In the darkness the trees are full of starlight (henwy) wrote,
In the darkness the trees are full of starlight

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I'll take unusual superpowers for $100, Alex

I've come to believe that superpowers exist and that entire cultures can have them if not every individual. For the japanese, it's clear that one of the major superpowers is the ability to make just about any topic interesting and exciting. It's absolutely true. I enter as exhibit A: Hikaru no Go. Hikaru no Go is a manga and anime mainly about the game of Go. Yes, it's that game with all the black and white stones at a giant crisscross board. To put things into perspective, compared to go players, chess players are like rockstars. Playing chess would be like a day at the amusement park filled with excitement and roller coasters while playing go would be like sitting through a post-graduate lecture on astrophysics delivered in Hungarian. I'm hoping those two examples give you an idea of just how bland go is as a game. It's about as basic as a game could possibly get. Step 1: Place a stone somewhere. Step 2: Goto step 1. No special moves. No special pieces.

Despite all of this Hikaru no Go made the game exciting and full of suspense. There were ghosts and tournaments and death defying moves on the game board accompanied by special effects and gasps of shock from all the characters watching. You had to actually remind yourself that what it boiled down to in the end were two people sitting across a wooden board and placing stones on it rather than some street fighter-like brawl for world domination. When I first watched Hikaru no Go it actually sucked me in to such a degree that I actually wanted to learn to play go. It was like my own Searching for Bobby Fischer but without the antisemitism and general psychiatric issues. The anime presented go in an easy to understand fashion so that even the complete novice could grasp the basic concepts and at the end of each episode was a live-action go lesson. After a while of taking this all in, I was raring to go and confidently logged onto Yahoo! Games to give my skills a whirl. I wasn't expecting miracles but I figured I could probably hold my own with what I had learned. Even on the smallest board available, I repeatedly got my ass handed to me. That was when I learned that anime is not real life. Well, the giant robots and 8-feet long swords shooting flames had also given me a hint.

Regardless, the point was the Hikaru no Go made the game of go seem interesting and exciting. I recently watched another anime which did much the same but for the game of Mahjong.

Saki also has no long dead mahjong playing ghosts, but on the plus side there is a lot of hinted schoolgirl lesbians. There's only a single male character after all in a cast of dozens. Normally you'd think he's a lucky guy but instead he seems to play the pack mule and gofer more than anything else.

Anyway, Saki is the story of a girl named Saki who has a dream of healing her broken family with the power of mah jong. No, seriously. It turns out that her family would play mah jong together when she was little and they were all pretty gungho about it. They were competitive enough about it that she grew to dislike the game, playing it only when she was forced to and then getting a score of 0 each time, basically breaking even. Eventually, her family split and she went with her father while her mother and older sister (who is a mah jong prodigy) moved to Tokyo. On her first day of junior high she's dragooned into the mah jong club whose members realize the amazing skill she's hiding by always maintaining a 0 score during a game which spans tens of thousands of points. They convince her to stop throwing games and together they all share the dream of winning the regional team tourney and going on to nationals. Saki's sister just happens to also play for her junior high team and will no doubt also be there. With the power of mah jong, it's inevitable that the game will reunite the sisters and respark the bonds of family between them. Well, that's the plan anyway. The actual anime only runs up through Saki's team winning the regional championship and advancing to nations and no further seasons were ever greenlit. I've since grabbed the latest scanlated copies of the manga which I can only assume has continued Saki's adventures.

It's sort of ironic really, but I found the mah jong in Saki a lot harder to follow than the go from Hikaru no Go. Ironic because go is a far more complex game and just about any monkey can play mah jong. In fact, I used to play mah jong at least a couple of times a year when I was younger at family events. It wasn't unusual at all for the family to break out the mah jong tiles on Chinese New Year or whenever we all got together. The reason I found Saki so confusing is the same reason why mah jong was never difficult during those family games. To make things simple, we never played with the complex and idiosyncratic scoring rules that go with game. Mah jong is a gambling game after all, which means there all sorts of in's and out's when it comes to racking up points. My mom would just boil all of that down and give each person 20 $1 dollar bills. Each time someone won, every other player would give them a dollar. If you were the person who played the tile which caused the win, you would fork over $2 and if the winner drew the tile themselves, they would collect $2 from everyone. Saki on the otherhand uses the full blown Japanese scoring system including all the various flowery names for the various hands. It took me hours of reading on wikipedia before I even had a basic grasp of how things were supposed to work and even now I'm a little iffy on the strategy aspect. Suffice it to say that watching Saki would make a statistician weep tears of blood. You have better odds of surviving an extinction-level meteor strike then seeing the events of even a single episode happen in real life. Just imagine a game of poker where someone repeatedly ended up with a royal flush. The difference in Saki is that it's not just one person getting the miraculous results. Almost all the players have some sort of mah jong related power, which I guess is what makes it entertaining and worth watching in the first place. No one would want to sit through a series where the equivalent of a pair of 6's keeps winning, right?

That said, there was a better reason to watch Saki even if it weren't for the exciting mah jong duels.

That's one lucky stuffed penguin. I'm not surprised she had to resort to the extra support provided by penguins since there's some evidence that none of the characters in Saki have heard of undergarments of any sort. All I can say is I hope she's continued to be blessed with gravity-defying boobs or one day those things are going to reach her knees.

One really interesting technical bit about the anime is that I wasn't aware that mah jong technology had advanced so far. Hell, lets be honest here. I wasn't even aware that mah jong had technology.

Is that cool or what? I hear that the mechanized tables came about as a cheat prevention measure, but it's still spiffy. Since all the players usually have to 'wash' the tiles by hand in between rounds I guess someone with good dexterity and memory could manipulate enough tiles to give themselves an advantage. Since money often changes hands in mah jong games it's probably only prudent to let technology even the field.
Tags: anime club: hikaru no go, anime club: saki, family, video, youtube

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