On to the next round of mahjong-themed, dramatic sports 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)
Episode 2 starts off with a brief recap of the dramatic non-win by Saki at the end of the first episode (and it is revealed that the ending animation we saw in Episode 1, composed of scenes of various sorts showing perhaps a glimpse of the future to come, is actually the opener). Following that display of ungodly luck, Hisa then puts forward another challenge for Saki: try winning for a change. Saki agrees, but still wants to score ±0. Trying to find a way to get both to occur, Hisa proposes that Saki start with only 1000 points to begin, which will require her to pull her score up to around 30,000 to win, which would also put her at ±0 in scoring. A difficult task.
The new match starts, and Saki seems to get off to a fast start. But then Nodoka, who refuses to be beaten by Saki's luck, ups her game markedly, and starts to pull away. Except that she doesn't. With a couple more twists and turns, Saki manages to win enough points to achieve a ±0 score again, by playing an incredibly hard to achieve winning hand. She thinks she has done it, getting ±0 again, though there's a surprise in store. The surprise being that Hisa only "told" Saki to play as if she were starting with 1000 points. She did not say that that was how the game would be scored. So by the "real" score, Saki has actually crushed the opposition with a +44 score, a complete blowout in mahjong scoring.
At this, Nodoka, in tears, runs off, upset at her defeat (apparently being a poor a loser comes with large breasts). Hisa tells Saki not to worry about it, and instead offers up her reward of being able to read as much as she likes from the Club's library, which is apparently well stocked since Hisa is the Student Congress President. Afterward, though, Saki does try to track down Nodoka, and finds her sitting on a bench near that same stream that the show started off from. There, Saki tells Nodoka how much fun it was play against her. But instead of this making Nodoka happy, instead, it spurs Nodoka to speak her mind and express her feelings to Saki: she feels nothing but pain from losing to Saki, since Saki hates mahjong while she loves it. And she also says that she is not the only strong opponent. There are others, especially at the Nationals. After which, Nodoka walks off.
From the rooftop, we see Hisa watching the pair. After a short bit of comedy schtick between Yuuki and Kyoutarou, we then get treated to hearing Hisa laugh. Shizuka Itou has a great devilish laugh.
Back to Saki. At home, she goes into a storage closet and lifts up a dust cloth from a table, revealing a mahjong table. She looks at it quite differently now. She has a flashback to what Nodoka said to her earlier that day. At which point in comes her father, whom we briefly glimpsed in the first episode. Looking at it, he asks Saki whether he should sell it or not, "since we don't play as a family anymore." Saki replies that he should hang onto it for a little longer, since she is "sure that Mom and the others will come back. And then we can all play as a family again." Her father, however, wonders about that, and then puts down the magazine he was carrying, telling Saki to look at a specific page within. Saki looks at the magazine, and then clutches the magazine to her chest (incidentally, this scene is shown in the opening animation).
Speaking of chests, we are immediately treated to a showering scene with Nodoka, still looking very upset. And for those looking for anything, you'll be upset too, as there is largely steam (this is broadcast, you dirty-minded people). We see Nodoka then get into bed, preparing to cry herself to sleep. Switching back to Saki, we see her with the book she wanted from the library, which turns out to be "The Rord of the Rings" (deliberate spoof or "Engrish," you make the call…). Opening up the book, Saki sees a flower petal fall out. At that point, she makes up her mind about something…
The next day, we see Saki head to school. The Club have all gathered in their room, waiting for something…or someone. We see Saki slowly and deliberately climb the stairs. She enters the room with all of the determination of an athlete entering the locker room. The whole atmosphere is more reminiscent of a sports drama than anything else. After this dramatic entrance, Saki confidently asks for a favor: she wishes to join the Mahjong Club. The President assents immediately. Saki then goes on to say that she wants to play against Nodoka, and she wants to win as well. Nodoka fires back that she will not let Saki win today.
And so, we have the beginning of our slow climb to the Nationals, it looks like. While Saki, Yuuki, Nodoka, and Kyoutarou play, Mako and Hisa walk out to the balcony. Mako saying that Hisa's really good at this, planning moves two or three turns ahead. So, on to the Nationals. Hisa is not so arrogant as to think it will be that simple. This is only the beginning. After this, we are treated to the real ending song and animation, which is dominated by chibi cuteness.
During the matches, again, we are treated to the full range of visual sports cliches: action lines, dramatic slow motion, lightning, glowing tiles, the whole bit. The dialogue and deliveries as well fit the bombast of sports. When we are not in a match, however, we have many elements of normal drama, including the first hints of what seems to be happening at the Miyanagi home (it would appear that Saki's parents are separated). There is also quite a bit of fanservice in this episode, building upon the noticeable amount in the first episode. Yes, they bounce. As for the others, there are again a few low angle shots.
All in all, Saki is sizing up to be an interesting cross between a high school relationship drama and a sports anime with all of the normal genre conventions associated with sports. The thing that makes it different is the focus on mahjong, a competitive activity that otherwise has not gotten too much attention in anime, other than as a form of gambling seen on occasion. This in itself would probably not be enough to make it at all interesting, however. What drives this show so far is the character of Saki herself. There is a pure and innocent sweetness to her, but one that is not annoying, somehow. When Saki realizes that she has actually won for a change, she is giddy, not arrogant. There is a sincere joy. At this point, perhaps the only drawbacks might be how predictable Nodoka seems at times, and how useless Yuuki and Kyoutarou largely are at the moment. Hisa is a much more interesting character, but that is largely because she is a schemer, and I always like to see where schemers are headed. In all, it's a rather fluffy and enjoyable show, and I look forward to where it is headed next.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
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