In my look back at the first decade of the 21st century, I talked about the shift towards character and the idea of “getting to know the characters.” While I think I made it pretty clear as to what I meant in the original post, I thought of a good example to explain the idea: the mahjong anime and manga Saki.
Mahjong has been a topic frequently explored in manga for decades now, with even Frederik Schodt’s “Manga! Manga!” pointing out its existence. It’s a favorite topic among salarymen and older audiences, but it wasn’t until the game was paired with moe and a heavy dash of yuri that it began reaching out to the otaku market in the form of Saki.
Anime nerds are playing mahjong in greater numbers now, and it’s not like Hikaru no Go where the manga itself explains the rules to a certain extent; characters in Saki just come in and do their thing and winning magically happens. And yet the otaku still want to play.
The reason that fans of Saki play mahjong, instead of just admiring the girls through fanart and doujinshi (and possibly their own dreams) is that mahjong is the focus of the Saki world, and by playing mahjong a person can feel closer to the characters in the series. I’m sure Miyanaga Saki fans smile every time they get +/-0 in their final scores, while achieving Haitei Raoyue is a wonderful feeling for supporters of Amae Koromo.
Performing an activity that is done by the characters gives a sense of connection, and the characters themselves make you want to connect to them through the power of their cute, moe designs and notions of very close friendship. That is the feeling of being “one” with the characters.