When people say Japan can make a cartoon about anything one of the examples sometimes brought up is the game of mahjong. But in truth, the mahjong genre remains mostly the province of salarymen reading manga on the train, immersed in stories of seedy underworld types and their elaborate gambling schemes (because, as the stereotype goes, mahjong is a typical yakuza activity). By contrast, the younger core anime audience has paid little attention to the world of mahjong ...
Until a bunch of cute girls stepped into it.
That's the defining trait of Saki, a series that takes two tired-out genres (Epic fighting tournament! School girls galore!) and freshens them up by putting them in an unlikely context. The result is not without its flaws: too many girls, not enough episodes, an ending where the middle should be, a middle where the ending should be.
However, the series also starts with the kind of material that makes the tournament genre infuriating - character introductions, preliminary matches, and training sessions.
It is here that the show is at its most mediocre, with predictable bishoujo stereotypes engaging in predictable acts of fanservice as friends and rivals get acquainted.
Those who survive the early episodes, however, will be rewarded with a tournament arc as gripping as any mainstream fighting or sports anime.
Even though it falters at the finale, the series still delivers some thrilling gameplay moments, thanks to an over-the-top animation style full of flashy sequences and visual metaphors. Saki's signature move, for example, is rendered with electric sparks, CGI effects and dramatic camera angles; another special move that translates to Plucking the moon from the bottom of the sea is portrayed as a rising waterline threatening to drown the players. If a tabletop game seems like a boring concept for a TV show, well, this series does everything in its power to make it as un-boring as possible. Sadly, the same can't be said for the listlessly animated school-life scenes and cookie - cutter character designs - and with so many different high school teams, one can get all the way to the final episode and still not remember who all the players are aside from vaguely recognizing their faces.
For all its flaws, Saki has accomplished at least one thing: it's taken the mahjong genre out of the world of yakuza and salarymen (where even Akagi dwells), and finally brought it to the realm of the everyday anime fan.