‘Moe’. Moe, Moe, Moe. One of the most debated, debased, derogatory, yet delightful and potentially deadly terms of anime fandom. There are those who can’t wrap their heads around moe, or grasp it, or understand it, who think it’s a trend or a style or a visual phenomenon. There are those who try to pidegonhole moe, who try and categorize it as a genre, and who try to bash it or warp it. Now, I’ve done a lot of study on moe in the past. Moe helped me grasp my fandom when I almost lost it, I trained myself to learn more about it, and I published a definitive guide to breaking into it as a culture. However, if there is one thing I haven’t yet done, it’s to define moe. Saki has given me the confidence to do just that.
You’ve probably all heard about how ‘moe’ means ‘budding’, and how all sorts of various fetishes can be branded as different types of moe. But what does it mean? Some would say that ‘moe’ described a desire to ‘protect.’ Some consider it a non-sexual desire, whereas others consider it a purely sexual desire, often related to young girls (and considered in conjunction with ‘lolicon’.) None of these is true, and I will explain my meaning of it now.
‘Moe’ is not purely a desire to protect – rather, it is a desire to see the character succeed. Moe is born from the viewer’s emotional involvement in the success and happiness of the female protagonist. Trying to say that it is a desire to ‘protect’ is pidgeonholing the emotion. If we were to take a character like the famous Yui from K-On! there is probably a desire to protect her, because she is SO weak at the beginning. You can see that the odds are stacked against her. However, the moe you feel isn’t purely from your own desire to protect, but from your desire for her to make friends, and to learn to play guitar, and to be happy and have fun and follow her dreams. THAT is moe.
The reason I can say this so confidently is because of something I have seen before in the likes of Bamboo Blade, but saw even more strongly in Saki. The girls in Saki don’t need any protecting. Some may need emotional security – some may need friends – some may need passion – and that can be called protection, but some don’t need any of that. And yet, I can safely say that I felt moe for every single character in Saki. I realized this around halfway through the show. I couldn’t put the emotion into any other words. Did I ‘love’ them all? No, most of them are not the type of woman I’d be interested in dating or marrying. Was I sexually attracted to them? Not necessarily. While Saki’s designs were some of the best I’ve ever seen, Nodoka, for example, I didn’t find even remotely attractive. However, I adored her as a character, not even as one I would want to hang out with ‘in the meat’. What was this feeling? And why did I feel it on such a wide scale?
Before I even decided what it meant, I knew it was moe. I sat and thought, ‘I feel moe for every girl in this show.’ And then I realized that what I wished for more than anything else from the girls in this show was for them to succeed. For them to conquer the odds, make friends, live to fight another day, grow more passionate, and kick more ass. I thought about all the moe I’ve felt. My pure desire for Aisaka Taiga to end up with Takasu Ryuuji. My pure need for all of the Higurashi girls to find a way out of their madness. My pure desire just to watch the Hidamari Sketch characters continue to have fun and enjoy their lives. I want them to be happy, successful, and have fun. That is moe.
(And now I am the most proud I have ever been of myself for writing a terminology definition, lol.)
So, on to Saki. I loved this show a lot while I was watching it, and I can see myself rewatching it in the future, as well as greatly looking forward to a season 2! (Don’t let this be like Bamboo Blade where they show the new opponent right at the end and then go a year and a half with no word of a second season in sight!) As far as the production goes, it was great. The whole thing was very well done, but the character designs and character animation were altogether utterly astounding. I can safely say that Saki ranks among the very top of my considerations for the show with the best character designs. Every character was distinct and lovingly crafted so that no one looked like less time had been spent on them or anything. Each design melded in with the characters’ personalities effortlessly, making them just that much more memorable and easy to appreciate.
Aside from the designs, the directing was top-knotch. I’ve seen a decent number of shounen tournament anime, as well as game anime, and it takes a good director to keep it interesting. It’s a matter of knowing when to cut to the announcers and the audience, when to show whom on-screen, and how to keep the tension mounted at all times. What particularly lent to this effect was that Mahjong is a four-player game which unsuspectingly is what made this show far more intense than most tournament shows. Having four important characters per match upped the tension, the stakes, and even the realism considerably. It also gave more perspective on just who was special for what reasons, and how far that specialness could get them against other special players. Every match was tense like a fucking tightrope, which was glorious.
Oh, and I guess this is where I mention that this is a show about mahjong, which aside from the above reason, is not even slightly important. I don’t know a single thing about mahjong and I didn’t learn anything from watching the show, but you could sub out the tiles for kendo swords and you’d have Bamboo Blade or for boxing gloves and dudes and have Hajime no Ippo without much changing. The matches could not have been easier to follow – the show does a damn good job of letting you know ‘this is the badass bitch-fucking lightning-infused tile apocalypse move from hell’ or ‘this move is fucking with the other players’s heads’ etc. Knowing mahjong wouldn’t make it any more or less badass for me, unless it turned out the rules were entirely wrong (and I’m still not sure I’d care.)
Saki had the same strength that so many shounen action shows do, which is a massive cast of interesting characters. Every girl has her own backstory and personality not only that makes them want to win, but that makes you want them to win. Every girl has their own distinct strategy that keeps them contending and kicking ass. (My favorites were the ‘invisible’ strategy and the ‘hell waits’ strategy, because I always play games more from a psychological angle than a ‘sheer badassery’ one. You should see me play Yugioh LOL.) And these are the reasons that Saki’s ending is so important. Because you know that these girls all of have to fight, but you don’t want any of them to loose. You don’t want to think about them becoming depressed and giving up on their dreams. That’s why they all have to become friends in the end, and why they all have to reach for next year and persist for their goals. The fact that they never give up is what makes them ‘moe.’
I should go over some of my favorite characters… no. That would take too long. What I think is interesting about Saki is that a lot of it is left up to the imagination – we have a shit-ton of backstories that are usually explained rather strictly but without showing much, so that it’s easy to personally interpret everything that happened before the time you saw, and to predict a trend of what will happen in each character’s off-shoot from the story (i.e. easy to make fanfiction and doujins.) So, even though some characters were definitively more developed or had more touching moments than others, the blanks that my mind fills in gives all of them a ton more great moments. (For example, Touka and Koromo will have had a history and future that I can very easily see, and I will like Touka a lot seeing what I know she will do in that time.)
Of course, some characters are going to go above and beyond. I loved Nodoka because of her sheer, unabashed gay love for Saki (it is nothing else, this is THE most blatant non-spoken yuri couple I’ve ever seen) and for generally being lovable in spite of her unwieldy breasts. Yuuki was probably my favorite character in the show thanks to a mix of her boundless energy and her being a perfect role for the almighty Kugimiya Rie. And the tacos! The president and Mako both excelled at being unleaded cool 24/7 and when I saw the president’s playing style (which I had of course been looking forward to thanks to the brilliant job the show did at deliberately hiding it) I just fell head-over-heals. And then there’s the heterochromatic girl with a great personality who falls into my distinct moe for girls with only one usable eye. I loved the ‘invisible’ girl primely for her dialect and her intense gay love for her mentor. And of course, my favorite HAD to be Koromo. She gets the Loli of the Year award, as well as the ‘Shimmering Insanity’ award for being the closest thing anime has gotten to Flandre Scarlet.
Before I wrap up, I really must give a shout-out to this vocal cast, which was completely and utterly incredible. I loved, and I do mean Loved, EVERY SINGLE VOICE in this show. I couldn’t believe the way brilliant performance after brilliant performance stacked up unstoppably. I obviously won’t go making a list, so just take this ANN list and etch all of these names into your mind. Every voice actress (and actor! Jun Fukuyama, Shiraishi Minoru, and Jouji Nakata!!!) in this show deserves praise here.
That’s about all I have to say. I enjoyed this show a lot and would be willing to fork over cash for DVDs if it comes out stateside. I’ll be hitting the doujins hard in the near future, and scoping out as much of the yuri I can find for this show. I highly recommend it.
Saki – Finished (8.6)
Oh, and I guess this is the part where I own up to my post on the first episode from back when it aired. I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking when I made that post. The first episode was fine, just like the rest of the excellent series. Let this be a lesson – DON’T. BE. PRETENTIOUS. Never get all fucking ‘oh I’m so cool, I don’t like this cliche moe shit’ because it will just bite you when you miss out on a great show. I ought to feel like one of the people who naysayed Bamboo Blade when it first came out, a group I’ve been raging at for years. You may all crucify me for living such a lie.