Saki – Miyanaga Names, Irony, Themes and Playstyles

You could thank the existence of this post to Aaron who managed to spark my inspiration for Saki once again.

At this point, every one of the nuclear Miyanaga family has been named, which is a great time to look for symbolism and patterns again. ^^

I  also know that you guys were  probably tired of etymology post that amounts to “Saki” meaning “bloom” and Teru meaning “shine”. And if you didn’t know that,  the manga and the anime or my blog have probably beaten the fact in your head by now. Thus, instead of rehashing those we are going to talk about themes and irony.  How in some ways the names of the Miyanaga family may also display their personal challenges.

We start with Teru since I’ve already partially discussed this topic on my previous post.   I’ve always found Teru and her ability ironic. That is despite having  this meaningful name   照 (teru)  which in kanji meant to shine, to illuminate and having the ability Shoumakyou which is the mirror that illuminates the true self/show the evil of a person; Teru a person which supposedly symbolize  and has an ability that revolve around revelation and truth is characterized as a lying liar who lies.  

After all, the first thing that we know of Teru is her iconic, “I have no sister” line back in the first season of the anime.  Then there is her first manga appearance  in Achiga wherein Teru  put a joyful  facade while she was being interviewed by the media and judging from the fact that the reporters took it as it is; that is the personality she consistently portrays for them  –  a personality which Sumire commented was far from Teru’s true self. With just her first appearance in the two medium we know that Teru isn’t going to be winning the genuine character award anytime soon.

And with the recent meeting between Saki and Teru, my belief that this characterization is no accident was strengthened  as we saw that Teru cold-hearted font to Saki is proven to be a lie by Teru’s  literal breakdown  after. At this juncture, Ritz-sensei meant Teru to be seen as character full of fabrication, more wind that cannot be grasped than the revealing sunlight Teru is supposed to be.

“But… what should I tell her? I couldn’t think of anything?”

“… anything at all…”

When I’ve heard this, I’ve felt a bit sad. Because I think Saki would be happy with literally “anything” as long as Teru answer her. Heck, at this point I think Saki would be happy even if the answer is negative because Teru is finally talking to her. That and  it would provide a clue on how to fix your relationship.

I suspect the right answer to this question is for Teru to be herself – to show the “truth” to speak.  Which I suspect is going to be Teru’s challenge since I suspect that Teru have stopped telling the truth a while ago and living with a mask over her face.

More than anything,  I feel that Teru needs to stop hiding around her cloud of lies and start shining (照 ) like the sun she was meant to be.

Now that we are done with the big sister, let’s start with the little one. I’ve written a bunch of post about Saki and Saki’s power.  And  if you’ve read it, you know I think that Saki’s plus/minus zero is intrinsically related  with Saki’s character.  But, Saki’s name isn’t Rei 零  which meant zero. But, 咲 which meant “bloom” from her favorite yaku, “rinshan kaihou” (the flower at the top of the mountain).  

And just like Teru therein Saki’s irony and personal challenge.

So what is the hype about Rinshan Kaihou?

Right off the bat, this is a heavy association to give to the protagonist because it just oozes “strength”. After all, a flower doesn’t grow on the top of the mountain – at one of the harshest condition possible without being “strong”. And to be fair, the manga never pretends that Saki is powerless. If you read between the lines she’s consistently depicted as one of the top tiers.

More than that though, there is a specific symbolism associated for  “the flower at the top of the mountain” that is universal in many culture and is used in so many media today.  (There is even a trope for it!)

That whoever persevere and climb to the top of the mountain and obtain that flower will get a”miracle”.

 Whatever the shape of that miracle vary from culture to culture  – it could be  cure for an incurable disease,  an undeniable proof of ones devotion to a loved one,  or even just a proof of achievement of strength, etc.  Whatever you want, you will get if, if you just persevere and reach the top.

The keyword here is “persevering“. No one who watches the anime or read the manga is going to accuse Saki of being a bastion of determination.  There is a reason the old data books state that Saki’s willpower is freaking 1 out of 5. Compared to most shounen protagonist, Saki is never good at rising up to a challenge which is both a good and bad thing. Good because Saki actually analyzes the best vector on which to attack when she moves; Bad because she is often paralyzed by fear, indecision, trauma and self-esteem issues to actually move.  Still, the motif holds true, Saki’s most impressive victories comes when Saki perseveres (with a little encouragement from her friends *cough* Nodoka *cough*)

For someone who’s  personal yaku represent a literal miracle/reward that is achieved after passing through every obstacles.   Its the highest irony that Saki could never see her own potential nor have the willpower to see it through or even a have a wish that she want realized until recently.


Like Teru who’s personal development would  knowing how to “shine”, Saki’s personal development is learning how to “bloom”.  Or perhaps relearning would be a better word.  Saki’s has stated that Teru’s playstyle had changed. Which is huge considering the link between playstyle and the player’s character and how Ritz has linked playstyle change with character development or maybe regression in this case.

Heck, this maybe true of Saki as well. It has been suspected that Saki has another playstyle before she even developed the +/- zero which is probably more linked to her Rinshan Kaihou. The flashback kinda support this considering the optimism, love for mahjong and fun Saki remembers from it.

Which makes me wonder if like Saki, Teru’s current playstyle is some sort of dark mirror or has a thematic dissonance with her previous one. Saki as of now currently embodies her Plus/minus zero in terms of characterization more. And Plus/Minus Zero’s symbolism and themes is in some ways opposite to Rinshan Kaihou.

Plus/minus zero  at its core says  nothing can be gained without losing something else. To win something, someone must lose. Mahjong/Life is  a zero-sum game wherein the winning move is not to play at all. What reward you gained won’t be worth it since it is taken from someone else.

Rinshan Kaihou is basically a miracle realized. It says that everything is possible. More than that, it says that after all the pain and sacrifice, there is a light at the end of the tunnel – a miracle that will make everything worthwhile.

You could probably see the contradiction on themes. lol

Though, I would like to note that the two are not completely mutually exclusive.   Just difficult  to reconcile in ordinary circumstance. For one, someone who believed/embodies the zero sum philosophy will not want anything or fight/struggle for anything which fits Saki to a T before the series.  Which is a bit of a problem because Rinshan Kaihou literally embodies a miracle achieved through great struggle. But, that is normal circumstance, I’ve noticed that there is an intersection to the themes. For example if someone who believes in plus/minus zero philosophy wants something desperately  enough that the cost doesn’t matter at all. 

If you look at the series, it is possible that Saki would character develop to someone who might embody Rinshan Kaihou, one day. The motif  strongly parallels Saki’s ongoing quest/personal challenge as well. After all, its only by persevering and  climbing the  this arduous tournament does Saki think she will get the “miracle” that she long sought for. The manga isn’t even shy from lampshading it, talking of the tournament bracket as stairs and having the final competition done in a huge elevated area.

What I’m wondering though is what would be the end point for Saki’s character.

What is the nature of the miracle that Saki could achieve?

Will she throw away her +/- zero philosophy and embrace the rinshan kaihou?

Personally, even though the two are difficult to reconcile, I hope when Saki finally reached her goal she woun’t throw her +/-o.  As someone who watches her games it makes analyzing them so much sweeter and adds some depth to her character. Plus, I think a miracle achieved by someone who believed in plus/minus zero would be greater than if Saki threw everything in to the wind for a single-minded pursuit of a “miracle”.

After all, to someone who believed in the harsh limitation of zero sum what greater miracle there is to be achieved than everybody winning?

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