Saki: Zenkoku-hen

November 15, 2014

Oh my God… They still have another season of this? More importantly, why am I still watching this?! I know I don’t even understand a single thing about mahjong , never bothered to go look up the terms (I am discouraged by the ‘scary’ scoring system anyway) and not planning to even pick up this game, so why am I even watching Saki: Zenkoku-hen? I know it is my policy of finishing series that I start but in that case I should have continued with Naruto… Maybe it is that discrimination loophole I have. Just because cute girls are playing a sport, I am all into it. Look at my past records. From Bamboo Blade to even that baseball theme of Taishou Yakyuu Musume. Oh God. That must be it. Because animes with guys in the entire team I completely sit it out from my list. I instantly knew I didn’t want to watch that volleyball Haikyuu, that swimming anime called Free or even Ping Pong The Animation. Don’t even talk about Kuroko No Basket. But you can’t say I never watched a guy sports anime before since I have my share with Slam Dunk and Prince Of Tennis. However that is from a long time ago… Anyway, with the third season of this loli playing mahjong anime, the focus is now back on our underdog team of Kiyosumi and just like the title suggests, the Nationals. I think I know how the end will be but the journey of getting there…

Episode 1
We are shown the magnificent and awesomeness of Shiraitodai as they thump their opponents to reach the Nationals. What else is new? We also have a glimpse of potential teams that will be making their appearance here. Some enough to make you go WTF. For instance, a team from the mountains that consists of miko priestess!!! WTF?! Miko priestesses playing mahjong instead of devoting their time to the gods?! WTF indeed. Oh, and one of them loves to strip her top just to show her tanned lines. And she also wears that voodoo mask? WTF? Then there is another team which seems pretty normal except that one of their returning members is a very tall girl who dresses up like a mortician. Is she going to make some sort of killing? Oh, there has to be this mixed nationality team too. It’s fine they have the Japanese and Hong Kong girl and it isn’t too bad too they have an American. But get this. They have a French. What is her name? Choe Myeononghwa! WTF! Isn’t that Korean? So okay, she maybe under the circumstances her dad is a diplomat or something. But the most WTF one is this girl in the team. Guess where Nelly Virsaldaz is from? Where the hell is Sakartvelo?! So now they are making things up?! Later as I found out thanks to my ignorance… Sakartvelo is the native name for that little Caucasus country of Georgia. With the Nationals looming around the corner, all the teams including our underdogs, Kiyosumi have arrived in the big city of Tokyo. Heck, even the teams they defeated are here in town just to support them. It is going to be one heck of a crowded place. Yeah. High school mahjong girls. At the draw, team representatives pick a number to see which opponents they draw. They are in the same block with one of the powerhouse, Himematsu High School representing South Osaka. I thought it was pretty duh because since Kiyosumi is the underdog, most teams that they will face would surely be superior than them, right? Although the Kiyosumi girls are free to do what they want before their match day, Hisa thinks they should have some minimal regimen and some rest.

Episode 2
Our Kiyosumi girls get some morale booster when their little school and town folks record a little video of encouragement and support. Kiyosumi also undergoes a mixed training camp with all the other schools they defeated in the prefectural tournament. Yuuki and Nodoka’s old middle school friends, Maho Yumeno and Hiroko Murohashi (thus known as Muro-Maho combo) are also part of this training and play against Nodoka and Saki. Oh sh*t I can’t believe my summary for this episode is just so short! Is that all I actually think it is worth remembering?! Personal world record…

Episode 3
It starts with Nodoka’s flashback on how she met Muro-Maho. Maho has this ability to mimic other player’s hands although it doesn’t last long and she will soon turn into some annoying anxiety ridden loli. This will help increase Mako’s repertoire as she is able to remember a table’s layout as well as cast some caution for Saki. So the matches for the first round begin and thankfully we skip this part. Needless to say, our heroines end up tops. The schools that Kiyosumi will be playing in the next round include Himematsu, Miyamori Girls’ High School (tall mortician girl’s school) of Iwate prefecture and the seeded Eisui Girls’ High School from Kagoshima (the miko priestesses). Yuuki is the first player. What’s with the cape? Tacos not enough? A guy wants to interview her but his colleague pulls him away saying they don’t have time. Yuuki hears them whisper that they don’t want to interview anybody on Kiyosumi except Nodoka. Because they think if an underdog like Kiyosumi has defeated powerhouse teams in their prefecture, it probably means the standard of mahjong in that prefecture has dropped and not worth talking about. Yuuki is upset that they are ridiculing everyone in their prefecture but instead of telling them off, she is going to show them at the mahjong table whether they are weak or not.

Episode 4
Yuuki’s opponents are Komaki Jindai (Eisui), Suzu Ueshige (Himematsu) and Shiromi Kosegawa (Miyamori). Suzu remembers her captain, Kyouko Uehara explained to the team about the threat of Yuuki. Something about her power when she is being the dealer. Suzu witnesses how Yuuki goes on a roll for 3 consecutive wins. Then there is Shiromi who whenever is indecisive, she will start to show some habit of hers. This is dangerous because the more hesitant she is, the more expensive her hands will accumulate. Huh? We’ve been hearing narrations from Suzu all the time (and some from Shiromi), you wonder why Komaki is so quiet? Actually she was sleeping! WTF?! You mean she has been sleep walking all the while?! So when she really wakes up, so does her whatever power. However it is Shiromi who breaks Yuuki’s winning streak and snatches her chances twice. Although Kiyosumi still leads the table followed by Miyamori, Himematsu and Eisui, Miyamori is able to close the gap with some big points.

Episode 5
We start off with a flashback 15 months ago at Himematsu. The temporary coach is talking to the captain Kyouko Suehara about the mahjong teams and didn’t put Suzu in since she is weak. Kyouko admits she is but if they go by the standard rules. They explain about her having the highest points and her wins are like explosion. Huh? Back to the match, Komaki turns the tables by unleashing some god mist power. Yuuki makes a bad call and this allows Komaki to capitalize on it and thus ending the first round. This causes Eisui to hit hard on Kiyosumi and they lose some points. Yuuki is sad due to her blunder but her mates think she did well. Eisui who was in last now jumps to second. Miyamori takes the lead while Himematsu is dead last. The second round opponents for Mako will be Yuuko Mase (Himematsu), Aislinn Wishart (Miyamori) and Tomoe Karijuku (Eisui). The highlight of this match is the Kiwi girl Aislinn who is able to conjure up the hands of her opponents with her whiteboard. Although this one is pretty much confined in her head. However her predictions start breaking apart when the other schools break her pattern (or that the tiles she predicted turn up differently). Mako takes off her glasses and applies her ability to remember the layout and launch a counterattack. Aislinn must be devastated at how things aren’t going her way. Big blow. Big shock. Tomoe and Yuuko are just playing it cool without making any waves especially with Yuuko putting on her cute eternal smile throughout the game play. I am surprised they only have this second round match for half an episode! Because it ends with Mako avenging Yuuki as Kiyosumi leapfrogs and takes the lead. Miyamori falls back to second place although technically they didn’t move since Eisui drops to third and Himematsu continues to occupy the bottom. Third match is going to start but don’t get too excited yet. Because it’s lunch break.

Episode 6
I think I’ll skip the lunch break follies that includes the one with the commentators. So for the third match, Hisa is going to have for company Hiroe Atoge (Himematsu), Haru Takimi (Eisui) and Kurumi Kakura (Miyamori – I believe she is the smallest girl in the school who happens to have the tallest girl). When Hisa steps into the room, it’s like she experiences some sort of mind blowing space dimension warp. I don’t know how many minutes she lost there but it made her nervous and not herself. Those who know her are very worried. So nervous that she makes the first blooper of accidentally revealing a tile and gives Hiroe the chance to call her an idiot or airhead. So nervous that she gets caught in some trap and loses a lot of points. So nervous that she starts worrying about the stronger opponents Saki and Nodoka will face and that this is her last year she gets to play. But when she remembers Hiroe’s comment about how boring this will become, she realizes she is just trying to have fun and all those others supporting her. She gets back into the groove and regains her self confidence with her nerve wrecking plays. At half time, Kiyosumi and Himematsu trade places while the other two remain status quo. Haru offers Hisa black cane sugar. Sugar to replenish the tired brain? Time for the second half to start.

Episode 7
Let me just skip the rest of the second half and go right to the end of the round. Not that I understand anything anyway. Thanks to Hiroe’s play that snatches lots of points, Himematsu jumps from last to first as everybody else drops a rung. Perhaps everyone got nostalgic that they don’t want to leave their seats till the fourth players arrive. Accompanying Nodoka in this fourth round are Hatsumi Usuzumi (Eisui), Sae Usuzawa (Miyamori) and the sister of Hiroe, Kinue (Himematsu). I know this series had lots of exaggerated stuffs but I wasn’t prepared for this because Hatsumi enters the scene via some teleport magic!!! WTF???!!! Then, Kinue got freaked out by Nodoka’s Etopen that she gives it a good football kick! GOOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!!! Penguin abuse! Hey, I noticed everybody brought in something for this match. Nodoka with her Etopen, Hatsumi with her voodoo mask, Sae with her monocle and Kinue with her, erm, spectacles? Then it gets more outrageous because the girls are not imagining things when they see Nodoka’s angel materializing behind her for a short while! It’s some mode that she is supposed to be when she gets into her style. With Kinue reminiscing about how she was put in this team and getting to play aside her sister and the need to protect the points, before she knows it, the other teams start hitting their hands. Don’t daydream, please. And then… Hatsumi’s power starts awakening because a breezy mist just flows into the room.

Episode 8
Before Hatsumi can unleash her whatever power, Sae puts some seal over her. For the entire first half of this series, Nodoka is just irrelevant. It is about Sae and Kinue trying to keep tabs on Hatsumi’s power from awakening. Yeah, voodoo stripper girl is reduced to tears. At the end of the first half, Eisui lost lots of points. Himematsu maintains pole position and widens the point gap. Kiyosumi maintains second place and Miyamori still in third although they lost some ground. During the break, tired Sae remembers. Sae, Kurumi and Shiromi were the only members of the mahjong club when they received a new teacher, Kumakura. She becomes their fourth player and they relish in playing a real mahjong game after a long time. Noticing the club needs a fourth member, Kumakura remembers an interesting girl (tall mortician girl) she saw on her detour and would like to introduce her to them. The second half is about to start. Sae’s pals notice the weariness she is. That’s because using her sealing powers drains her energy. The stronger the opponent, the more stress she puts on herself. And looks like Sae has to continue sealing Hatsumi due to the sitting arrangement again. But this time Nodoka ‘wakes up’ and goes on the offensive. Now they have to watch out for her too.

Episode 9
Sae is tired. She wonders if she should continue blocking as she observes Nodoka might just get a direct hit by Hatsumi. She is hoping for it to happen but it is Hatsumi who got dealt into her hand. She is moments away from turning into a cry-baby. Kinue then goes on a winning streak when suddenly Hatsumi revives. Now it’s a devil’s grin. I don’t know what astronomical play they are playing but Sae again targets Nodoka to play into her hand. Then Hatsumi scores big and Nodoka takes a direct hit. To the surprise of others, Nodoka seems unfazed. Is she a robot? At the end, Himematsu still hangs on to the lead as with Kiyosumi in second. Eisui goes up to third and Miyamori is rock bottom. And here is the final match. Saki makes her debut on the National level. She’s got Eisui’s Kasumi Iwato, Himematsu’s Kyouko and Miyamori’s tall mortician girl Toyone Anetai for company. At first Kyouko is on a winning streak. It breaks when she becomes the dealer and all the others target her. Especially Toyone whose specialty seems to be ‘chasing’ Kyouko’s hand. For a few times it happened like that. I suppose Kyouko is testing if this is coincidence or not and tries it out one more time. And yeah. Here Toyone comes after her again. Uh huh. Now she feels like Toyone wrapping her arms around her neck and strangling her! No wonder they don’t call her Toyone Right Behind You for nothing.

Episode 10
Kyouko falls into her trap again and the first half ends. Miyamori goes up to third with Eisui now occupying bottom. Kyouko feels the need to rethink her strategy. With the second half beginning, Toyone surprises everyone by calling every hand they made and wins it with some naked wait move. This effectively puts Miyamori in second place. Now it’s time for the big flashback that occupies much of the rest of this episode. 6 months ago Kumakura introduced Toyone to the Miyamori mahjong girls. Toyone came from a remote village and spent most of her time watching mahjong on TV. They play several games together as she unleashes her special move. At the end of the day, she starts crying because she was having so much fun now she has to leave for home. But the rest know that Kumakura only brought her here because she sees her as a potential team member. Conveniently all the necessary paper work has been done for her transfer to this school. They also realize why Kumakura had begun doing it for some time. It was so they could participate in the inter-high tournament. But who is going to be their fifth member? Conveniently too, Aislinn the exchange student who knows nothing about mahjong began drawing about their victory. I don’t know if the drawing is just like counting their chickens. I suppose the rest can drill her about the rules but seriously, can she improve that much in that limited time? So that is how they got the team? Now it is tears of joy for Toyone. So back to the game, Toyone continues to call everyone’s hand for that naked wait. And she wins it again. Because she has been on a winning streak since the start and amassing the points, Miyamori finally goes up to top spot and dethrones Himematsu. I’m sure they’re not going to let Toyone have her way so Kasumi is going to make some super move too…

Episode 11
There is this flashback from Kasumi when the head priestess told her about some living talisman doll. I don’t know. It looks creepy. And now she is going to use that power. I don’t know if this is like cheating because it’s like she called for spiritual intervention that allows her to break Toyone’s winning streak and now it’s her turn to win. Because of that, Eisui is now in the lead. We hear a lot from Kyouko about her analyzing about this hand, that hand, the discards, etc. It’s like she’s been a worry wart for a great duration of this match. At least she breaks the streak and wins one hand. Just one hand. Because now it’s Saki’s turn. Yup. She’s been quiet for so long so I guess now it’s the time. I don’t know about dead walls and all that crap they said and I certainly can’t joined the dots together when they tell me that Saki didn’t actually negate the other’s power but accepted it. Now that Saki has turned into an amazing player, the rest are just dumbfounded each time she makes her call. Uh huh. It’s like they didn’t expect it. And this is what Saki continues to do as she surprises them with the hands she calls till Kiyosumi is now in the lead. Yeah. It’s like playing musical chairs because everybody has at least taken their turn leading the group. Everybody is running scared now that Saki is warming up and building up her power. So powerful now that Sae’s monocle breaks!!! WTF???!!! What the hell is this demonic aura?! Is Saki a demon?! Don’t be dumbfounded over the hands she calls or not! Look at her freaking damn aura!!!

Episode 12
Kyouko thinks Saki’s goal is to change some drawing order and that she is not afraid of Himematsu since this will also give them an advantage. Because the difference in points is close, the team’s position changes quickly. The tension is building up especially Toyone who feels that if they don’t make the cut, everyone’s festival will end. So finally Saki wins the last hand and ends the game. Toyone immediately cries out loud. Kiyosumi in first place and Himematsu in second will qualify for the semi-finals. Kyouko returns to her teammates. They talk about Saki pulling off her specialty of plus minus zero twice. Thinking she wants to get stronger than her, they cheekily give her a makeover. New change, new outlook? They also called in a pro mahjong player (who was also part of the commentators) to understand Saki better. At Eisui, they’re blaming themselves for not doing a good job. They think their plan of summoning stronger gods they were saving for the semi-finals backfired because they summoned weaker ones. And a Miyamori, Toyone has collected signatures from her opposing teams. It is an emotional reunion. With Eisui paying them a visit, I guess the individual tournament is in a few more days so what better way for loser teams to head to the beach to relax? See Komaki already has a float ready around her waist. Now back to Kiyosumi, Saki pours out her troubles to Hisa. She felt uncomfortable playing with her opponents as she could only used the playing style she used when she was young. She feels if she plays them again, she cannot win. The top 8 teams for the semi-finals are decided. In block A, we have Shiraitodai, Shindouji, Achiga and Senriyama and in block B, Kiyosumi, Himematsu, Usuzan and Rinkai. Three of the seeded teams made it and 2 are debutants. Usuzan being one of them and a comment from one of the players is that this is a team she wants to avoid playing.

Episode 13
Nodoka, Yuuki and Saki slept so well that Hisa didn’t have the heart to wake them up to watch the first semi-final match. When they do wake up, Nodoka and Yuuki’s old middle school friend, Kirame Hanada is already starting as the first player for Shindouji against Shiraitodai’s Teru. Nodoka did not realize Achiga is also in that block as she never paid attention to the tournament bracket. They head over to the tournament hall but it is packed with people. No space. They stumble upon a magazine editor who wants to interview her. Along the way, they bump into the Achiga girls and it feels like it has been a long time they have seen each other. Nodoka’s interview starts and surprisingly is quite short. You expect it to last for hours? Anyway she shows proof of their blog of their time together. A picture of them in summer 4 years ago comprises of Nodoka, Kuro, Shizuno and Ako who has this very uncanny resemblance to Yuuki then. Nodoka and Yuuki manage to pass their package to Kirame after her match is over. I’m sure if you have seen the Achiga’s arc (which is technically the second season of the series), you would know who made it in the first semi-final. And now here comes the second semi-final. Our girls are ready to give it their all. Especially Nodoka and Shizuno’s promise to meet in the final. Once again we are introduced to the teams who will be accompanying Kiyosumi. Aside Himematsu, they are the international and seeded team of Rinkai and the dangerous newcomer Usuzan. Yuuki dons her cape and goes into battle. I suppose this is the ‘fastest’ summary of an entire match ever because we see short montages of the girls in battle, some unlocking their super power fury. WTF. Safe to say with Kiyosumi gets through to the final even if this is just a big speculation. But you know they will, right?

It’s Still Not Over!
Oh God… You mean it hasn’t ended yet?! This means that if they make another sequel, I am very much obliged to watch it?! Just because I want to ‘complete my mahjong series’?! Heck, I still don’t even understand the terms and season in, season out, this is my very main gripe and yet I am still watching this. What is wrong with me? Yeah. If they do a marketing ploy on this, I bet I will become a sucker and go for it. Back to this season. No wonder I had my suspicions when it is only 13 episodes long. As of now I have not heard if there is a sequel or even additional episodes (like how they did it for Achiga’s arc last season). I thought they were going to zip through the entire Nationals. Boy, was I naive. Seeing Yuuki and Mako’s game was considered ‘fast’ enough, I thought this would be the case for the rest. Well after the fourth players’ match, there is like 1/3 of the series left. I never knew it was going to be focus on the fifth players’ match all the way. I should have seen it coming. I mean, Saki is in it. Otherwise why would they name this series after her in the first place?

Of course the most ‘interesting’ and amusing parts in seeing them play mahjong are the ‘special effects’ that the players summon so as to have the edge over their competitors or to turn the tables. Though, I feel that this season’s ‘supernatural effects’ have been toned down partly because there aren’t enough episodes and earlier matches ended quite early. Still, even if I don’t quite understand the basics of riichi, kan and pon, what more will I even understand other terms used here that I can’t possibly remember. They sound so alien to me. That is why I take so much pleasure in watching those exaggerated special powered moves because that is the part that truly smile even though I couldn’t care less if it makes sense or not. After all, if this series was void of such effects, it would have been such a drab and boring show and perhaps I wouldn’t have continued watching it after the first season even if there are some cute girls and plenty of it in the subsequent seasons.

With so many characters, it is hard to keep track of them all. Old ones that show up feels like it is for the sake to remember them and that they have not been forgotten at all. Of course they are here for the individual tournament but that is another unrelated story. With 3 new schools Kiyosumi faced in this round, it is not surprising that some of the characters would be given some flashbacks albeit it won’t be deep enough. To me, it just feels it is for the sake of passing time since it would be goddamn boring to sit through the entire match watching them like that. Heck, everything is just boring because I don’t really get it. And also, some flashbacks are perhaps to explain why they can unleash such supernatural godly/ungodly move. Oh God. Is this even legal? Might as well call God of Gamblers, Chow Yun Fatt to come help me out. The new characters have their own little quirkiness. Some really do leave an impression (mostly visually) like Toyone because of her odd dressing and the Eisui girls which is the biggest irony because miko priestesses playing mahjong is like seeing a priest gambling in Las Vegas. But I bet it is just for this season and most probably you won’t hear of them again.

But for Kiyosumi themselves, it feels that nothing is further developed on them because as said they spread the character development for the other schools Kiyosumi is facing. The yuri relationship between Nodoka and Saki seems to have been forgotten (at least to me) even though it is a mild one. Then there is the only guy in the mahjong club, Kyoutarou. His existence is so unimportant and trivial that it makes you wonder if there is a need to even animate him around. Therefore my guess is that the only role he was given in this season is to serve as Yuuki’s tacos provider. Uh huh. Not even a side comic relief provider. Now he has perfected to art of making tacos for Yuuki to give her a much needed motivation to do well in the first game. Otherwise, do you see any relevance for this dude to even be part of a tournament that only has all female competitors? Sure, there is the individual tournament, but that is another story. Thus the other schools that Kiyosumi defeated in the prefectures like Ryuumonbuchi, Kazekoshi and Tsuruga feel like irrelevant despite their short cameo appearance and are just a reminder that they are still around. They may not be in the team match but the individuals so you can say that they are just rooting for the underdog team that beat them.

New Sparks by Miyuki Hashimoto is the opening for this season. It is a lively piece and feels cheery too. She also sings one of the ending themes, True Gate. This rock piece feels a little dark. The other ending theme is Kono Te Ga Kiseki Wo Eranderu. There are different versions of it albeit sung by either the girls from Miyamori, Eisui or Himematsu. Sounds like your typical all-girl group pop song. Just like in previous seasons, the animation here has the characters in chibi format and doing pretty funny stuffs in mahjong. Perhaps this is the other amusing. Depending on which version, you would see the characters of that school as the ‘main stars’ in this ending theme animation. All wanting the coveted cup, eh?

Subsequently I found out why this season was just so and instead of wrapping it up. The manga is still ongoing and currently Kiyosumi’s semi-final battle is not over yet. Therefore if they are to make a sequel, I am very sure that they are going to cover this part too instead of jumping right to the finals where Achiga and Shiraitodai are waiting for them. Will I still be watching it? You bet. Because girls playing mahjong… I don’t even know how I got into this… So for those who really want to watch this series, it is best to start from the first season. Also, you need to be a mahjong enthusiast and perhaps a pro to even enjoy the series. Or else you will be constantly scratching your head like yours truly and eternally asking the same ol’ question of, wait for it, what the hell is a riichi, kan or pon again?

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