Monday, July 6, 2009

Saki Anime Midseason Review (Episodes 1-14)

The shounen tournament plot formula has long been a bastion of homoerotic subtext in anime, churning out yaoi fan favorites at least since Tsubasa Ozora and his "teammates" (har har) went charging onto the field. (Note: I have never seen or read Captain Tsubasa, but only know of its massive importance to the incipience of yaoi slash.)

Saki takes the same basic tournament formula and applies it to mahjong, populates it with a primarily female cast, and ramps up the yuri subtext to the point of virtually indisputable text, in some cases. We have Saki, the ingenuous lead with inherently awesome skills in her field of competition, Nodoka, her highly competent early rival/primary (hinted) love interest who Saki winds up training with, and a veritable pentecontagon of intertwining friends and rivals, who may have something more than competition among them.

You can read my impressions of episode 1 to find out how Saki began, if you haven't seen it. Since then, I've found that it's improved. After Saki moves past her ridiculous (and yawn-inducing) plus-minus zero complex, she begins earnestly training with the rest of the Kiyosumi High School Mahjong Club for the upcoming prefectural championship- and hopefully, the nationals after that. Even though "training" partially means playing mahjong at upperclassman Mako's family's restaurant (which involves wearing maid uniforms -_-;;) and going on a training camp trip at a hot spring (e-yup -_-;;), Saki and Nodoka sharpen their playing skills under the guidance of their uber-competent club president Hisa. In episode 6 the Kiyosumi Mahjong Club arrives at the tournament, and that's when the show really ups its entertainment value for me. ^^ The mahjong battles throughout the show have always been melodramatic spectacles of DBZ-like displays of power (complete with dramatic angles, electric aura power-ups, and mahjong tiles shooting lightning) that put the theatrics of Death Note to shame.


See what I mean? ^^;

Anywho, once the tournament arc begins, we meet several of the other competing teams, complete with their own respective yuri dynamics and overwrought motivations for winning. We have:

Kazekoshi Girls' School- most of the players on this team seem to have a thing for their protective, touchy-feely captain Mihoko, whose Awesome Skills only fully manifest when she opens her perpetually closed right eye.

For a while I thought she had some kind of facial tic, but it turns out that she has heterochromia (eyes with different colors) and feels self-conscious to the point that she always keeps her blue eye shut. Somehow, by opening it she projects an intimidating "presence" on her opponents and augments her own abilities. She has taken a strong interest in Hisa (the nature of that interest can be left up to you, the audience) because Hisa once told her that her different colored eyes look pretty, like jewels. (Take responsibility, Hisa!)


Ryuumonbuchi High School-
Although the strongest player on this team is the infamously unbeatable Koromo, who looks like a little girl with a rabbit-ear headband thing, the team is headed by Touka, a rich, very stereotypical ojousama. While her fellow team player/maid Hajime clearly has her sights set on Touka (and Touka's other maid, whatshername, does also) and Touka seems to, perhaps, reciprocate Hajime's feelings,

by the end of episode 13 her feverish obsession with beating Nodoka at mahjong (who she played and lost against online) takes a rather EPL (evil psychotic lesbian) turn.


Tsuruga Academy- Up through episode 13, Tsuruga was the least expanded upon (and thus, least interesting) team in the tournament. Episode 14 remedies that by focusing on Momoko, a player whose Awesome Skill is stealth playing- i.e. she can mask her presence, causing the other players not to notice her bids and fall right into her traps. (It's hard to explain exactly what this skill is, unless you actually see it. ^^;) The only person who she cares about seeing her is Yumi, the president of the Tsuruga Mahjong Club, who was the first person to notice her in a very cute, yuriful scene.

Although the two screencaps above make it look like a creepy scene. But trust me, they're cute together. :)


And aside from Saki and Nodoka from the Kiyosumi team, I want to see Hisa and Mako (who are more interesting, imo) as a couple. ^^


Much of Saki's likeability is due to her seiyuu, the fabulous Kana Ueda (who better to voice an ambiguously gay heroine?), while Nodoka's seiyuu is Ami Koshimzu (Kanako in Marimite and Paraietta in Simoun). Hisa is voiced by Shizuka Itou, a.k.a. Rei from Marimite. Yuuki, my least favorite character, is voiced by poor Rie Kugimiya (Touko in Marimite) and Mihoko is voiced by Yui Horie (Yasuna in Kashimashi and Kyouko in Aoi Hana). Additionally, Hajime's seiyuu is Ai Shimizu, who voiced Strawberry Panic's Tamao, El Cazador de la Bruja's Ellis, Mai Hime/Mai Otome's Mikoto, and Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito's Hatsumi.

The plot and execution aren't remarkable, and the characters have beyond ridiculous mahjong-playing skills, but the later contributes to the fun of watching this cast full of eccentric, but largely likeable characters competing against one another. I only have three real problems with this show: 1) The fan service. I didn't like it in episode 1, and it bothers me as much as it did then. 2) Yuuki. Make her go away. She contributes nothing, and it made me say "Wha...?" when she did better than one of the competent upperclassmen in the tournament. (Granted, it did make for an unexpected twist.) 3) Saki and Nodoka are likeable, but not very interesting separately or as a "couple." Together, they walk a fine line between looking genuinely cute and looking like pair of Precious Moments figurines.

Touka and Hajime may be dysfunctional, but at least they seem more self-aware. Not to be cynical, but...

Anyway, I began this series with a combination of boredom and sneering antipathy. It must be fairly good/decent for me to enjoy it as much as I do now. :)

Art:
C+
Story: B
Overall: B (B+ for episode 14.)

12 comments:

C. Banana said...

Chiming in with a nice review comment.

I agree that Saki and Nodoka are a bit on the cotton candy side as a yuri couple. Occasionally, I'm pretty easy to please as I still go "Awww!" for a lot of their ship tease moments.

Katherine said...

Thanks! :)

Nice thing about Saki is, there are so *many* couples/potential couples that one has to find at least one they like. Myself, I especially like Momoko/Yumi and Hisa/Mako, although Touka and Hajime are amusing and Saki and Nodoka are cute.

ftlyfl said...

Nice review.
Well there sure are a lot of potential couples here but I find some of the characters hard to pair with.
(Especially on the Kiyosumi and Kazekoshi front) I mean Hisa can possibly be with Mihoko or Mako. (Good Lord... Hisa is paired with the M-KOs. MihoKO, MaKO)
But I like Hisa x Mihoko myself and find them to be a more interesting couple. (In my view)

Mihoko can also be paired with Ikeda Kana but I see it rather as unlikely.
It's just like they have a master x pet relationship. XD

(Take responsibility, Hisa!)
LOL! You make it sound like Hisa should take responsibility to her children. XD

Also, I enjoyed Saki since the beginning and got more excited as the episodes went by.

Oh and by the way, what do you think Hisa meant by her "Did you know? Blue Sapphires and red rubies are made from the same element."? Just wanna know though. =D

ftlyfl said...

Oh I forgot to say that Yumi x Momoko are a great and cute pair!
I wish they'd stay together forever.
I don't want Momoko to get hurt after finding the one who truly sees her.

Katherine said...

@ ftlyfl- I think Hisa's blue sapphires/red rubies comparison would be paraphrased as, "Just as sapphires and rubies are (essentially) the same thing, you're eyes are the same (i.e. equal in value), only colored differently.", with Hisa's statement also implying, "But like the sapphire and ruby, both of your eyes are beautiful." Hopefully that makes sense. ^^; Hisa certainly could have used less flowery terms, but that would have detracted from the yuri-rrificness of the scene. ^^ I can see Hisa x Mihoko also, although (through my yuri goggles) I like seeing Hisa and Mako as a couple (they often seem like the responsible "parents" of the Kiyosumi team, if that makes sense), with Mihoko having a crush on Hisa and the entire Kazekoshi team being smitten, to varying degrees, with their captain. ^^ (Although I have to admit, I'm not too crazy about Mihoko x Kana as a couple either. @_@)

And yes, Yumi/Momoko ftw! Especially after the ending of episode 15! ^^

ftlyfl said...

I think Hisa's blue sapphires/red rubies comparison would be paraphrased as, "Just as sapphires and rubies are (essentially) the same thing, you're eyes are the same (i.e. equal in value), only colored differently.", with Hisa's statement also implying, "But like the sapphire and ruby, both of your eyes are beautiful."

Oh I see... That's so sweet of her to say such things. -^_^-

Hopefully that makes sense.
Of course it did. One of those lines I heard that made sense. I also have read akayuki's comment at her blog that she believes that what Hisa meant by her metaphor is like, she is referring to both their eye colors.
Mihoko = blue right eye
Hisa = red eyes
And it's like she's pairing herself to Mihoko. XD
But I don't know really. I wanna hear Hisa say so herself. And I kinda rely on other people's thoughts cause I sometimes fail at thinking properly. *sweatdrops*

Hisa certainly could have used less flowery terms, but that would have detracted from the yuri-rrificness of the scene. ^^
But that's what Hisa's made of! d(^_')b
Full of awesome lines that certainly makes her cool! And if she didn't use those flowery terms, that would have lessened the impact and also the yuri impact, just like what you said.

I can see Hisa x Mihoko also, although (through my yuri goggles)
Well, I saw Hisa x Mihoko through other's yuri goggles. It's like if I have never stumbled across akayuki's blog, I would have never seen them as a potential couple. (Maybe. But their story is just perfect for a romantic and dramatic yuri manga material maybe that's why I was into them. Ooooh I love drama when it comes to yuri) That was when the episodes aired so far were 10-11 (and still haven't seen Saki back then, but Hisa/Mihoko & Saki/Nodoka made me watch it)

But actually I just see Saki x Nodoka as having a girl-to-girl romantic friendship not as something that would make like a couple. I think you kinda mentioned it here right?

I like seeing Hisa and Mako as a couple (they often seem like the responsible "parents" of the Kiyosumi team, if that makes sense)
I think I want it too, but not as much as you do. ^_^' Yeah! We really have different preferences for Hisa. LOL! But indeed, they truly look like the parents of the 4 little freshmen. XD Poor Kyoutaro being the only little girl XD

You saw the new ED theme right? Remember the scene after Kana was chasing Yuuki in a transitioning way towards the frame with Mako and Hisa? Well it totally made me think "Wow! Mako sure is like a guy there with that kind of position and smile" XD

(Although I have to admit, I'm not too crazy about Mihoko x Kana as a couple either. @_@)
Yeah that's right. It's just like Kana being a cat that wants attention, love, and care from her owner and not as something more. I just can't feel something from them. Not even the chills that any other potential yuri couple could give me.

And yes, Yumi/Momoko ftw! Especially after the ending of episode 15! ^^
Yeah of course! \(^o^)/
And their scene after Momoko's battle ended, Yumi said, "not here"... So doing it privately would be fine? XD
Also did you see how a perfect combination the song and her dance was on the ending sponsor credits? Totally laughed a lot there!

Sorry for the long post! I just had fun saying things myself. XD

Katherine said...

@ ftlyfl- I see Nodoka having a crush on Saki and Saki probably reciprocating, but on a less self-aware level. (Again, this is just my personal interpretation.) I see yuri between them, but they just seem more cutesy (like a crush between two kids) and less mature than the other couples I like. (But they're still nice together. ^^ I mean, Saki has Kana Ueda's voice!!)

And yeah, the ED is great! Plenty of subtle (or not so subtle) yuri moments, as you pointed out. Those Yumi/Momoko moments were so cute!! ("Not here", haha. ^^)

Tim said...

>(Although I have to admit, I'm not too crazy about Mihoko x Kana as a couple either. @_@)

The way it feels to me is that Mihoko x Kana is a couple designed to purely appeal to older male moe fans. Which I rather like, being one myself, but can put off others.

In terms of Hisa x Mihoko, I feel like it's almost completely one sided. An unrequited love. I mean, when Hisa first saw Mihoko, she didn't even remember her.

Katherine said...

@ Tim- I though it was pretty cute when Kana made her comeback against Koromo from zero-points abyss after remembering how she befriended Mihoko, although you're right about who they were probably made to appeal to as a couple. ^^; (Granted, Saki as a whole is a seinen show.)

And I agree about Mihoko x Hisa- although it doesn't really bother me because I'm still for Hisa x Mako! ^^ (And any of Mihoko's teammates would probably be glad to substitute for Hisa.)

HSMHK said...

Now... Starting from episode 23, Hisa has now finally shown interest towards Mihoko. It won't be a matter of time that Hisa will finally return Mihoko's feelings. There are lots of hints thrown already then add episode 24 itself.

Obviously Hisa is beginning to take a step towards the chase. Those who dare take the hell-wait, best results come to them, just as what Hisa says. If you might have read MakiMaki's thread, someone boldly stated that Hisa, Mihoko and the HisaMiho fans alike, all chose a hell-wait type of path.

Mihoko x Kana might be designed to appeal as a couple although NOT as romantically appealing as Hisa x Mihoko.

In all honesty, I could only find Mako x Hisa as best buddies, then Kana x Mihoko as pet-master relationship, like how others usually portray.

Just my honest opinion though.

Katherine said...

@ HSMHK- I haven't read the MakiMaki thread, but you certainly have the right to your opinion. :) My final impressions of the couples/potential couples/imaginary couples in Saki will be in my final review of the series.

HSMHK said...

@Katherine:

You might wanna include Kana x Miharu too. Since I think it's been kinda hinted at episode 23 in Miharu's side. After Mihoko graduates and possibly be together with Hisa, Miharu could be the only one remaining close to her, and the one who truly cares most of Kana.