Do you ever just follow the trends of what appears on social media one day? Over the course of one day, I saw Irina post about a little bit about Saki in her top five female sports anime and then people were talking about Saki on twitter. In a bid to not completely be left out, I started watching it myself pretty quickly. Following small trends isn’t always a good thing, but this time it absolutely was. I didn’t know what to expect walking into it, but I ended up watching Saki much, much faster than I usually watch anything. It got to the point where if I had a free half an hour or day, I would just watch one episode after another. Especially during the tournament because that was my jam. Thank you Irina and twitter (sometimes) for being good.
Saki is an anime centered on a girl named Saki of all people. Whoever expected that to be a reality in an anime like this? One day, Saki Miyanaga was dragged into the mahjong club by one of her air headed middle school friends, Kyoutarou Saga at Kiyosumi High. The boy didn’t even listen to Saki after she said she didn’t want to play Mahjong, but what happened changed her life forever. She was thrown into a match against middle school mahjong champion now a first year Nodoka Haramura who Saki saw earlier that day, the ever-excited Taco lover first year Yuuki Kataoka, and the second year and ever studious Mako Someya. That match with her amazing +/- 0 (which I’m told is amazing) is what led the fun and conniving club (and class) president Hisa Takei (best girl) to forcing Saki to join the club. The rest is history which is strange considering this takes place in the future.
Saki is a somewhat typical sports anime in which players compete in tournaments to go into nationals and win it all. The difference is that mahjong requires four players which means each team match has four teams battle for supremacy per round one player at a time. The game is decided by, after all five players of each time meet during their designated roles, the scores at the end of the game. It makes the tournament matches even longer than a typical sports game. A lot like Chihayafuru in some ways, except those team tournaments feature those five-man teams playing at the same time. This is something different because they are one at a time. I really dig this format because even when players are given limited amounts of episodes compared to others, everyone has the chance to shine.
My favorite part about Saki is how much this anime loves its characters. Especially since the tournament leading to nationals took so long that the anime could not even show any of that larger game at all. Instead, the anime decided to do a cool thing and make an individual tournament so we can see the entire tournament cast in action again and I really mean all of them. Not only Kiyosumi high, but every important opponent that faced against Kiyosumi during the tournament and I love this fact. I love Kiyosumi high for all the craziness they get involved with, but seeing more of the girls from Achiga Girls High, Ryumonbuchi High, Kazekoshi Girls High, and Tsuruga Academy again was great. Especially since all of their stories are fantastic.
There is just something about how these characters are written and interact with each other that just clicks with me. They are very simple characters though, but simple in ways that allows all of them to bounce of each other. Especially since how they play Mahjong also goes with their personality. Saki is a very shy player that plays to reunite with her sister after a falling out. She uses her +/-0 style she learned from her family playing together to her advantage. Nodoka is a very technical online player and bringing her online style to the forefront is how she succeeds. Hisa is a person with an absurdly long wait time and she waited until her third year to take on the tournament to her advantage. You can probably get how Yuuki and Mako work by what I told you. For a tournament anime, I think this works great. Simple can be relatable. Especially when Saki and Nodoka (along with other cast members) create some very shippable yuri moments because it’s a very gay series. (Plus Saga gets pushed around as a bimbo.)
The only thing that can, but doesn’t, ruin all of this a bit is how horny this show is. I am pretty convinced that no girl in this show wears underwear. The way the show pans around these girls sometimes in the rain or the almost completely but not up skirt shots give that a way quite a bit. In the future, no one wears underwear as far as we know. There is also a huge focus on the girl’s sweaty thighs during mahjong to not only show how stressed each character is in certain moments, but also for fanservice. I think that Saki needed a bit of that fanservice to add more to the personality of the show. Especially with relationships around the girls. It’s completely on purpose and it’s fine. More than fine. Besides, it’s not distracting at all because the fanservice never slows down the show.
Moving along with more visuals, this show is late 2000’s studio Gonzo and you can tell. There is some cg around the Mahjong machine that is cool to look at, but still cg. The character designs feel very late 2000’s and moe. It carries that aesthetics of that time period so much that logo in the opening is very Haruhi inspired. There is also a lot of still frames in a lot of moments and that is fine because Saki is based around characters sitting around a table and playing Mahjong. That animation is saved for when characters use their super powers or just pull off crazy, gravity breaking moves. You know, the typical things high school girls do like ghost abilities, using the power of the moon to increase your play, and incredibly cool flipping tiles in the air then slamming them in the air in the coolest moments ever. Everyone can do those things…
With all that put into place, I really enjoyed watching Saki. It was a great character piece of sports anime in wonderful ways. Almost perfect honestly. I don’t think it challenges Chihayafuru for the throne in my mind yet, but it’s up there. I guess I have that golden trio of non-sports, sports anime on at least my read list if they haven’t made it to my watch list yet and I like it. It’s not even necessary to understand Mahjong to watch this anime either because I still don’t, but I know I had fun watching the characters grow and do ridiculous things. That’s what I want when a show does something so crazy and fun. I should watch the other parts of Saki at some point. Hmmm…