Just as keikaku. (‘keikaku’ means ‘plan’)
It’s mahjong! It’s yuri! It’s one of the more unique concepts to emerge from the Gonzo anime factory floor.
There hasn’t been much in the way of mahjong-based anime or manga – the only other one that comes to mind is Akagi. Quite frankly, it’s about damn time that someone made a moetic take on this quirky quasi-gambling hobby.
Mahjong aficianados should note, however, that Japanese mahjong rules are different from Hong Kong “old-style” mahjong – different scoring systems, the rule of riichi, and suchlike. With my only exposure to mahjong being the occasional game with Chinese relatives, the technical aspects in Saki threw me for a loop and required me to read the liner notes closely and have a bit of a think. So either be prepared to learn the rules of a new game, or just sit back and watch cute girls (and one guy) throw plastic tiles onto a table.
I forget – is this Saki or Persona 4?
Episode 1: Saki gets dragooned by hungry hippo friend Kyoutarou into playing a few hands at their school’s mahjong club. There, she meets pretty pink princess Nodoka, taco-manic Yuuki, student
council congress president Hisa, and club offsider Mako. Saki displays an amazing amount of skill and luck at mahjong, unbeknownst to her since she’s just playing as she usually did with her family: score just enough to look good, but not so good as to get a hiding.
This hand of mine glows with an awesome power!
Episode 2: Looking for a way to harness Saki’s super mahjong power, Hisa uses basic psychology on her to bring out a desire to win by giving everyone else a head-start on points. As before, Saki manages to win from a seemingly untenable position. She discovers that winning can be fun, only to have Nodoka run off, having been defeated by someone who professed to dislike mahjong. After a bit of introspection with the aid of a dusty old mahjong table and a periodical containing her mother’s name, Saki returns to the old school building and formally asks for admittance into the club.
But I’m just the newbie; how can I win everyone over?
Saki: The newbie with hidden power, Saki is an intriguing protagonist. From the outset, she’s a girl with amazing mahjong skills but seemingly no desire to win. She reminds me of Yoshika of Strike Witches (coincidentally another Gonzo work), with her “powerful rookie” archetype, innocent charm, and some physical resemblance. It doesn’t hurt that she’s voiced by Kana Ueda who also plays Yumi of Marimite – arguably still a rookie-type even after four seasons of that anime.
That’s easy, Saki – just win ‘em over with your cuteness!
Kyoutarou: This bumbling blonde boy, who might be a childhood friend of Saki (might as well use all the cliches) serves as a trigger for exposition whenever the more technical aspects of Japanese mahjong rear their head. As the series’ token male, it’s unknown whether he will keep serving as comic relief or unveil a secret mahjong power of his own.
Wow, that new girl sure is cute.
Nodoka: As the previous top player of the mahjong club, Nodoka gets some sharp shocks to the system with the arrival of Saki. Being a 420-play-mahjong-every-day kind of girl, Nodoka possesses a substantial amount of skill and flair; she sure knows how to throw around the riichi stick. Becaues of her quiet demeanour, I wouldn’t be surprised if Saki turns out to be Nodoka’s first close friend.
It’s me, I’m the cute one! Pay no attention to the newbie!
Yuuki: This tiny member of the club plays as you’d expect: fast draws and a miniscule attention span. Yuuki appears to be on a never-ending sugar high thanks to soda drinks and her aforementioned addiction to tacos. She also serves in an exposition role for the rules of mahjong; look closely and you may notice that her cat-belt-ornament talks simultaneously. Since Yuuki’s voiced by squeaky loli expert Rie Kugimiya, I had high-pitched squeals of “pura-mai zero” echoing in my head for days.
You’re right, Nodoka, that new girl is a cutie.
Hisa: The president of the mahjong club is an older-sister type with a steady head on her shoulders; no surprises there. Due to her experience with mahjong, she’s the first to spot Saki’s odd “plus minus zero” streak. I can only guess at her playing style since she hasn’t been seated at the table yet, so I’ll assume for now she’s the slow-and-steady sort of player who waits for an opportunity to pounce with a killer hand.
Heh, while they’re distracted by the new girl, the club coffers are mine!
Mako: Still somewhat of an enigma, Mako seems to be a master tactician sort when it comes to mahjong. She has her moments though, like when she accuses Saki of somehow rigging the automatic mahjong table.
Editorial: Because of the timing of my commencent on this blog, I decided to shove the first two episodes of Saki into one post. Less for you to read, less for me to screen-capture, winners all ’round. Real life somehow conspired to prevent me from making this post, including a suburb-wide blackout last night, so I’m glad I have this wrapped up.
By the way, although I alluded to some yuri elements in this anime, I will have to admit that it was a cheap ploy to get more hits on this post. Honestly there’s nothing of that nature between Saki and Nodoka-
Look, it just happened to be raining and Nodoka didn’t want Saki to leave the club permanently. They’re just good friends, nothing to see-
Oh I give up.