monthly (it fluctuates) manga by Ritz Kobayashi that’s published in Square Enix’s Young Gangan magazine, thereby making the series a Seinen manga. It was adapted into a 25-episode anime series that was licensed by Crunchyroll (but nobody else). The series follows a female freshman at Kiyosumi High named Saki Miyanaga who hates mahjong due to family issues. While deeper reasons are hinted at in both versions, the reason she gives when asked in the manga and anime differ. The manga has her say that she ends up losing her New Year’s gift money every year in family games, and the anime instead said that she’d get less candy if she lost, but her parents would get mad if she won too much.
Regardless, she has the strange ability to always score exactly ±0 on purpose (though that’s not the only trick up her sleeve), which is harder to do than winning. In fact, this gameplay style is so embedded by the time the series starts that she eventually uses mental tricks to make herself think she’s scoring ±0 to win the game. This, of course, pisses off her fellow freshman, and the previous year’s middle school champion, Nodoka Haramura.
Eventually, Saki joins the mahjong club, becomes scarily good friends with Nodoka (to the point where a lot of people think of this as almost a yuri series), and decides to aim for nationals so she can meet her sister, the current reigning champion Teru Miyanaga, again. Saki’s family apparently went through an almost-divorce a few years prior, and her sister hadn’t talked to her ever since. As is expected from this sort of series, the addition of Saki makes her school finally able to enter the team mahjong tournament (which requires 5 members of a single gender). All five members have their quirks, but are at least fairly good players, so they manage to win the regional tournament and qualify for nationals. Nodoka and Saki get 2nd and 3rd respectively in the individual tournament and qualify to enter the nationals’ individual tournament as well.
Would you consider that a spoiler? For this series, I wouldn’t. The results of the games played in-series are obvious, but what happens in the games themselves are not. The series follows a distinct pattern of character development, followed by a training arc, then they play mahjong for several episodes with flashbacks explaining the motivations several characters at the table have for playing mahjong. These games are always either throwaway or last several episodes with the majority of it being flashbacks, there is no middle-ground. Rinse and repeat until it’s over, with one match taking significantly longer than the rest.
The series manages to make the matches themselves fairly exciting using camera angles and exaggerated special powers that affect the gameplay styles of any given player, shown in many forms, such as one character’s online avatar for a popular mahjong simulator, another few characters having a demonic aura, one character turning invisible, a character who must deliberately make the “wrong” choices to win, a character who must eat tacos before a game to do any good…
Yes, that last one is a thing. As proof, here’s Crunchyroll’s synopsis for episode 9:
Episode 9 – Eyes Open
The finals have started and Kiyosumi’s mahjong club is in a state of panic! Tacos, the source of Yuki’s power, was[sic] taken away. In shock, her sadness was seen during her plays. The match is with Kazekoshi’s captain!!!
And while we’re on the topic, note that it’s episode 9 and the finals are starting. The finals end in episode 19. While, to be fair, the team matches are five 2-round games in a row with persistent point totals, that’s still 11 episodes of nothing but mahjong and flashbacks, mostly flashbacks. This makes the series a lot more suitable to binging instead of following normally, since that means the series is splitting a mahjong game over three months of episodes. Not to mention that the flashbacks occasionally get repetitive or take themselves far too seriously.
This is one of three weaknesses present in the series. The other two are also rather simple issues. First off, Kyōtarō’s served no practical purpose in the story aside from introducing Saki to the mahjong club and acting as a gopher for the female players. To be perfectly honest, the series could have been a lot better if they had removed him, as that would result in also removing his fawning over Nodoka on a regular basis (his imagination is responsible for the series’ only fanservice scenes). The only positive things he’s done mainly involved getting Yūki tacos in situations like in the aforementioned episode 9. His existence also establishes Yūki as the only straight girl in the entire series (I kid, I kid). All of that is easily removable.
The other weakness is that they rarely every explain any of the rules of the Japanese riichi variant of mahjong they’re playing, only ever pulling out specific parts of the ruleset when it’s convenient to the plot, the main justifications being that Kyōtarō is a n00b and needs things explained to him, which lead to some (but not all) of the basic rules being explained, or that Yūki didn’t bother to read the tournament’s house rules (allowing them to explain two loopholes in the finals).