[Japanese Games Winter 2018] Like Saki? Watch This!

Board games are amazing. They’re a perfect way to make families or friends spend time together –even if sometimes they raise the competitiveness levels to an extreme. They’re also one of the oldest forms of entertainment that mankind has created. Chess, Mahjong, Shogi and Go, for example, are so old that we don’t know their exact origins. Because they’re also great strategy exercises, some of them are considered sports. And thus, there’s a lot of great manga and anime that are about board games and their players.

About Saki

  • Episodes: 25
  • Aired: Apr, 2009 – Sept, 2009

No one takes Mahjong as seriously as the Miyanaga family. Every New Year, the whole family gets to play together, and those who lose have to give up their New Year money to the winners. This is why Saki Miyanaga, the youngest of the family, hates the game with a passion because there’s no way she can actually win. If she does, her parents would be really upset with her. If she loses, then she is without money. This is why she learned to keep her score as a perfect zero: so she won’t win, but she won’t be the absolute loser either. When the Mahjong club at her school finds out after she’s dragged there by her best friend, she has no choice but join the club where maybe she can learn to enjoy the game a bit more.

Liked Saki? Watch Ryuuou no Oshigoto!

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: Jan, 2018 – Currently Airing

Yaichi Kuzuryu is a very talented Shogi player. Unfortunately for him, this means he managed to get the Ryuuou title –which means he’s one of the masters of the game, and is one of the eight major title-holders in Shogi- at 16, and this made him feel too much pressure. After all, being the youngest Ryuuou, he needs to act like the older players and never play “disgracefully”, and all that pressure has made him fall into a slump in which he’s losing every game. Even worse, he’s losing the passion for Shogi that he once felt. But when a little 9-year-old girl asks him to be her teacher, he finds that perhaps there’s more to his professional life than just being like the older players.

Three Major Similarities Between Saki and Ryuuou no Oshigoto!

1. The series teach how to play a traditional board game

Both Shogi and Mahjong have been played in Japan for a long time. Shogi is known either as Japanese chess or as the Game of Generals, and it has its origins as far as the 16th century, while Mahjong was developed during the Qing dynasty in China (Which means it was created between 1644 and 1912). Both games became really popular in Asia, and in Japan in specific, which means that many schools have both Mahjong and Shogi clubs, and that there are professionals who dedicate themselves to play and teach the game for a living.

Saki and Ryuuou no Oshigoto!! Have small sequences that explain the respective games for any watcher who doesn’t know how to play them. Despite the fact that the main characters are really good at their respective games, the story finds ways to start the tutorials from the most basic moves so that when the action really begins during the matches, no one misses why the audience in the story is exited. So, not only will the stories entertain you, you can also learn a bit about how to play new games.

2. The main character has to learn to love the game again

It is obvious that Saki, at one point, loved Mahjong. After all, she does understand the game and she is not that angry when her friend pulls her to the club. But due to her family being overly competitive and how no matter what she did, if she won, no one would be happy for her; well, she started resenting the game itself. But with her friends, she is little by little learning that Mahjong itself is not the problem; the problem is that she was being forced to play. So a lot of the story is Saki learning little by little, how Mahjong can be fun again.

On the other hand, Yaichi’s passion for Shogi has been driving his life for most of it. There’s no other way he could have reached his Ryuuou title if not by loving and breathing Shogi. And now that he’s a Ryuuou, he still loves the game, but he no longer enjoys it. The pressure of being one of the best players in Japan, together with how the other title-holders act and play, is too much for the teenager, which is, by the way, a very realistic situation. Many young prodigies in Shogi, Chess, and Go have suffered the same in real life because they can’t act like an adult, and can’t have friends their own age in the game. It’s not until he starts teaching that the passion starts to come back.

3. There are a lot of cute girls in the story

This may sound like a very shallow similarity, but there are people who start watching great shows because they like the character designs and nothing more. Then they find that said character designs come with an interesting story and that’s how they become fans. Saki has very nice character designs for the Mahjong club. With the exception of Nodoka, all of them keep normal hair colors and are the different kinds of schoolgirls that you usually find in slice of life anime. What makes them different is their passion for the game, and that despite having the obligatory guy in the club, none of them seem to act like a harem for him.

Yaichi students, on the other hand, are much younger and Ai Hinatsu and Ai Yasajin have a big crush on him that is not reciprocated. On the other hand, at fourteen, Ginko Sora is almost his age and does try to make her feelings obvious for him, even if he seems not to notice. In that sense, the designs are a bit more Harem-like, but they’re also very unique, and thanks to their personalities –and an older 25 year old woman, together with a precious six-year-old- give this anime more harem characteristics than Saki, but it still keeps from becoming just that thanks to the interesting shogi matches.

Liked Saki? Watch 3-gatsu no Lion 2nd Season!

  • Episodes: 22
  • Aired: Oct, 2017 – Currently Airing

The life of a professional Shogi player seems like a great thing; after all, you get paid to play and teach the game you love. However, for 17-year-old Rei, it isn’t that amazing. He is an orphan since his parents and sister died when he was very young, and doesn’t really interact with the rest of his family. Because he decided to leave the school the moment he became a professional player when he was still in middle school, he doesn't have that many friends either. So a year after making his decision to become “independent”, he decides to join high school, where he starts realizing that there’s more to life than just playing Shogi.

Three Major Similarities Between Saki and 3-gatsu no Lion 2nd Season

1. Friendship is a very important point of the story.

Saki is a very cheerful girl, who will do anything for her friends. This is what drives her to accept going to the mahjong club the first time, even if she really doesn’t want to play. She’s afraid that everyone is like her family and she strives to keep everyone happy. However, her friends at the Club slowly start teaching her that it’s not necessary for her to be that attentive of everyone’s feelings but her own. While they insist that she joins the club, and of course, that means that she has to play even before she’s really comfortable with the idea; little by little they teach her that it’s ok to say no when she’s unhappy, and that no one is going to stop being her friend just because they had a small argument.

For Rei, however, the lesson is a different one. As a professional shogi player, he has kept to himself for a long time. While he does have some friends his age, he started the series in the first season being more used to seeing older people only as rivals in the game. But now that he’s in his second year, he can’t deny that his schoolmates have grown on him. Or that the Kawamoto sisters that live nearby and that simply won’t let him go back to being a hermit, are now the closest thing he has to a family. The process of learning to trust your friends is one of the things that make 3-gatsu no Lion a mesmerizing story.

2. Both series have their characters estranged from their family.

We’ve talked a lot about how Saki loves her family, so this may come as a bit of a surprise. The thing is, it’s possible to love your family and live with them, and yet feel completely alienated from them. At times, one may even think that her family is inattentive because they don’t realize that Saki has grown to hate their New Year’s tradition or that she is really afraid to disappoint them. And while we can believe that Saki´s family loves her; with the possible exception of Teru, her sister, one can’t deny that there’s a separation between them, made worse by her parent’s inevitable divorce. And thus, that has shaped Saki, not only in her hate of Mahjong, but also in how she interacts with other people.

Rei, on the other hand, has no direct family. His parents and sister died in an accident and more or less since then, he has had no contact with his other families. His father’s friend Masachika Kouda, who was also his father’s rival in shogi, took him in to raise him as one of his own children and taught him to play the game. Unfortunately, this was not a good combination despite how much Masachika cared for Rei. His older daughter, Kyoko, hates the Kawamoto sisters since they try to make sure she’s not a bad influence to Rei –she tends to try and discourage him before matches so he can’t be a good professional player-, while Ayumi, Kouda’s son, decided to abandon his shogi studies after losing a game against Rei. This makes the family situation very awkward and shows how sometimes, a chosen friendship is better than an assigned family.

3. Tournaments of their chosen game advance the plot.

The acceptance of board games as competitive sports has been a bit controversial for those who don’t practice said board games professionally, so the idea of Mahjong and Shogi tournaments may be a bit strange for some of you. Still, in Japan, they’re as common as chess tournaments in the West and they have a very faithful following that is as fierce and excitable as any sports fan. This is why in both Saki and 3-gatsu no Lion, these tournaments help us not only to understand both the competitiveness and the professional side of both games, but also to see the evolution of the characters as time passes.

The very first time Saki actually plays in a tournament with her club, we can see how much she has grown to like her club members. She can now play more confidently, and even when she keeps using her absolute zero technique as a defense, she now wins games too. Not only that, she now sees the possibility of reuniting her family with her Mahjong abilities, and that is also seen during tournaments, which make them even more poignant since she has a goal that has nothing to do with the game. For Rei, tournaments are quite important because he is a professional, and losing early means having a loss of status. It also helps us to see how he has learned to be more social, because it’s in the tournaments that he meets more new people.

Final Thoughts

Board games are amazing. There are so many of them, that we can go from the really childish and bizarre to various degrees of strategic thinking that can make mathematicians confused with their rules from time to time. The more complex the game, the harder it may seem for newcomers to grasp the rules and the emotion of playing. This is why series like Saki are good, because they serve as small tutorials for the games at the same time that they give us a great story and thus, make us feel the same emotion that longtime fans of the game feel with each play. So let us know if you liked these series and if you know others that are also a great gateway for new players of old traditional board games.

Ryuuou-no-Oshigoto-225x350 [Japanese Games Winter 2018] Like Saki? Watch This!


Author: Adalisa Zarate

The fan with the rainbow hair. Has been an anime fan all her life. Lives in Mexico City for the time being.

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