Mahjong isn’t exactly my idea of a fun game to watch, much less competetive mahjong (which is Mahjong intensified lol). Unlike Crossgame, which featured baseball a sport I actually knew a bit about. I was mostly in the dark when beginning my marathon of Saki. Sure I knew about the game and little things here and there, but the ruleset and scoring have confused me from time to time (Though I’m sure if someone who actually plays it regularly would explain more of the rules to me, it wouldn’t seem that way).

As you guys may have guessed, Saki is an anime about Mahjong. My first boardgame anime must have been Hikaru no Go, which convinced me that board game animes can be entertaining, so Saki wasn’t an afterthought. The series itself had been sitting on my watch list for a long time coming (as is most series) and I was in one of my meloncholic moods when I decided to watch it, as usual.

Per tradition, the wiki description on the plot for Saki reads:

Saki Miyanaga, a high school first-year student, hates mahjong because her family would always force her to play it and punish her regardless of the outcome of the game. Due to this, she learned how to keep her score at zero, neither winning nor losing, a skill said to be more difficult than actually consistently winning. However, her friend Kyōtarō from middle school, completely unaware of such circumstances, convinces her to visit the school’s small mahjong club upon entering into high school. After the club discovers her ability, they recruit her permanently and convince her to win instead of breaking even. She easily does so with her skill and discovers a new love for mahjong. This leads the team to enter the prefecture’s high school mahjong tournament with the goal of reaching the national high school competition.

After writing the rather depressing end of “1st Fate” the first arc of Xanatos;Deception (which I will post or post an excerp of soon!), I needed a little breather from anything that had to do with death and deep romance. I love the idea of romance to death. So for me to make such remarks, you can imagine the emotional toil writing “1st Fate” had on me. I’d like to say that Saki is a very surprising anime, but I expected it to be good from the get go. The story itself felt a bit rushed near the end, but that may have been due to it catching up with the manga (which has since progressed a bit further, though we are FAR from a proper season 2’s worth of material).

Animation is standard, if not average, for a show made in 2009. I didn’t notice anything too noteworthy about the music except for the OP/EDs which are above average. Upon further repeated listenings I may even add them to my playlist.

Character-wise I really liked how each of the major characters and “enemies” had quite different playstyles and tactics. The wide ranged of player types was very surprising for an anime about Mahjong. And I was especially surprised how they differentiated the players by types such as tactical, combo, supernatural-like ability, cautious etc.

My favorite character by far was Hisa Takei, the president of the main Mahjong club and one of the female leads. Her design and playstyle both kept my interest. With the later being tactical based wherein she takes risky chances and manipulates her oppoments into playing at her pace. She is particularly good at fighting cautious players and pulling wins out of dead-end scenarios to boot.

Plot wise, I really wish the series had continued on after the 25-odd episodes. Much like Hikaru no Go years before it, had the creators wanted to stretch the show out more by having all matches takes 2-3 episodes (which they did at times, just not all the time) orby adding in original episodes that focussed on character interaction or training matches, it could’ve been easily done.

There’s another Saki anime that’s appearing this season (Spring 2012), but from what I gathered it is focussing on a different group of girls and the cast from the original will only make cameos if at all.

There’s not many gripes I had with Saki. The numerous characters (at least the ones from the 4 “main” schools) were fleshed out enough to keep them interesting and unique, while developing their personalities to make them more than just extras. The series injected enough comedy to give the viewer ample sessions of relaxation between intense Mahjong matches. And the matches were done in a way to make them interesting even to people that didn’t quite “get” mahjong.

I guess my main gripe would be that the show didn’t teach mahjong to the viewer as well as say Hikaru no Go taught Go to the viewer. (admittedly HnG had many more episodes to do it) That and the pacing, which sped up way too much during the last few episodes, were my only gripes.

What makes Saki work so well is that it manages a perfect balance between being a thrilling mahjong series and being a fun anime about cute or cool girls with quirky personalities. Come for the mahjong, stay for the girls or come for the girls and stay for the mahjong. What also makes it work on the whole is that you do not have to know a thing about mahjong to like or enjoy this anime.

Even if the mahjong does not interest you, Saki’s cast will.