Currently Reading: Saki


As of late, I’ve been learning how to play Japanese-style mahjong. And it’s all thanks to Saki, a manga and anime I’ve been keeping on backburner for a long time now. While it’s not the best manga out there by any means, it got me interested in mahjong. And that’s something!

Saki by Kobayashi Ritz


Summary (MangaFox): Miyanaga Saki is a high school freshman who doesn’t like mahjong. Ever since she was a child, she would lose her New Year’s gift money during her family mahjong game. If she won, her parents would be upset, and if she lost, well, she lost.

As a result, she’s learned to play in such a way that her score always remains plus/minus zero: not good enough to win, but not bad enough to lose. When we meet her, she’s being dragged to her school’s mahjong club by an old friend. How will a girl who hates mahjong, yet has become adept at the game as a result of her upbringing, survive in this environment?

Thoughts so far:

I always tend to read shounen manga on whims. No, really.

In all honesty, I actually started with the manga first, read a few chapters, and then switched to the anime for about….sixteen episodes, give or take. A the time, I had a hard time following the mahjong sequences in the manga, so I watched the anime, thinking that it would be easier to understand.

Thing is, the anime does make it a bit easier to understand, especially if you’re watching with subtitles that feature translators notes that explain everything. While the translation I read of Saki did feature very good explanations, it was still difficult to follow at times when I was first reading it.

About a week ago, I started it again fresh, and having a TINY, TINY background in knowing a little bit about Japanese mahjong, I was able to enjoy and understand everything. Currently, I’m about 80 chapters in, and having played hours of mahjong on my DS and phone, I can somewhat read the hands of the players without knowing how to calculate the points (amazing, I know).

Now, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Is this manga actually any good?

Well…

It depends on your mileage with game-oriented manga. Sports manga are different in that sense, since they have action and running and other fun things – manga centered around games require that the reader be willing to sit through lots of thinking and sitting around on the parts of the characters. With this in mind, I will say that I do prefer Hikaru no Go to Saki any day.

Hikaru no Go had really GOOD characterization, and the scenarios relating to Go were really easy to follow because that was the goal of the author – to make go accessible to young people so it would gain popularity. Saki, on the other hand, already has an established player base in mahjong, so it doesn’t need to make the game as easier to understand for newbies. This also allows Saki to focus on another aspect I kind of have a beef with: the fan service.

I know Saki is a shounen manga, so I was willing to let it slide a bit, but in the end…I couldn’t. The bob shots are INSANE, especially with Nodoka’s character. It’s like extremes – the characters are either really flat chested (and some of these characters are really loli too) or else they’re really well-endowed…to an EXTREME. Again, I know this is really common, but it still got on my nerves.

Reading Saki requires a lot of suspension of belief, I will admit. Bear in mind that this is a game manga, so you will have to suspend belief that Saki can get a Rishan Kaihou almost every time (read the manga to find out what this is). Same goes for Koromo’s Haitei Raoyue too…I’ve been playing mahjong games for ages and I’ve never gotten EITHER OF THESE MOVES =_= NOT FAIR. With a manga like this, it’s better not to expect a large amount of realism, and just enjoy the spectacle of it.

The characters are likeable in general, but a lot of them really fit into predictable roles. They were really likeable, so it didn’t bother me as much as it normally does, but it was still kind of…boring. That being said, I still really like Saki (the character), although she has some weird character traits (shivering when she comes across a powerful player….really?) The supporting cast is also really fun, especially the girls from Kazekoshi, although I didn’t like the Ryuumonbuchi group as much apart from Koromo (who is super cute).

The art in this decent enough, and the character design really varies. Either I thought that the characters were drawn really prettily, or else they were kind of…ugly. So yeah. Again, the fanservice really grated on my nerves. Note that the art in this is really moe, so if you’re not into that stuff, tread carefully here.

Overall, I have quite a few problems with this manga. It has its share of problems for sure, but it managed to get me interested in mahjong, and in turn, got me more interested in reading the manga some more! It’s almost a vicious cycle, except that it’s an enjoyable one, XD. I suggest that you give Saki a try, but if you don’t find yourself getting into it, I can understand why.

Score so far: 6.5/10

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