Saki

April 3, 2010

Initially I did not intend to watch Saki. Not that I have any interest in lolis playing mahjong. But after looking at random screenshots from the series over the internet via random browsing, it made me think that this is a funny show and should have a look at it. So okay. Let’s me put it this way. A picture is worth a thousand words. It is up to one how to interpret it. Perhaps I was really expecting some humour from this sports genre and though there are but it is not so much that you would drop laughing like a hyena, rolling on the floor like mad. Yeah so, it’s my bad. But what the heck, it was worth the shot.
 
I’m not sure about the reputation of mahjong worldwide, but from the region that I come from, it is a word associated with so many unfortunate events like loss of wealth to hopeless addiction. And when they make an anime about high school girls playing this tile-based game which even has a National competition at school levels, heck, this must be one hell of a game, isn’t it? Be warned though. If you intend to fully enjoy watching this series, you need to have quite a substantial amount of knowledge on mahjong whether it’s the scoring system or the call terms. For me, I know nuts so I was just going "Huh?! What the?! Say that again?!" most of the time. Sorry. All of the time. Yeah, I haven’t the slightest idea why she wins her hand like that because all those mahjong symbols pretty look much like a kindergarten kid reading Einstein’s work. You get what I mean. Though the fansubbers are pretty knowledgeable themselves and prompt notes when the terms first appear, I couldn’t remember a single one of them. So what’s a riichi or a kan or a pon already?
 
Because of that, I am inclined to observe (or rather get distracted by) other things on or off during the game. Not that I’m that observant but it beats the heck of trying to make sense of where the mahjong game is going. And since this is one of those sport genres, expect those over-the-top, over-exaggerated manoeuvres that the players pull off, whether it’s just drawing a tile or some super skill which I think is impossible to exist in the real world anyhow. Really. So are you still keen on watching lolis playing mahjong?
 
As one may have guessed, in episode 1, first year student of Kiyosumi High School, Saki Miyanaga is and would be the heroine of this mahjong series. Though the flat chest indicates she has no interest in mahjong, she is being coaxed by her friend, Kyoutarou Suga, to join the mahjong club which is lacking in members. Of course, she meets other first year students too. Namely the busty Nodoka Haramura, who is the reigning middle school mahjong champion (wah!) and the petite taco-lover Yuuki Kataoka. So the quartet had a test match and as expected, Nodoka comes out tops. Then we’re introduced to the mahjong club’s cool captain, Hisa Takei, who is also the school’s student congress president. Note, NOT student council president. Honestly, I don’t even know what the difference is. Saki takes her leave and Hisa notices Saki has a peculiar skill/talent. An ability to score plus minus zero. Is it coincidence? Not if you’re doing for 3 times in a row. I don’t know what’s so special about that skill since I thought you’re supposed to earn points whether from your hand or opponents’. Hmm… Maybe that itself is a skill. Because of that, Nodoka has her pride as a champion dented and goes out chasing after Saki in the rain. Drenched, wet and soaked. Their clothes… Anyway, Nodoka learns Saki gained that ability because when she plays with her family members, if she wins they get angry at her but if she loses no candy. And before she knew it, she started playing this way. To add salt to wounds, Saki says she hates mahjong when Nodoka requests to play another match with her only to be rejected. Really? How can she say that and smile at the same time? I guess another way to lure Saki is to ‘bribe’ her that she can read some book she wanted. At least that’s how Hisa got her to come back to the club room and have another match. So Saki plays against Nodoka, Yuuki and the other club member, Mako Someya. And well what do you know, even if Nodoka is playing serious, it does seem that Saki really has a talent in pulling off another plus minus zero. Still thinking it’s a coincidence? Even if it’s luck, she must be one hell of a lucky girl, eh? All hail the mahjong prodigy.
 
Yeah so, the game continues in episode 2. Isn’t it too much to envisage Nodoka’s mahjong supremacy by making her look like an angel and sprouting her white wings? Anyway, Saki ends up with another plus minus zero score but according to Hisa about some points scoring whatever, she ended up winning. Call Nodoka a bad loser or what because she barges out of the room in tears. Can’t blame her as her pride as a champion is being dented flatter than an aluminium can. Since it’s bad to make a girl cry, Saki goes after her, talks to her and the reason that Nodoka felt hurt was not because she lost to a great player like her, but to a person who hated mahjong. Nodoka also says that there are many stronger opponents at the Nationals. Saki goes back, reflect on the day’s events and the time when she used to play mahjong with her family. Think here, think there, think a lot. Next day, she comes into the mahjong room requesting to join the club. No need to take any entrance exam, girl. You’re in. She also expresses her wish to play a lot with Nodoka. Mahjong lah. I know, viewers may get a feeling of a little yuri relationship between the duo.
 
In episode 3, we see Nodoka’s dad not really too fond having his daughter playing around too much with mahjong. I understand what he means because it’s only a game right? Ditch classes, not do your homework, mixing with bad mahjong addicts, pick up bad mahjong habits. Unless you don’t let mahjong control your life then I supposed it’s okay so long as you love it as much as Nodoka. I guess this inter-school mahjong competition is so hot that they’ve got reporters covering it (at least in this anime). Who wouldn’t want to do an interview with the middle school mahjong champion? Now that she’s in high school, the level is up a little. I also guessed that Hisa is much more interested in the draw for the inter-high school mahjong prefectural qualifiers rather than attend to her student council meeting. Oops. Student congress meeting. With that, Saki plays with Yuuki, Kyoutarou and Nodoka. Yuuki, being the East specialist, wins the game. As expected, Kyoutarou occupies the bottom because my guess is that his role as a whipping boy. Hey, without him, Saki or Nodoka wouldn’t be tops, right? However Saki scores another plus minus zero, upsetting Nodoka. She tells her to leave the club if she continues playing this way. I don’t know if Yuuki really likes Kyoutarou or not because she’s been making cheeky remarks that they’re like husband-wife team and always think that he’s on to her throughout the whole series. In her dreams. That guy prefers busty babes like Nodoka. Meanwhile at the draw, the team tournament bracket is drawn so we have heavyweights like last year’s runners-up Kazekoshi All-Girls High School and winner Ryuumonbuchi High School taking the spotlight and being seeded. The way they painted the Ryuumonbuchi team seems to make them look like a team of mahjong demons. That scary and good, huh? The team to beat and you know who can/will do it lah. Thankfully Kiyosumi won’t meet either till they reach the final 4.
 
Meanwhile Saki is trying to sooth Nodoka of her playing style because she just wanted Yuuki to have fun and the reason she let her win. However Nodoka shoots back that Yuuki isn’t that weak. Saki mentions though her parents aren’t officially divorced, they live separately. She intends to go to the Nationals so she could see her sister, Teru. In this series, she must be one heck of a rising star in the mahjong game. Something about both sisters are not on good terms so Saki feels that she could talk to her via mahjong. Oh yeah. The game that unites people and families (I thought it breaks them up?). Not football, people. Mahjong. With that, Nodoka and Saki made a promise to each other to go to the Nationals together and not to hold back.
 
Episode 4 begins with that usual Kyoutarou’s fantasy of Nodoka but Yuuki thinks it’s her. Perasan. Hisa and Mako come back from the draw and announces to the rest their participation in the 5-a-side team tournament (too bad Kyoutarou can only enter in individuals) and give them a set of rules for the tournament (I don’t even want to read it). Also warning them about Ryuumonbuchi (why are their eyes glowing red like Terminator?) and its main player, a loli who wears a bunny-like hair band, Koromo Amae. So this is the mahjong monster? Don’t play play. As part of Hisa’s plan to improve Saki and Nodoka, she sends them to Mako’s family cafe where they don maid outfits to serve customers before getting to play mahjong. Yeah, there’s a mahjong table there to satisfy hardcore players. The duo are up against an elderly customer and some woman named Pro Fujita. Something about this Fujita girl is that her presence makes Saki shiver in cold sweat! For real? Fujita shows them her true powers and beats them both flat. Now their eyes are open to see the obvious difference in their skill. However Fujita notes that she played second fiddle to some match and that person she lost to was Koromo (that mahjong monster again). Though intimidated at first, they’re not going to let that get in the way of their promise so the duo are even more determined to do their best for the prefectural qualifiers.
 
To do that, Hisa takes her club members to a hotspring training camp in episode 5. Playing mahjong at a hotspring? Seriously? Seriously. A combo which I never thought would have seen. See how unrefined Yuuki is? And the reason Kyoutarou tagged along even if he’s not in the team tournament is so that he could carry their luggage. He’s useful in that sense. Hisa has her members undergo several training to strengthen their weak points and increase their strong aspects. Like Yuuki doing arithmetic calculation because she sucks at it, Saki to play online mahjong to practice against only seeing opponent’s tiles and Nodoka to hug her stuffed penguin, Etopen, so that it could make her feel comfortable like as though she is playing online mahjong in the comfort of her home. Because Yuuki is always losing she loses confidence and starts thinking if she’s cut out for mahjong (aside accusing Nodoka she hides mahjong tiles in her boobs). So Hisa tells her story of how she was the only person in the mahjong club when she first entered Kiyosumi and people who joined never stayed long. Eventually her perseverance has Mako joined the club and soon the rest. The thing is, if she had given up back then, all this would not have been possible now. So everybody gets their confidence back, continues playing and takes a break by dipping into the hotspring and thinking about the qualifiers. Sweet camping trip, eh?
 
The qualifiers begin in episode 6 and yeah, Kiyosumi are the underdogs. The much anticipated Ryuumonbuchi arrives but you won’t get to see who Koromo is yet. That girl is such a heavy sleeper that no amount of alarm clock could wake her up. Can she make it in time? While Nodoka is being swarmed by reporters, Saki gets lost and unknowingly bumps into the Ryuumonbuchi girls, the rich bratty Touka Ryuumonbuchi, Hajime Kunihiro (she’s got chains to her hands? That dangerous?), bespectacled Tomoki Sawamura (always carrying a laptop?) and Jun Inoue (I thought she was a guy…). Anyway, they felt some deadly aura coming out from Saki and as similar as Koromo. But since she tripped, they cast their doubts. Saki reunites with her team and learns the competition’s playing style. In short, the teams will take turns and the points will be accumulated. The top 4 team will play against each other in the finals whereby only 1 team will advance to the Nationals. Yuuki will head in first, followed by Mako, then Hisa, next Nodoka and finally Saki the anchor. The game starts and note the high-tech mahjong table. Wow. All tiles automatically rearranged and quick too. Plus, Fujita is a co-commentator and I kinda noticed she’s always looking bored. Nothing much exciting from high school games perhaps? Besides, she’s always eating and finishing her big bowl of ramen. Make that 2. I mean 3. Okawari! The game starts and as expected Kiyosumi first 3 players breezes past their opponents. So now it’s Nodoka’s turn. Touka decides to gather info on this Nodoka girl because she thinks she is the legendary online mahjong mascot, Nodocchi, by wearing a poor disguise and watching her game. Say, don’t they resemble very close?
 
I’m not sure why but the officials allow Nodoka to bring her Etopen with her into the game room in episode 7 although it’s been checked that there is no foul play in the stuffed toy. Say, can I bring in my pet crocodile too? A short game summary: Nodoka beats her opponents flat (except for her chest. HAHAHA!). Other things going on in this episode: 1) Kyoutarou proves his usefulness by being a mule. Meaning, he buys food stuff for the girls during the break. 2) Fujita wonders what kind of magic Hisa set on her team their game play vastly improved during the last few days. 3) Touka thinks of having her maid, Ayumu, to be Koromo’s substitute in the event that mahjong monster doesn’t turn up. Will just a bunny hair band do the trick? 4) Kazekoshi pounds their opponents so much so they come out crying and wanting to quit mahjong. That’s a good thing, right? However Kazekoshi’s strict b*tch coach, Kubo, slaps one of her students even if they’ve won overall because she’s not happy with her poor play. Hey, it’s mahjong for heaven’s sake! Don’t take it out on your poor students! It’s like as though it’s life and death. Oh yeah, to some it may be. Thankfully the kind and calm captain for Kazekoshi, Mihoko Fukuji steps in to soothe the situation and console her poor abused friend. The final 4 has been decided and as expected Ryuumonbuchi and Kazekoshi advance with crushing victories along with unknown newcomers Kiyosumi and Tsuruga High School. Tsuru-what? Never heard of them. Precisely.
 
A calm before the final storm episode 8 sees our Kiyosumi gang celebrating via roadside ramen meal. Hey, they’re poor people. It’s being together that counts. So on their way home, Hisa and Mako reflect on the years back, Nodoka on how she met Yuuki during middle school and learned to play with other people instead of online mahjong. Thus she gained friends and back then it was heartbreaking that her team failed to get to the Nationals though she qualified for the individuals. They renew their promise to go to the Nationals together. As for the other teams, the usual reflecting and that they’re going to be the ones who will advance to the Nationals. But we all know which team will advance, don’t we?
 
The final begins in episode 9. Players up for the first round are Yuuki, Jun, Mihoko and Tsuruga’s Mutsuki Tsuyama. Ryuumonbuchi takes the lead and control of the game to show why they are the champions while Yuuki gets disheartened because she hasn’t won although it’s her specialty East rounds. Not enough tacos? Thankfully Kyoutarou comes back with more tacos during the break to lift Yuuki’s spirit. He can be her good husband actually. No, really. If he doesn’t have his mind preoccupied with Nodoka. But even so, it was still not enough to break Jun’s stranglehold of the game. Plus, Jun is instilling fear into Yuuki via her game play. Now, if you’re wondering why Mihoko always has one eye open and her right eye closed. Now as she opens it, it’s not her different eye colour which amazes you. It’s her mahjong eye which enables her to see her opponents’ hands! Wow! Something all hardcore and desperate mahjong players would love to have. Sensing Yuuki in danger, she helps her by creating a path, allowing for Yuuki to come back and break Jun’s flow. Might as well gang up against the champion, eh? Not. She’s just letting them play into her flow and before the rest could realize and Yuuki to know that she’s not her ally, Mihoko starts winning consecutive matches and builds up a considerable lead before the end of the round.
 
With Kazekoshi in the lead in episode 10, Hisa suggests that Saki and Nodoka take a little nap before their turn since they haven’t had much sleep recently. Don’t want to doze off in the middle of the match. Don’t expect anything hot to happen with the duo sleeping together. The second round pits Mako against Ryuumonbuchi’s Tomoki, Tsuruga’s Kaori Senou and Kazekoshi’s Miharu Yoshitome. Do you feel this round is a coincidence or fate? Because all 4 players are wearing specs! Specky round, I’d say. So this is Mako’s specialty. When she takes off her glasses, the world around her blurs and this allows her to vision and recall past scenes of mahjong tables she has seen too much back then. This mean, she can predict the pattern and outcome of the tiles. I think. Like a robot? Anyway it isn’t enough to win because the round goes to Kaori who happens to be a beginner in mahjong. Yeah, beginner’s luck. A lot of it. Thing is, Mako quips that there weren’t enough amateur mahjong players back at her cafe then, the reason why she can’t predict her tiles. Wait a minute. She can win against pros but not amateurs? What logic is that? Meanwhile, 2 girls from Imamiya Girl’s High School, the team which lost to Kiyosumi in the first qualifier match, are planning to take their revenge against Nodoka by playing a prank to steal her Etopen while she’s sleeping. Speaking of sleep, finally Koromo wakes up and reaches the tournament hall, only to meet Fujita. Doesn’t seem like the mahjong monster she’s described to be. Maybe that’s when she’s behind the mahjong table. Other than that, who wouldn’t love to tease this adorable cute little loli? Anyway Fujita spots the Imamiya girls and in their panic drop Etopen. Koromo picks it up and decides to be a good girl and return it. The middle round is going to begin and these are the players Hisa will be up against. Hajime (Touka still restraining her to chains?!), Tsuruga’s laidback captain, Satomi Kanbara and Kazekoshi’s Seika Bundou. However Mihoko starts to panic when she sees Hisa and recognizes her as Ueno, the girl she played and lost to during middle school Nationals 3 years ago but was disqualified. Ever since, she thought she had moved away since she didn’t enrolled into Kazekoshi.
 
So this is Hisa’s specialty in mahjong. Episode 11 reveals that to be bad waits. What? From what I understand, she waits till the moment with worst odds in hand to win the game. Something like that. Reward shall come to those who wait. Because of that, Kazekoshi’s vast lead vanishes as Hisa takes Kiyosumi to the top and Ryuumonbuchi occupies the bottom. Hajime remembers how Touka took her in to play mahjong with her. Her dad was a magician so it’s no surprise Hajime had a few tricks up her sleeve. Even so, switching tiles in mahjong games obviously is a violation of the rules and was thus disqualified. Though Touka was impressed by her play even without pulling off that stunt, the chains was there to restrain if her hands ever got ‘itchy’ and to keep her in check. Meanwhile Koromo bumps into the Imamiya girls, who repent their earlier actions and are thinking of returning back the penguin. Since Koromo wants the honour in returning it for a good girl reward, a tussle ensues. But it ripped and poor Koromo cried like a, well, little girl. Nodoka is up and is running around looking for her Etopen while Saki continues to sleep beautifully (maybe just kidding on that last bit). During the break, Mihoko rushes to the game room to ‘advice’ Seika about Hisa. However Hisa doesn’t remember who Mihoko is.
 
Seika feels guilty for losing all her teams hard earned points in episode 12 but Mihoko comforts and encourages her. Koromo comes to her team’s room crying about the ripped penguin so Touka has her loyal multi-tasking butler, Hagiyoshi to sew it up as good as new in no time. Happy Koromo soon manages to return Etopen to her rightful owner. How does she know she is Nodoka? Duh, her huge boobs, as she has heard. Yeah, the landmark everyone can easily find. The second half of the third round continues so Hajime continues to have flashbacks of how Touka introduced her to play her cousin Koromo locked up in a mansion all alone. Should I comment on how Hajime got her first hand experience with the mahjong monster? In the end, Hisa wins the round and establishes a lead for Kazekoshi. Though Touka thinks it is Hajime’s plan to lose on purpose so that Touka herself can make a grand comeback. Yeah, dream on.
 
It’s now Nodoka’s turn to shine in episode 13. She takes on Touka, Kazekoshi’s Sumiyo Fukabori and Tsuruga’s Momoko Touyoko. Touka sure does have an ego problem because she’s obsessed with beating Nodoka whom she still believes is Nodocchi. Meanwhile Koromo takes a little breather outside and Hagiyoshi follows her just to be sure to bring her back for her turn. Koromo notes how when people play mahjong with her, it’s like they’re witnessing the end of the world (yeah, worse than 2012) and how lonely she feels. Maybe that’s why she’s a monster. With the fourth round progressing, I can’t help snicker at the Nodoka vs Touka visual representation. A white angel fighter vs a dark Amazon warrior. It’s going to be one heck of an explosive affair. And yeah, Saki’s awake now in time to see Nodoka in action.
 
I guess Nodoka’s continue winning play is getting to Touka in episode 14 so much so she discards her logic just to stand out. With that, Ryuumonbuchi manages to steal top spot from Kiyosumi. However Touka and the rest are about to get a surprise. If you’re thinking about that Momoko girl being a ghost, then how the heck did she get into this tournament? Don’t blame you if you think her double extra long bangs make her resemble that ghost from Ju-on. No, she’s not a ghost even part of her body is wavering like a mirage or can appear and disappear anywhere at will. She’s more like anti-existence. WTF?! Hey, this is a mahjong show, not some sci-fi supernatural! Her flashback reveals how everyone tend to ignore her. Rather because of her anti-existence, no one knows she’s there even though she is. So playing online mahjong where nobody could find her, Tsuruga’s captain, Yumi Kajiki noticed her exceptional play and took great lengths to find her. Eventually she did and well, came into existence. Albeit slightly. Are you getting all this? Well it takes guts to come into some random classroom and shout aloud "I want you!". Tad embarrassing if not. So Momoko’s playing and existing all for the 1 important person in her life which is no other than Yumi. So Momoko’s specialty is her stealth mode in which other players can’t see her discarded tiles and are unable to hear her calls but people outside and those watching are able to. Huh? So poor Touka got played into her hands many times. On an unrelated note, I’d like to call this round the clash of the biggies. Big ego (Touka), big boobs (Nodoka), big size (Sumiyo) and er… big anti-existence?
 
However Nodoka doesn’t seem to be affected by Momoko’s stealth mode. In episode 15, we learn it’s because of her disbelief in superstition and online mahjong play which counters this attack. In the end, Touka’s planned comeback didn’t materialize so it’s still Kiyosumi on top followed by Tsuruga and initial leaders Kazekoshi hit rock bottom. Now the final round begins. The challengers as you may have guessed: Saki, Koromo, Yumi and Kazekoshi’s Kana Ikeda (does she really have cat ears?). Saki wonders if that evil aura she felt belongs to Koromo. Don’t let her innocent loli looks fool you. Maybe it’s still early in the match because Saki is on a roll. Kana is unhappy because she’s here to take revenge against last year’s heavy defeat from Koromo but now has to deal with another mahjong monster. But Saki’s run comes to an end courtesy from Yumi. Seriously I don’t understand that robbing a kan thingy.
 
I just realized that this tournament takes the whole day so much it is night time already in episode 16. Why is that bad? Because Koromo is a vampire and her powers are enhanced when it’s full moon! Just kidding about the vampire part. But really, her powers do increase during night fall. WTF?! Is this a supernatural or mahjong show?! This is how ‘terror’ Koromo turns out to be. She is so good now that she is able to scoop up the moon’s reflection on the water with her hands. WTF?! Now it’s fiction fantasy, is it?! The other players feel like being drowned as the water quickly rises up. Are they playing mahjong or what?! No way can that loli be a monster, can’t she? You bet. Koromo seems to be targeting Kana and stealing points off her so much so to a point Kana is at breaking point and is struggling to hold back her tears. So pitiful lah. It’s half time and Koromo leaves with that demon grin of hers and that’s not the only thing she left. She also leaves behind her opponents very much stunned and wondering if they could even be lucky to leave the hall alive. Why is her fist on flames?! Too powerful! Wargh! Oops, sorry. Even I too got caught up by her demonic aura.
 
In episode 17, Kana starts crying at the game table, Saki leaves for toilet (to relief tension I guess) while Yumi manages to keep her calm. So our trailing girls get the much needed comfort. Kana from Mihoko, Yumi from Momoko and Saki from Nodoka. Koromo meets Fujita as the latter tells her to start play real mahjong. The second half resumes as Koromo continues to show the rest the true meaning of darkness (tremble in fear!). She also continues to target Kana. It’s so pitiful to see her breaking down even if this is a mahjong game. However Koromo has been stealing her points so much so she has zero points now! If Kana loses more points, the game will automatically be over and Ryuumonbuchi the winner. Careful, careful. Kana is like a dead zombie, low on morale and her confidence really shaken. However Saki gives Kana a lifeline with some points and upsetting Koromo. Ganging up?
 
The few points is enough for Kana to get back in the groove in episode 18. No point sulking, right? She’s going to make Koromo regret that she didn’t kill her off sooner because that loli was more focused on Saki. Then Saki remembers the reason why she can’t play normally like she did during camp: That’s because she has her shoes on. Huh? After getting the green light to take her shoes off she seems to be winning games with only small points and cheap hands. Playing it safe? Of course Saki’s cheap hands soon turn into powerful combos stunning her opponents so much so Koromo is losing her grasp of control. Now Koromo is looking worried while Saki is the one having a smile with no worries.
 
Episode 19 begins with Koromo’s flashback how her parents died and Touka’s family took her in. Seeing that Koromo is lonely, Touka seemed to round up several friends to form and takeover their school’s mahjong club and rule the world with it. Okay, world domination was made up. A short power blackout occurs but nothing much happens. Hey, why is Fujita sleeping?! That boring or tired?! Anyway everyone is trying to make a last push for a comeback though Ryuumonbuchi still has a big lead. In the end, Koromo played into Saki’s hands and because of some special rule, Koromo is responsible for a payout and from what I understand, Saki gets lots of points and sends Kiyosumi top to the table and qualify for the Nationals. Hooray! Is mahjong fun now Saki? You bet. Not because she had won, though. So how bad was this loss to Koromo? Why, she was reduced to tears! The mahjong monster defeated! Ah well, she’s still a little girl. While the Kiyosumi gang rejoice, those who lost don’t seem to have regrets. Well, it was a good game though it will be the last for the third years. Koromo learns that Touka and her pals weren’t just putting a fake show to be her friends but are her pals for real. As for Kazekoshi’s Kubo, at least she didn’t slap her students this time and tells them to kick ass the next time. Lastly Kyoutarou takes a winning shot of the girls.
 
In episode 20, the university level prefecture qualifiers sees Teru’s powerhouse team Shirotoudai bulldozing their way past their opponents to make their 3rd straight National appearance. As reward for Kiyosumi’s victory, Hisa takes her team to a water park. Also, the individual prefectural qualifiers is in a week’s time so they have to continue training. Can’t believe Hisa tried to bring a mahjong board into the pool area. Of course she was stopped. Other than the fanservice, the Kiyosumi bumps into Ryuumonbuchi girls and learn that this complex belongs to Touka’s family. Another flashback on how Koromo and the rest went to Tokyo and she very much enjoyed her outing together at a family restaurant. Tsuruga is also practicing hard for the individuals but they forbid Kaori to practice because they fear her beginner’s luck will disappear if she does. Finally, Teru’s team mates show her an article about Kiyosumi’s victory and wonder about her little sister. However, Teru denies ever having one. Something must have gone really wrong for big sis do deny her little sis’ existence.
 
The individual tournament begins in episode 21. There’re a hell lot of players here so the same school can even face each other in the same match. From what I understand, the format involves several rounds of play and it’s not like they’re going to play the same opponents for all the rounds and are randomly rotated. With the points accumulated in the end, only the top 3 will advance to the Nationals. Last year’s winner was Touka so she’s eager to make up for her team’s defeat. And boy, how many members do Kazekoshi’s mahjong club have? Like they fielded the entire club. Since we can’t see every match so it’s good we see clips here and there of some of our main girls in their play. Like Touka against Kaori but lost to her beginner’s luck. Yeah, that girl still has it. As for Kyoutarou, he lost and is immediately out because there were too many boys so elimination is necessary. Too bad, wait for next year. While Yuuki is having a field day because of the East rounds, fate has Hisa and Mihoko playing against each other. So Mihoko uses her mahjong eye and wins her round which prompts Hisa to remember who she was. She even got the cheek to say that she might not remember that she played her 3 years ago. Or maybe that was on purpose. At the end of the day, Yuuki tops the standings. As expected those from the team qualifier finals also are in the top standings (well duh, if they can’t make it to the finals then they shouldn’t be there in the first place, right?). Except for Koromo (whom I think overslept but I remember she did say she did not want to participate in the individuals as she’s satisfied with the team one), Kaori (lost her beginner’s luck, eh?) and Mutsuki (lost to an unknown girl Kazue Nanpo of Hirataki High School). Another odd thing is of the 17 main characters’ position, Saki occupies the second last spot, ahead of reigning champion Touka. Maybe it’s still early to tell.
 
The second day of the qualifiers continues in episode 22. Yuuki is up against Kazue and just like the former, Kazue’s specialty is during the South rounds and she brings Yuuki back to ground before she gets carried away with her win. During the break, we learn that Kazue’s school did not enter the team tournament as she views her team mates weak and is gunning for the individuals only. Nodoka notices Saki’s plus minus zero play again and is upset so she confronts her about the promise. Saki’s reason is that she wants Hisa to play in the Nationals since this would be her last chance before she graduates but after being reminded everyone is doing their best, Saki too decides to give it all. Currently, Mihoko is leading the standings and looks like she is pretty much guaranteed a place in the Nationals due to her huge lead. Nodoka is in second place while Kazue in third. The afternoon match sees Saki going up against Hisa, Tomoki and Momoko. Hisa knows Saki’s playing style and tries to seal her with the rest soon follow. But Momoko is going to get her revenge on Saki whom she believes defeated her beloved Yumi’s and ended her team’s dream for the team’s appearance in the Nationals. Thus Momoko starts using her stealth mode to end their informal ally as Tomoki plays into her trap.
 
In episode 23, Saki manages to counter Momoko’s stealth play via her online mahjong during her training camp. With that, Saki is able to make huge improvements and closes into the top 3. So the final match pits many of the usual suspects together. In one room we have Hisa, Touka, Mihoko and Yumi. In the other we have Yuuki, Mako, Tomoki and Momoko. Next, Nodoka, Jun, Hajime and Kana. Finally Saki, Kazue, Satomi and Miharu. At Saki’s table, Kazue decides to use her South round to her advantage but Saki manages to make a comeback and pips Kazue to 3rd spot. Hisa also stages a late comeback against Mihoko but it wasn’t enough because she got 4th place overall. So the top 3 who will advance to the Nationals are Mihoko (1st), Nodoka (2nd) and Saki (3rd). See, they get to keep their promise after all. Poor Touka… I wonder if she’s going to be alright. Ah well, this is where dreams are made or crushed. She just lost to better players.
 
Hisa sends a training camp invitation to Ryuumonbuchi, Kazekoshi and Tsuruga mahjong girls as practice before the Nationals in episode 24. Besides Yuuki’s cheeky remark that Hisa’s special guest may be a hot, young, charismatic male skin care therapist who will give her and Saki huge boobs to break Nodoka’s boob monopoly, Yuuki flopped her maths exams and has got to take a makeup exam. And that is on the day of their planned summer festival outing. If she fails that, she has to attend summer remedial classes and that would mean no training camp for her. So Saki and Nodoka attempt to help Yuuki study but that all whinny girl wants to do is play mahjong, have fun and eat her tacos. Hisa bars all first years from the mahjong club so they go to several places to study like the library. But you know, if it isn’t mahjong, it’s got to be real taxing on Yuuki’s brain. The day of the makeup test comes as Mihoko pays Hisa a personal visit to send in her RSVP of her team’s attendance. The festival night comes as Kyoutarou gets an eyeful of the girls in yukata and also not forgetting the mandatory fireworks display. As expected, Yuuki passes her test so the gang are off to summer training camp where the other girls are eagerly waiting for them. Yeah, this is their last shot in getting their revenge.
 
However Hisa starts the training camp with a dip in the hotspring first in episode 25. Call it an ice breaker, eh? But then the actual training programme will be postponed the next day as some of the girls have travel fatigued. Yumi passes Hisa her collection of mahjong data of the Nationals and what they’ll be up against. As for Kyoutarou, he’s all alone back at Kiyosumi’s mahjong club because it’s his existence to do errands for the training camp. Oh well, at least he has online mahjong for company. Playing with Hagiyoshi on the other end. While some of the girls play ping pong (Touka rules!), the specky girls decide to play a round of mahjong to avenge their beginner’s luck defeat from Kaori. Unfortunately, Kaori’s luck is still there. The next morning as some of the girls take a dip at the outside hotspring, they talk about the Nationals and Teru. Mihoko says how in a recent interview, Teru denies she had a little sister. This causes Saki to excuse herself and leave. Nodoka follows to comfort her and learns Saki was afraid that even if she gets to play mahjong with her sister, nothing will change. The rest of the scene felt like yuri development between the duo. Go to a nearby shrine to pray, Nodoka expressing her wish for everyone to be together especially with Saki, buy and exchange souvenirs, try calling each other by their first names and walk back hand in hand. Hope they don’t end up getting married. When they get back, it’s mahjong training time and the special guest Hisa reveals is no other than Fujita. The episode ends with the opening ceremony of the Nationals and my, you could guess that there are stronger and weirder players from across the country. Is this a cosplay convention? Hey, Saki and Nodoka are still holding hands! And what the heck is that narration that there are hundreds of millions of mahjong players?! No wonder this world is one big gambling den.
 
So did I get what was happening for this series? Plot wise, the dark horses managed to beat the heavyweights and favourites and book their place at the Nationals. Play wise, I didn’t even understand a single thing till the end! That bad, huh? Well, a good thing is that ‘thanks’ to this series, it turned off even further my interest in the mahjong game. If they ever make a second season, there is a very high possibility that I won’t watch it. I’m still at a loss by just starring at their tiles and hands. Therefore with the visual effects in the form of exaggerated action such as flipping the tile with style, the thunderous thud of the ivory tiles, the electricity and fiery aura emitting from the players sure does bring in the smiles for me. I’d break into laughter every time that happens. Mahjong is such a scary game, don’t you think? Dahsyat betul. And to think that there are some players with supernatural powers and existence, mahjong isn’t that simple game we use to know anymore. Oh heck, see those Hong Kong movies like God of Gamblers to get an idea.
 
Amidst all the mahjong action, I guess there are a few character developments but it is nothing much to shout about. Even if it was mainly on Saki and Nodoka, we also see some of the other girls and their little story of how they stick together as mahjong club members. Saki’s enjoyment of the mahjong game is purely for the game itself in a good sense and not meant that she has turned into an addict. Hisa’s calmness and patience makes her worthy of being the mahjong club’s president while Kyoutarou shouldn’t feel bad he’s such a useless person. At least his role/existence is to do errands for the girls and whipping boy to show why some mahjong players are tops. Touka isn’t such an obnoxious brat, Hajime isn’t such a cheater after all and Koromo isn’t such a mahjong monster as initially believed. Yeah, it’s got to be the mahjong then. Perhaps more powerful and devastating mahjong demons will be waiting for them at the Nationals. My guess is that after facing and beating them, you’ll find that without that armour and facade on, they’re just friendly and likeable girls. But for Teru’s case may not be so straightforward. Ah well, nobody is that invincible. Is it?
 
If not for the mahjong play, the other plus point of this series is the many star-studded seiyuus. Who wouldn’t recognize Rie Kugimiya as the voice of Yuuki since she voices all those high pitched tsundere girl roles like Taiga in Toradora and Louise in Zero No Tsukaima series. Then there is Kana Ueda as Saki (Mikan in Gakuen Alice), Ami Koshimizu as Nodoka (Tenma of School Rumble series), Shizuka Itou as Hisa (Wilhelmina in Shakugan No Shana), Ryoko Shiraishi as Mako (Hayate in Hayate No Gotoku), Jun Fukuyama as Kyoutarou (Lelouch in Code Geass), Minori Chihara as Touka (Yuki of Suzumiya Haruhi No Yuutsu), Kaori Fukuhara as Koromo (Tsukasa in Lucky Star), Ai Shimizu as Hajime (Mikoto in Mai-HiME), Yuko Kaida as Jun (Ryoumou in Ikkitousen), Yui Horie as Mihoko (Kotori in Da Capo), Yu Kobayashi as Yumi (Mariya in Maria+Holic), Rika Morinaga as Kana (Sousei Seki in Rozen Maiden), Natsuko Kuwatani as Satomi (Suisei Seki in Rozen Maiden – no ~desu so couldn’t recognize her), Momoko Saito as Momoko (Choco in Chokotto Sister), Ryoko Shintani as Kaori (Milefeulle in Galaxy Angel series), Daisuke Ono as Hagiyoshi (Hosaka in Minami-ke series) and Mai Nakahara as Teru (Mai in Mai-HiME). Unfortunately with this many super stars, my favourite seiyuu Mamiko isn’t on the list :(. A good or bad thing?
 
The first opening theme, Glossy:MMM by Miyuki Hashimoto is a rather and lively piece in my opinion tries to make viewers to get into the mahjong mood of the series. The second opening theme, Bloooomin’ by Little Non is equally upbeat as well. There are 3 ending themes for this series, each randomly played throughout the show and are sung by the girls of Kiyosumi mahjong club. The first one is Netsuretsu Kangei Wonderland and the lyrics contain mahjong terms. Like I’ve hadn’t had enough of those jargons already. The second one, Zankoku Na Negai No Naka De sounds more dramatic and a little dark (animation mainly on Saki and Nodoka). The third ending theme, Shikakui Uchuu De Matteru Yo feels like a dance song and the lyrics too contain lots of mahjong terms while the animation has the girls in chibi form having fun at the beach. On a trivial note, each of the episode titles are short and sweet (two kanji words, that is) so you don’t have to crack your head over long titles. Another trivial thing I noticed during the show is how shiny Saki’s thighs and Nodoka’s boobs are…
 
I won’t really say that I regretted picking up this series or it was a waste of time watching something that I don’t understand in the end and ended up more confused and complicated. But at least it made me think that mahjong isn’t a bad game. After all, it is us humans that made it such a way. I never had luck in such gambling games including poker. Always losing so you can bet that I’d always stay away from them and thus a good thing I saved myself from wasting my life, money and future. On an unrelated observation note, there is no inverse or direct relationship between bust size and mahjong skill. Hah! Am I that bored and distracted while watching the series? Again, what the hell is a riichi, pon or kan?
 

Saki

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