Beginning in June 2006, the Saki manga created by Ritz Kobayashi in Square-Enix’s monthly magazine Young Gangan was adapted into an anime produced by Gonzo in Spring 2009. Late last year I had the opportunity to view it on a whim and immensely enjoyed it. From that series, one character stood alone as my favorite: Hisa Takei.
Hisa is the sole third year member of the Kiyosumi Mahjong club that she resurrected in her first year. In addition to that role, she was also elected as the president of Kiyosumi’s student congress. Leadership is a quality that comes naturally to Hisa and she proves a worthy leader.
With members that can alter luck herself and rule the online world of Mahjong it takes a powerful player to lead the Kiyosumi club, but that’s what Hisa does best. Hisa studies mahjong records very well and she realized that when she had good hands, she tended to lose more often than when she gambled on bad hands. Thus Hisa mixes in several times where she’ll gamble on a long-shot to win and she’ll pull it out. Not only does that strategy surprise other people, but it influences their playing styles to make them more cautious than usual. After all, if someone tends to gamble on a tile you’d instantly throw away, you have to think more about your discards.
Hisa takes that strategy in life as well. As the only member of the mahjong club her first year, she could’ve entered the individual prefectional tournament. She never thought about it. Instead, she gambled that she would find five female members (and maybe a male gofer) to enter the team tournament. After getting one member her second year, she concludes with three first-year members in her final chance and pulls out her dream.
Her strategy isn’t all about luck though. Behind that smirk is a lot of intelligence. She has the capability to recognize flaws in other playing styles and knows how to combat them. The only time someone was able to trap the lead character was due to her initiative during the individual tournament. Due to that analysis, she was able to change the playing styles of Kiyosumi’s three first-years in one week before the team tournament to lead them to victory. Truly a worthy captain.
I touched on her psychological play earlier, but it’s worth expanding on. In addition to throwing the other players off, she knows how to use that advantage for her teammates. When Nodoka took her stuffed penguin into the first match, it was the point of discussion so much that it threw the others off their style and altered Nodoka’s to her strength of online mahjong. Even the commentators had to recognize that the penguin had a significant influence on the game and Hisa only did one thing. It also provided a good laugh when she saw everyone’s reactions to the penguin.
So why is Hisa above characters that others tend to like more? She appeals to me intellectually as she constantly out-thinks both her opponents and teammates in order to get them to play to their best/worst. It’s refreshing to see a captain actually acknowledge the strength and weaknesses of her teammates and be able to counter it for both her benefit as well as for the team. That psychological advantage makes what would be entertaining something more.
Her playing style also amuses me greatly. Using her intelligence, she provides both humorous moments as well as moments of sheer brilliance when she can counter anyone on the board. It’s also amazing to see her flip a tile into the air and slam it down for a win compared to the virual avatar from Nodoka and blooming flowers from Saki. It’s even better when that act even spawns a response (“That poor tile!”) from another player. When the hair gets tied into two tails, it’s time for her to get serious.
Having read somewhat ahead in the manga, I’d be remiss not to mention a point later on in the national tournament (sorry if it’s a spoiler, but did you honestly think the main character’s school wouldn’t win?) where she wins the match without having the last two of their five-girl team play. It’s another great moment after earlier she was the only one to inspire fear from the other teams in the prefectional round. It’s wonderful when a support character gets more respect and admiration than the two main leads.
Also like Koizumi, that smirk with her tails is awesome.