Story & Art by Ritz Kobayashi
Mahjong is not the first concept to come to mind when most people think of the word “excitement”, but such is the case for the manga Saki. The titular Saki’s despise of mahjong and journey to learn to enjoy it again drives the first half of this volume. Saki is on the bookish side of life, a detail which may allow many avid readers to identify with this story much easier. The manga itself is focused primarily on mahjong, though no need to worry, Saki puts in all the more effort into building tension from a very early stage. The manga is fully aware of how tedious this tale might have been otherwise.
Saki meets the other members of the school’s mahjong club: Kyou, Hisa, Mako, taco loving Yuuki, and Nodoka who has issues of her own. It takes some time before the club’s members convince Saki to come out of her shell and realize her potential. Nodoka is the other character who receives the most focus in this volume and is by far the most interesting part of it. Initially Saki and Nodoka clash regularly, mostly because of their very different world views. At the outset, Saki is a genius at obtaining a score of plus minus zero in each game she plays, which essentially means she gains or loses nothing each time. Such a score is challenging to obtain let alone on a regular basis.
Nodoka and Saki’s budding relationship is the core of this volume as the characters both grow emotionally and as mahjong players. Another compelling character is Hisa, although she is more of a background character as are most of the other lead characters at the moment. Hisa’s primary motivation is doing well at the mahjong nationals. While Hisa is in the background most of the volume she has been the one propelling the series forward thus far. Of the club members, Hisa is the most determined to help Saki realize her talent for, and love of, mahjong. Hisa is also the one who motivates both Nodoka and Saki to improve upon their faults near volume’s end.
While Saki has a mostly female cast, it sadly spends much of its time leering at these characters, much to the discomfort of the reader. An entire segment of the volume has both Nodoka and Saki in maid costumes for no other reason than to presumably titillate readers? Kyou, the one male characters, meanwhile tends to be the most meaningless one as well. It isn’t entirely clear what purpose he serves other than to be a self-insert character for the readership. The volume is mostly serious apart from the not terribly entertaining running gag of Yuuki’s fascination with Tacos. The series is at its best when it is serious and the characters are engaging in high tension mahjong duels. The most detracting aspect is by far the fan service as the characters, paneling, writing, to name a few aspects make this a thoroughly enjoyable read despite that.