On to the next round of mahjong-themed anime.
What They Say
Saki is a cross between sports action and high school drama that revolves around a girl's spiritual growth through a tactical and adventuresome mahjong competition with keen rivals all aiming for the high school club championship. What makes it different from traditional mahjong-themed pieces is the character that are all colorful and charming whose personalities are far from being dark, cunning or cowardly. The story opens with the arrival fo Saki who demonstrates her almost magical talent by instinctively playing the game in an extremely calculated manner so that she never loses or gains even a point...
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This time around, we get a rather bombastic opening narration about the prominence of mahjong and how there is even a national high school tournament. The stage is obviously being set for the main story now that the primary cast is in place. We are headed for a bunch of tournament matches on the road to the National High School Championship. So, Princess Nine, but with mahjong.
After the opening, we find Nodoka still playing simulated games late at night, trying to reach a ±0 score. Which she cannot seem to do. The next morning, as she is about to head off for school, her father confronts her about her staying up late too often. He tells her to stop playing around so much, and then she heads off for school. On the walk there, she is met by a female reporter, Nishida, for Weekly Mahjong Today (the same magazine that Saki is seen clutching in the OP). Ms. Nishida wishes to interview Nodoka about her thoughts on the upcoming prefectural qualifiers for the national championship. And the cameraman with the reporter gets in a comment on Nodoka's assets (before being jabbed in the ribs). When asked whether there is any player in particular that Nodoka is paying attention to. Nodoka says no, though after an obvious pause (in which we see the replay of Saki's triumphant ±0 of episode 1). The reporter catches that pause, and later remarks to the cameraman that there is someone that Nodoka is concerned about, so much that she won't acknowledge who it is (we, of course, know).
After a brief interlude where we see Saki peacefully napping outside, while Hisa is allegedly presiding over a meeting of the student council (before Mako comes in to remind her that it is time to go, at which point Hisa throws over the meeting to her exasperated Vice President), we then come upon Nodoka doing what she always seems to be doing: playing mahjong. This time, alone by herself in the club room, playing all four positions at the table with exposed hands.
Going back to Saki quietly napping at the side of the stream, we finally catch a glimpse of the mahjong magazine, which happens to flip open to a profile of one Teru Miyanaga, a 3rd-year high school student, the head of the famed Shiraitodai High School team, who has already won two championships and aims for a third championship in the coming summer's tournament. We then get a view inside Saki's sleeping consciousness, where her dreaming takes the form of a memory from her past, when she was younger. An older girl is with her, talking to her about the name for a mahjong hand, and stuff about flowers blooming on mountains. After Saki wakes from her reverie, she looks at the magazine page and says out loud "Sis…" (so, it appears that mahjong ability runs in the family).
Kyoutaro comes along, and so the two head off to the club room. They come across Yuuki on the way (who is munching on a taco, of course, and makes the strange claim that if she doesn't eat tacos, she will become one), and the three head off to school. Hisa and Mako, in the meantime, are headed on a train for somewhere. At the clubroom, Yuuki and Kyoutaro go off to make tea, while Saki asks Nodoka what she's doing. Nodoka responds that she's playing all four positions, trying to score ±0. Even though she knows everyone's hand, she still cannot force a ±0 result. After that, it's time to play.
While the foursome play, Hisa and Mako arrive at their destination: the registration and drawing of positions for the prefectural qualifiers, the first step to getting into the national tournament. We start to see a glimpse of the other school uniforms that appear on various girls in the opening animation. Hisa has come to register their school for the tournament.
Meanwhile, the game is not going well for Yuuki. She is being easily eclipsed by Nodoka and Saki. Saki senses Yuuki's disappointment…and of course, deliberately starts losing, or at least passes over winning hands. In the end, Saki winds up with a ±0 score yet again. At that Nodoka angrily storms out of the room (though Kyoutaro is utterly oblivious to it, so Yuuki must explain it to him; however, with Nodoka and Saki gone, Yuuki then suggests that Kyoutaro and her could play husband and wife, an idea that Kyoutaro shoots down immediately). Saki runs after Nodoka, telling her how much fun it is to play with her and everyone else. Nodoka stops and turns to confront her. "It's not fun for me." So the truth is out.
Switching back to Hisa, we learn that she is pleased with how the prefectural tournament draw has gone. They won't have to face any of the teams she would prefer to avoid until the finals. First up for them will be Kazekoshi Girls' School, who apparently screwed up in the prefectural tournament last year. A couple other teams get their brief introductions now, but Hisa's attention is focused only on one: Ryuumonbuchi High School. Hisa confidently says out loud "Just you wait until the finals, Ryuumonbuchi High School!" Which draws awkward responses from the other teams assembled in the hall, wondering what that's all about. And then we get a look inside Ryuumonbuchi's Mahjong Club, which seems to have its own maid to answer the telephone. Being informed of their position (first seed in the A block), the head, one Touka-sama, seems highly amused at the whole need to even play in the tournament. We see glimpses of the other members, and then we get one of those classic oujo-sama laughs from Touka-sama (who didn't see that coming?). Pan to the rooftop where we see yet another girl, sitting on top of the roof. A girl with blonde hair and a hair ribbon that looks like bunny ears. We've glimpsed her in the OP, I'm pretty sure.
Finally, we come back to Nodoka and Saki. There's more to their heart-to-heart. Nodoka tells Saki not to hold back to spare Yuuki's feelings, since Yuuki is not so weak. Nodoka stresses to Saki how she needs to give it her all if they are going to make it to the Nationals. At the mention of that, Saki thinks of her sister again, and then declares out loud that she wants to go to the Nationals. Since if she can make it there, she will get to be with her sister. And so it is time for Saki to explain to Nodoka about her sister. We learn that the Miyanaga family is divided, though the parents are not officially divorced yet. Saki's mom and sister live in Tokyo. And, it is revealed that Saki's sister is the favorite to win the National tournament. Even Nodoka has heard of her. And then we have a massive yuri moment. Followed by a pinky swearing that they will go to the National tournament together.
Cut to a seedy looking mahjong parlor. We have an older looking woman (though it's hard to tell her age, but she doesn't really look like a high schooler) playing mahjong. After a phone call which apparently lets her know that she can go all out in her play, she declares victory in the hand and notes that she has won again. We then cut to Hisa sitting alone in the club room, in near darkness, having just gotten off the phone. She looks pleased with herself, and says "Now the fun begins."
It looks like we have come to the end of the table-setting episodes. To borrow from the focus of the show, the wall is built, the hands are dealt, and everything is ready for the East position player to draw the first tile.
The first three episodes of Saki have done a decent job of providing us with all of the backstory for the title character, and has filled out the setting fairly well. We finally get a few introductions to the characters whom we can now expect to turn up as we start heading into the tournaments. So far, Saki seems to have found a decent balance between the story elements. While the mahjong scoring is still something of an impenetrable fog for me (this is probably a case where you have to learn by playing), the mixture of sports action, high school relationship drama, and the quite amusing comic relief provided by Yuuki and Kyoutaro, is entertaining. The set up episodes now seem to be over, as we head directly into the competitions to get to the Nationals (which I will predict could take us up to the end of the first cour). So, it's game on from this point onwards.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Apple Mac Mini with 1GB RAM, Mac OS 10.5 Leopard