We come to the end of the season, with all of the other schools invited by Hisa to have a large training camp to help prepare Kiyosumi for the Nationals. So, it's time to train hard. Or maybe not.
What They Say
The final decision match, and its members chosen from 4 schools, has started. However, upon arriving instead of training, everyone played around in the lounge. In the meantime, Saki and Nodoka slip out over the schools fence and share something that can only be bought with time…
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
So, all of the girls have gathered. Must be time then to start playing some…what? Head straight for the hot springs? I guess so. Or was it all just in Kyoutarou's head? Well, regardless, poor Kyoutarou has been left behind, to play mahjong on the club's computer while the girls have all gone off.
And just as we are about to start the training camp for real, when Yumi Kajiki of Tsuruga is about to take the stage and give us some insight into who is in the Nationals…suddenly Yuuki needs a bathroom break. And several girls overdid the onsen a little bit and are light-headed. So much for the grand strategy session. We then get the regular run of things you do at an onsen resort: ping pong, outdoor baths, lots of steam, a trip to a temple, buying souvenirs, lots of steam, hand holding, love confessions, lots of steam. Did I mention the steam?
Okay, so this is mainly a silly hot springs resort trip episode, but there is the serious side to it as well, as it is here that it finally comes out into the open for all the other girls gathered that Saki is indeed the younger sister of Teru Miyanaga, who is revealed to be a monster, called that by Touka Ryuumonbuchi, no less, who saw her play at the Nationals the year before. Saki, of course, is a little upset at the revelation (which was shown in an earlier episode, but repeated here) that Teru no longer recognizes the existence of her younger sister. It's up to Nodoka to help her regain her composure afterwards, though Saki tells us that she is not surprised by her sister's behavior. Sadly, we have to leave things there.
We also get a preview of what is to come ahead, the Nationals. It looks like there are many strong players and perhaps a bumpy road ahead for Saki to be able to play mahjong against her sister. But all of that will have to wait for another season of this show, should we get one.
When I first started watching Saki, I did not really know what to expect. While I knew what mahjong was, and so was not completely in the dark about one aspect of the show, I had little idea of what else would be involved, be it lesbian subtext, fierce sports-like competition, or near-magical powers displayed by some of the girls at the mahjong table at times. What I actually have been watching for the past few months has been more interesting than just that. While it is, in terms of genre and formal composition, a sports anime, with all of the classic cliches including secret techniques, training camps to improve one's abilities, surprise outcomes and all of the slightly over the top special effects, from lightning flashes to slow motion movements, Saki has been more enjoyable than that. There has been a very good use of pacing, even during the lengthy number of episodes devoted to the Prefectural Qualifying Tournament, which took up the greater part of the season, to keep the narrative flow and dramatic revelations coming at the proper points. I think I would only say the show dragged about twice, which is quite a compliment when discussing a 25 episode season.
What has made the show all the more interesting has been the characters. While it may be unfortunate that she has a set of breasts that are structurally impossible in the real world, or at least improbable short of surgical intervention, Nodoka Haramura is actually a sweet girl with a steely determination to win and a firm belief in her abilities. A natural sports heroine. Hisa Takei, the cunning master strategist president of the club, combines a devious mind with an almost sentimental love for the game. Yuuki Kataoka and Kyoutarou Suga have provided nice comic relief, while Mako Someya has almost been the wise old man character at times, commenting knowingly on events.
Not only Kiyosumi High School is filled with interesting characters. From the rival schools, a very odd assortment of players emerged at the Prefectural Tournament: a rival strategist to Hisa at Tsuruga Academy, Yumi Kajiki, and her "stealth" weapon Momoko Touyoko; the heterochromatic (her eyes are different colors) captain of Kazekoshi Girls School, Mihoko Fukuji, who chooses to keep one eye closed all the time, opening it only to reveal a secret power, the ability to read the flow of the game, and her adoring, to a slightly insane extent, teammate Kana Ikeda, who quite literally worships her Captain, as does most of the Kazekoshi team; and finally, the odd cast of characters from Ryuumonbuchi High School, the defending Prefectural Champions, including the haughty, yet strangely motherly, Touka Ryuumonbuchi, her maid/teammate Hajime Kunihiro who has the most questionable dress sense ever, and the even more unsettling Koromo Amae, Touka's cousin who looks like she is 7, but is actually older than Touka (who is about 16), and has a fearsome power at the mahjong table.
In comparison, Saki herself is rather bland. The vanilla to the more interesting flavors that the original author Ritz Kobayashi has offered us throughout. Yet, Saki, it turns out, is really the glue that holds the show together. For without her divine (or is it demonic?) power to control the tiles and assure victory or defeat, Hisa's dream of going to the Nationals would never have gotten off the ground. It is also Saki who teaches Koromo, who had come to believe that all other players were inferior beings (literally), what it is to have fun while playing mahjong. A sense of fun she herself learned for the first time by playing with Nodoka and the other members of the Kiyosumi club. She may be boring, but Saki in some ways provides a background in front of which the other players can shine a bit, until those times it becomes necessary for her to stop being a wallflower and instead emerge as the single most frighteningly powerful player any of them has ever seen.
It's not a great show. The animation is competent, but nothing particularly special. The voice acting is very suitable for the situations, but it is very much in line with the broad caricatures that some of the characters are. In terms of writing, the "sports" situations, while they have been rendered into mahjong terms, have been seen elsewhere. But, it is a very entertaining show. Even if much of what you see here is not entirely original or very different from what can be had elsewhere, the overall execution has been solid and the show will even have replay value, as one wants to see again, from the beginning, the journey that Saki takes from a shy little girl who hates mahjong to one of the most feared players in her entire prefecture.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Apple Mac Mini with 1GB RAM, Mac OS 10.5 Leopard.