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?

At least it didn’t take years. When the sequel spin-off to the mahjong anime series somewhat ended abruptly, it was announced that there were going to be additional episodes to end the all important semi-final match but without telling the dates of those episodes. So after around half a year or so, Saki: Episode Of Side A or also known as Saki: Achiga Hen has finally come to a close with 4 additional episodes. I clearly remember that I wasn’t into this mahjong game because of all the crazy terms and hands. I never understood a single one of them. So I had no idea about the scoring system or the impact if they landed a certain hand at certain positions. It took away the fun. There was no fun. So why am I watching this? Because I love to finish what I started. It is a good thing that no more episodes came out after that. That would be tad sad. I would be screaming my head off and pulling out my hairs. Considering if I am still sticking to my belief of finishing what I started. And even before the series started, I already had an idea who is going to make it (just like I predicted in my last blog). So let me get over this mahjong game for one last time. I’ve sit through 2 seasons of it so how bad can it get?

Episode 13
As the second match begins, Harue starts playing matches with Kuro so that she could revive her dora. By the time she has played enough games, she will have that dora feature by the time Achiga reaches the finals. In the second round, the match pitches Achiga’s Yuu with Senriyama’s Izumi Nijou, Shiraitodai’s Sumire Hirose and Shindouji’s Yasuko Yasukouchi. Yasuko seems to be making big wins, a very different playing style from what is previously known from her as she usually goes for cheap wins. At the same time, Sumire the sharp shooter is targeting Izumi and has her stepping into her trap and lose big. Yuu remembers Harue once told her that if she makes it to the finals, her opponent would most likely be Sumire. How true that has become. She has pulled some strings and has got several play records and videos on her. There is a sign to tell whom Sumire is targeting and you can know if you carefully watch her finger followed by her eye movement. Yuu realizes she is Sumire’s next target and learning from this valuable information, not only she manages to dodge Sumire’s attacks but let her to be played into her hand as well. Not once, but many times. The other Shiraitodai girls wonder if Sumire has a telltale sign that is allowing Yuu to circumvent her attacks. They try to look into the replays but couldn’t find anything. At the end of the game, Senriyama suffered very heavy losses. So disheartened Izumi had become that she spaces out. She can’t bear to go back to face her other members but her fellow comrade Sera tells her not to think too much. They always have next year. Even though Sera is in her third year, it’s all the more reason why they have to go all out and do their best. Wow. After the first game that lasted for several episodes, this one just lasted for half an episode!!! Surprise, surprise.

So the third round begins. Players for this round include Achiga’s Ako, Shiratodai’s Takami Shibuya and Shindouji’s Hitomi Ezaki (blame politics!). Izumi goes back to her team’s room and is told by her comrade that age does matter in the finals so it is no surprise that first years like Izumi will get beaten up by third year players. Of course there are exceptions with first year geniuses. Too bad Izumi isn’t one of them. At the end of the first half of this round, Sera is raking up the points and wins quickly while Hitomi further falls behind. Ako returns to her room and they discuss about Takami. Based on her record, she has this history of pulling off some yakuman hand in the final round. They know it is not coincidence but there is a pattern to it. They know the kind of draws and hands not to make in order to not let Takami get in that situation but it is easier said than done. The match resumes and Ako finds herself in unfavourable positions. She has no choice but to carry on playing. Sera also continues her winnings till Senriyama takes over Achiga for second spot in the current standings. Though, there are a handful of times Ako is able to stop Sera’s hand. Now it comes down to the final hand and they are expecting Takami to pull off her yakuman. Yeah. She too is anticipating the seeds she has sown will now turn into plants and bear fruit.

Episode 14
Ako has a really bad hand does some analyzing but it’s too late because Takami has already pulled off her hand with some daisangen. At the end of the match, Sera scores the most followed by Ako. Although Takami won big in the last round, the overall score for Shiraitodai still dropped. Losing lots of points is of course Hitomi. Blame politics! And now for the fourth round. Arata will represent Achiga while the very analytical Hiroko represents Senriyama. If Shiraitodai had an archer, this time they have a fisher! I don’t really understand but as explained Seiko Matano will call 3 times before winning. And true enough for the first round, she fishes out her tiles and draws first blood. For Shindouji, Mairu Shirouzu seems to have this link with Himeko Tsuruhime. Their wins are linked and Himeko always plays after Mairu. In that way, Himeko’s wins are doubled but if Mairu doesn’t win, Himeko won’t. In other words, if Mairu limits herself not to win a particular hand, Himeko also won’t win that hand. Geddit? I think… So I guess that is what this ‘torture’ scene whereby Mairu puts a limit on herself, tries to release herself from chains and sends the winning key to Himeko. I just don’t get it. We take a short break from the battleground to see Hajime and Koromo visiting Saki in her room. They talk about Nodoka and remember she had a childhood friend back in Achiga because they played them during their training stint. Seems they ended up making Achiga stronger and warn to beware their fifth player who is somewhat ‘problematic’. Harue calls Shizuno to warm up her game and she doesn’t just want to go up a gear but 10 gears!

While Mairu continues her reservation release thingy, Seiko falls into Hiroko’s trap. Before they know it, the quietest girl whom they seem to ignore from the very start, makes her move. Arata pounces on them with some bowling move. You throw a tile like throwing a bowling ball? What kind of style is that? I guess this is the price to pay for not noticing her. Hiroko doesn’t have much data on her but even if she had little, she notices her old fashioned playing style due to some long hiatus or someone she looked up a long time ago. Seiko further falls into Hiroko’s trap and Mairu continues to get more ‘winning keys’ for Himeko. Hiroko is closing in on Arata and thinks she can pip her to second place. Everyone thinks they are safe from Arata as long as it is anything but circle tiles. But she surprises with a different move and causes them to lose lots of points. Flashback of Arata tells us why she was chosen because of her level headedness. She didn’t realize the responsibility and expectations she shouldered till she went through lots of such situations. It was the support of her people that made her pulled through. People entrusted her with things. She is here because of their feelings. She wondered if Harue went through something similar. So with this shocking move, she has closed Achiga’s gap with Shiraitodai at the top. A direct mangan hit could well put her in top spot. Now everyone is wary of Arata. Mairu needs to go reckless because the little points she’s got won’t change anything. Hiroko thinks of playing it safe when she realizes a rare data she remembered on Arata. Her old fashioned playing style is from Harue as well as a mix of her own. She realizes the sentiments of Achiga in the semi-finals. The strong wills the pupils are mustering for their teacher. It is revenge 10 years in the making.

Episode 15
Toki is recuperating well in hospital and even has a wise crack. The fourth round ends with Shiraitodai barely clinging on to top spot and Achiga close on their heels. Shizuno is fired up to go next but first she is made to put on her school uniform. Even the most tomboyish girls did that when they enter the battlefield. So accompanying Shizuno for the final match are Shindouji’s Himeko, Senriyama’s Ryuuka Shimizudani and Shiraitodai’s Awai Oohoshi who is said to be Teru’s successor. Instantly as the match begins, Awai unleashes her demonic aura. It makes everyone start with a bad and slow hand. Wow. Is this possible? But Himeko takes a chance and decides to use her mangan key and break the spell. This proves fruitful as her baiman gets Shindouji out from last place and into second. Ryuuka is low on confidence. If only Toki was here. Flashback of their bonds together and she feels that their bond too is unbreakable. Because Toki always uses her lap as a lap pillow, she can still feel Toki’s presence. And yeah. More like Toki’s spirit comes to talk to her and give her hints on the current round! Ryuuka is able to see into the future and the best tiles for the current round. However she can’t use Toki often as there is a limit to how many times she can call her for help. There’s always a limit to every super power, eh? Following the guides, Ryuuka is able to make up some points and because all the teams are very close together, any big win will have them leap into first place. For now, Senriyama is occupying that spot and dethrones Shiraitodai. But that will only be a brief moment since Himeko strikes back and reclaims top spot.

Awai couldn’t hold it in much longer and wants to unleash her specialty. Something that was supposed to be saved for the grand finals. I guess she couldn’t wait since she is playing with top players. Seems this double riichi call of hers must be so great that her hair is standing on ends! It’s like she’s in friction land! Did she turn into some kind of hair monster? Shizuno notices Awai’s double riichi and it is coming. She remembers Harue telling her about Awai. Shiraitodai consists of multiple teams and those who win get to advance to the Nationals. Awai who is under Teru’s team is an attacking team which means her abilities are offensive nature. She also shows a video of her opponent’s facial reaction moments before Awai declared her double riichi. It’s like she saw a ghost!!! That scary, huh? Why do they have cameras focusing on the girl’s face anyway? Harue also warns there are several things to look out for when a double riichi is called. And looks like Awai is already setting it in motion. Shizuno makes a wise move in backing down because had she not like Himeko, she would have fallen into her trap and lost points. Shiraitodai moves back up. It is predicted that Awai will win in the next few rounds but it seems nothing much happens. Till Shizuno pulls off a shocking move that has her opponents starting to take notice of her. With that move, it allows Achiga to go top and avoid some penalty. First half is over too. After the short break, the battle to decide the 2 schools that will advance to the finals begins.

Episode 16
Awai is back on the offensive with her riichi and double riichi call. But Himeko won’t give up yet and uses her mangan key to fight stave off Awai. As some have already noticed, Awai’s power is not totally invincible because there are some hands that she doesn’t win. Even Seiko herself mentions she did beat that double riichi of hers though it was a despicable tactic. Awai continues he win over Himeko. Hiroko talks to us about mountains and corners in the mahjong tiles, something she just observed that prevented Awai from winning. Then we shift a little to Shizuno’s flashback whereby she was running around the mountains at full speed like as though it was her own backyard. So what is the significance of these? According to Hiroko, due to the eyes of the dies that Awai won her double riichi games, the dice decide where the corner will be. So certain numbers will mean the corners are deep in the wall and this means they are under Shizuno’s territory. I don’t get that. Seriously. It really is her territory when the scene starts to get misty. Awai can’t see clearly and she can’t use her usual power. It forces her to take notice of Shizuno. And she’s starting to be afraid of her that she dropped her tile! There’s fire aura coming out from Shizuno!!! But Shizuno is one cool cat! Because of Shizuno’s influence, Awai’s power seems to be waning. Himeko and Ryuuka start noticing this. Ryuuka heightens her senses to the max. Hmm… She can see body temperature, heart beat and breathing. I don’t know how that enables her to see the opponent’s next tile or move. Shizuno surprises everyone by going for a cheap win. Himeko is feeling the strain of getting lost in the mountains is affecting her bond with Mairu. Going into the final round, suddenly it hit Awai. Achiga currently is in top spot while Shiraitodai in dead last. Due to some circumstances and Shizuno’s cheap win, even if Awai direct hits Shizuno, she will be tied in points with Achiga. And because of dealer preference, Achiga will rank higher than Shiraitodai which means they will end up in third. Dragging Achiga down from first is impossible now. She can’t even do double riichi on her last hand.

But Awai realizes it would be an insult to aim for second place just to qualify for the finals and will give it all she’s got to aim for top spot. Her dilemma is to whether to declare riichi. The rest are just one move from winning their game. Then Awai declares riichi, thinking winning off Achiga or drawing will put her in first place (unless she calls some hand that ends up with that draw points and dealer order preference thingy). Just when Awai makes her winning move, Shizuno tells her to check her tiles. Awai thinks Shizuno hasn’t accepted defeated and checks anyway. To her surprise, it wasn’t the tiles she expected. Those tiles mean she isn’t in her territory. I don’t know what that means but I know the game has ended! Yahoo! The semi-finals ended for good! Yahoo! Safe to say, Achiga is through to the finals at top spot while Shiraitodai sneaks in at second place. It is a tearful goodbye for Senriyama and Shindouji team but you know, you-did-your-best comfort thingy. Harue becomes emotional that she has finally overcome this stage. Since teams who qualify for the finals have the right to visit the different stage that they will be playing, Achiga takes this chance to have a look. Harue is surprised to see her pro mahjong colleague. Harue is not afraid like before because she has the Achiga girls behind her. That’s when she decides that she wants to try her hand at being a pro player. Shizuno and co rejoice at her decision while the other semi-finals that involve Kiyosumi get ready to play.

Is This Mahjong They’re Playing?
In the end… I never get it! Not a single bit. The scoring, the terms, the analysis and the possibility of the outcomes of their hands (especially those explained by Hiroko). Even when I used terms like baiman, riichi, yakuman and the likes in this blog, I still don’t really understand the meaning behind them. It is regrettable that I sometimes feel that I have wasted my time watching something that I do not fully comprehend but on the bright side, I managed to finish this series! Wohoo! What an achievement! A feat in the wrong department… But all is not bad because the only thing that I truly enjoyed and never cease to be amazed is the exaggerated special effects. Yes! The way they throw the tiles and the aura they emanate seem to make it funny. I know they mean serious business but look at it from my point of view. They’re just playing mahjong, right? Wow. So much of these power ups and special effects just to win some hand. The thundering and lightning effects, the tile on flames, the different dimensions that they go to and yeah, even a little visit from a friend’s spirit. Ridiculous, no? It’s like they’re not playing mahjong but in some supernatural game that looks like mahjong. Get what I’m saying? Anyway, those special effects are the best moments in making me smile in what would have been a very dull and draggy game. Besides, I think this is the main reason why this show is ‘exciting’. It’s spiced up with lots of those effects. You don’t want to see just girls making normal plain boring moves, right?

As expected, Achiga and Shiraitodai advance to the finals. But during the episodes, I feel that Achiga’s presence from all their representatives feels lacking. I think they try to give the other teams have more screen time and not focus too much on Achiga since each one of them have their peculiar special ability. In a sense it is quite well spread out but seeing that this anime series is about Achiga, in a way it feels that they are just sitting around until they make some surprise move or one that would give their opponents a little jolt. Just like how in the original TV series I remember, Kuro was reduced to some ‘useless cry-baby’ with the might of Teru dominating almost all the way and Toki using her life threatening ability to stop her. I thought Shizuno would be making more impact since she is the fifth player and what I believe to be the ace. However it was spread out with Awai dominating in her freaky monstrous fashion way while Himeko and Ryuuka try to put the brakes on her. I know it is tough having to settle for second place but at least they qualified for the finals. Just like the fate of screen time among the Achiga girls, it is somewhat limited till that mountain backyard crap kicked it. Not that I fully understand. Yeah. Mahjong is like the wilderness. If you don’t understand it, you can get lost and lose your life.

In the end, it is a good thing that I never got hooked on mahjong. Because as I said this game in my country is viewed as a gambler’s game. Gamblers have a bad reputation, you know. It’s bad being a gambler anyway. It is a bad thing that I did not pick this up because from the way I see the girls play, it keeps your mind sharp, analytical of all the possibilities and makes you good in calculation. If there is going to be another sequel whereby our main characters from Kiyosumi and Achiga meet in the finals, I’m not sure if I want to watch it. I know it is for the sake of finishing and completing this series as a whole. But what are the chances? I don’t want to go through another season of cracking my brains so hard and end up understanding nothing and only getting lots of headache. Hah. How can I even hurt my brains when I don’t even have them. Haha! Better watch more mindless ecchi comedy series. I think those provide better food to my brain.

Saki: Episode of Side A

December 1, 2012

Erm… Again, please tell what is riichi, kan or pon? It seems I haven’t learnt much from the last time I watched that mahjong themed Saki but that didn’t stop me from watching the sequel spin-off, Saki: Episode of Side A or also known as Saki: Achiga Hen. As the title suggests, the main focus of the mahjong school club here isn’t Kiyosumi and despite the titular character in the series’ name, she only makes periodic appearances. Instead, we are focused on the Achiga School’s mahjong club which has been in the doldrums for so many years. I guess this makes the perfect setting for sports anime whereby dark horses and no hopers will suddenly pop out of nowhere and beat the veteran favourites to reach the Nationals.

In the original Saki series, Kiyosumi’s Nodoka has a few friends of her own and has transferred schools so frequently that sometimes you think it is part of her destiny. Just kidding. But it’s true that Nodoka had to leave behind her mahjong friends during her middle school years at Achiga due to circumstances. The only thing they had in common that connected them? You should’ve already guessed it: Mahjong. So when her friends see the mahjong prodigy on TV, they decide that they should go meet her again. Of course a normal meeting wouldn’t suffice so it has to be one whereby it will be through a game of mahjong tournament. But to do that, they have to beat the local mahjong powerhouse of Bansei in their prefecture before they can go anywhere near that goal. And thus begins Achiga’s quest to reach the Nationals to see their beloved friend and in the process, we see them bond, improve their skills and defy all odds just for that simple thing called friendship. I didn’t know mahjong can do that.

Episode 1
In this flashback episode, Shizuno Takakamo and Ako Atarashi make friends with new transfer student Nodoka Haramura. Because Nodoka isn’t as physically fit as the duo, they ask what her good points are besides studying. Her reply? Mahjong. So the elementary kids make their way to Achiga Girls’ Middle School’s children mahjong club. Despite the club being abandoned, it is filled with kids learning to play mahjong. OMG. Future gamblers. They introduce her to Harue Akado who is a college student but coaches children on mahjong. Akado sees a bright future in her. In her boobs. Eek! Well, at least Nodoka is very well endowed for her age. They play a demo match and find Nodoka to be quite good so they call in Kuro Matsumi, supposedly the best of the lot. Yeah, she too is sexually harassing Nodoka over her big boobs. Anyway Nodoka cannot believe the superstition that all the dora hand goes to Kuro. It must be coincidence. Still think it is after 10 straight times? Soon the gang enjoy their time together from playing mahjong and to simple outings. One day Nodoka asks about Akado. Why is she putting up mahjong classes here? Shizuno explains the strongest school in this Nara prefecture is Bansei High School. They breezed through every prefectural tournament every year except only once. That was 6 years ago when they were beaten by Achiga’s mahjong club and the star of that team was no other than Akado herself. But if Akado was so good, why didn’t she continue playing at higher levels instead of teaching mahjong classes? Well, though Achiga was on a roll that year, they only got to the semi-finals whereby Akado lost a huge number of points and lost. Because of the trauma, she couldn’t play mahjong for a while and slowly the other members left or graduated and the club was abandoned. So those who really want to play mahjong around here will have to join Bansei. But Nodoka is puzzled if this class is some sort of a rehab for Akado, wouldn’t she be going back to play actively once she’s ‘healed’. Shizuno refuses to admit that Akado is still hurt. But if she does, it’ll get lonely around here.

As the friends talk about Achiga’s school uniform, Ako says she thinks of going to Ada Middle School. Usually kids who go there will end up in Bansei. Then they see Akado talking to someone from the corporate team. Seems she is being scouted to play mahjong again. Soon the girls have a farewell party and the Achiga’s mahjong classes fold up. As time passes, with Akado and Ako not showing up anymore, Nodoka drops another bombshell. Due to her mother’s job she will be transferring to another school by spring. I guess it’s going to get lonelier. A few years down the road, energetic Shizuno is a third year of Achiga Girls’ Middle School. One day to her shock, she saw Nodoka winning the middle school mahjong individual tournament. She calls Ako and expresses her desire to play mahjong. However they can’t play in middle school anymore because they’re already at the end of it. Shizuno is still adamant of playing via Achiga even though there is no mahjong club. Ako tries to be realistic so furious Shizuno slams down her phone. Shizuno rushes back to the abandoned mahjong room and finds it clean. Looks like Kuro has been cleaning it ever since Akado left because she knew somebody would come back here. She also had the same feelings with Shizuno to play mahjong together. Shizuno dreams big of wanting to play at the Nationals and is confident will meet Nodoka there. However they need 5 people to officially form a club. They got their third member in the name of Ako. Yeah, she wants to play here too because if they play together, they can face Nodoka together. Let’s aim for the Nationals!

Episode 2
Kuro brings her friends to her house to introduce to the club’s fourth member: Yuu, her elder sister. She’s a weirdo because he likes sticking under the kotatsu despite it’s the hot summer. Maybe she’s really afraid of the cold. Yuu is happy and expresses how she always wanted to join them ever since elementary school but she was in middle school then and felt like she couldn’t. I guess she got her chance now. Talking about getting the fifth member, Kuro thinks of asking her classmate Arata Sagimori. From the way Kuro explains, it’s like she’s a mahjong genius (a toddler playing with adults? What happens if the big boys lost? Shameful isn’t it?) and was a big fan of Akado despite never turning up for her classes. Kuro goes to meet Arata (her family runs a bowling alley) for that favour. But she mentions she has stopped playing mahjong ever since Akado stopped. The reason why she didn’t want to attend her classes was because she doesn’t want to see Akado being surrounded pathetically by kids when she should be out there playing in the big league with pride and dignity. Apparently she didn’t keep up with the times because Kuro explains Akado is playing for a corporate team now. That interests you? Well, feel free to drop by the mahjong club then. Flashback reveals when Arata first met Akado and nervously congratulated on her awesome play. Akado gave her necktie instead of an autograph (because her handwriting sucks). But that was the last time Akado played. Arata wasn’t too impressed she fell from grace and is still keeping that tie. But that didn’t keep her from checking out Achiga’s mahjong club and just lists her name as a filler.

Akado is being picked up by her old friend, Nozomi. They talk about Akado’s team disbanding and her company not doing well. They return to Achiga for nostalgia and to their surprise, see some activity in the mahjong club. The girls are surprised to see her too. Learning that they want to participate in the inter-high tournament, Akado expresses her wish to join them. As a coach. Arata is not amused because she should’ve stayed in the big league. Akado explains her team was doing well this year but lost in the play-offs for Japan’s best. She couldn’t play her best and her team lost and were disbanded. In important and critical situations, she can’t help remember the inter-high tournament 9 years ago and felt she left something back at the semi-finals then. If she can experience this tournament again, she might be able to get it back. With that, they all get fired up to work their way to the Nationals. Akado even declines an offer from another corporate team just to be the club’s advisor. With spring arriving, the club gets on their way. The girls decide to only enter in the team tournament because they don’t feel the togetherness if they play individually. Akado warns them about Bansei and will be their biggest obstacle to the Nationals. But they are filled with hope because they have a person with them who once beat them despite the overwhelming odds. Thus Akado plays mahjong with them to their hearts content to level up. One night when Shizuno and Ako come out from the convenience store, Ako sees her old middle school mahjong club friend, Hatsuse Okahashi who is now in Bansei. She is not happy Ako didn’t go to Bansei and thought she went to Achiga to a school whose mahjong club that hasn’t been active for years to secure a regular spot in the regular team. She reminds them about Bansei’s strength and she herself didn’t even make it to warming up the bench and was just a support on the sidelines. Ako is confident they can turn things around at Achiga because they have a ‘trump card’. Hatsuse realizes who that trump card is and reports to her senpai, Yae Kobashiri. But she is not worried because in the store, she saw Shizuno’s fingers all bruised and thinks she’s an amateur and is confident that noobs will never beat her. You know what they say about pride comes before a fall?

Episode 3
The Achiga mahjong girls get ready to face their first round opponents. Oh no! It’s Bansei! It’s like an early final, eh? Well, sooner or later they’ll have to face them so what better timing than now. Look at how intimidating and prideful those Bansei players are. So first up is Kuro as she stuns everyone by taking a lead. The rest of the girls do well to protect this lead and Shizuno seals it by winning! OMG! FREAKING F*CKING FAST MATCH!!! I guess their individual introduction was somewhat redundant now, eh? The fearsome Bansei defeated in just seconds. See how they cower in disbelief! It’s like the end of the world for them! You know what they say about the bigger and harder they fall. Looks like they won’t be making their 10th straight National appearance. Even more fast forwarding because the next thing we know, Achiga has already made it to the Nationals! The girls flip through the newspaper to see Nodoka’s school, Kiyosumi of Nara prefecture has also made its debut at the Nationals. They can’t wait to meet her. Akado suggests having a training camp and due to change in the rules, those who made it to the Nationals are allowed to play practice matches with any of the other prefecture’s runners up. Well, they got 7 weeks before the Nationals start. But guess which school they want to play first? Yeah. The runner up in Nagano. So Akado drives them all the way to Ryuumonbuchi. Ah, those nostalgic memories. Remember those weirdoes back in Ryuumonbuchi? The rich obnoxious Touka, the ‘monster’ Koromo, the tomboyish Jun, the bespectacled Tomoki and the handcuffed Hajime (though she wasn’t cuffed here). Shizuno plays against Koromo and lost. Now she knows how fearsome she is. But Koromo says it wasn’t Nodoka who played and beat her (if you watch the original series, it was Saki).

At the end of their ‘tour’, they beat every other runner up team except Ryuumonbuchi. They also not the one player they couldn’t beat: Kei Arakawa from North Osaka’s Sangamaki. She came in second in the individual tournament in last year’s Nationals so if they can’t beat her, it means they aren’t good enough to win the Nationals. However since Sangamaki is runner up in North Osaka prefecture, the top team there is Senriyama. So what else better way there is than to improve their team power with more training camp for 10 days? So the girls play hard, have fun hard and sleep hard. Oops, I mean sleep well. On the day the Achiga girls are to leave for Tokyo (where the Nationals take place), their school sees them off and even Hatsuse wishes Ako all the best. When they take a break during their journey at a lake park, the girls see another girl in a school uniform, Toki Onjouji collapsing. Thinking it is heatstroke, they rush to her aid but her friend, Ryuuka Shimizudani helps her up instead. Maybe she was just hungry. They chat a while and what is your guess when they say they are participating in a school club event? Let me guess. They’ll be their next opponent too, right? If not somewhere along the way. The duo leave since their friends are calling them. When Akado returns to her girls, she recognizes that school uniform: Senriyama. Second ranked in the country, fourth seeded at the inter-high tournament and the best school in Kansai. Wow. Don’t let that fool you. See what happened to Bansei? In Tokyo and at the hall, Arata as the leader of the group (because of her calm composure) goes up to take their place via lottery. Then while walking in the hallway, they suddenly felt a monstrous aura from ahead. Isn’t that girl’s uniform from Kiyosumi! Oh sh*t! But she’s not Nodoka. She’s Saki! What’s with her red glowing eyes?!

Episode 4
Taking a look at the tournament bracket, looks like there won’t be an early final because Kiyosumi is at the other end of the table. The only place they’ll meet is at the final. And before they reach there, they have to play the killer team of Shiraitodai in their half (supposedly the strongest school in Japan where Saki’s ‘unhuman’ sister, Teru came from). Akado won’t let the girls go sightseeing and will have them watch videos of their opponents to research and analyze their school. Bummer. Later Akado meets her coach, Toshi Kumakura (the old lady who scouted her) and she is impressed she took her team all the way to the Nationals at first go. She asks if she ever wanted to go pro. She notes she has been receiving offers but wants to see the girls go through before she does that. Match day arrives and we see Kuro as the first player of Achiga facing off with Nagi Shinmen from Sanomo of Okayama (can she bring a pair of samurai swords into the room?! IS THIS ALLOWED?!), Manami Moriai from Urabandai’s Fukushima and Yuzuki Teramasaki from Imizusougou representing Toyama. As the match begins, Kuro’s fond nostalgic memories in reaching the Nationals are ruined when Yuzuki shakes her up with some move. Kuro seems to be losing points in the initial rounds and this baffles the commentators why she is throwing away such good hands. Not that I understand either. But from what I see, when she gets and accumulates her dora hands, she got back more points in the end than she lost in the initial rounds. It’s like making a comeback. So the only thing I understand is that commentators call Kuro the Dragon Road because of her tendency to draw dora hands – that word which is derived from the English word ‘dragon’ and it means the dragons like you if you get lots of dora. Okay, I don’t get that part either. But it’s better than all those mahjong moves. Meanwhile Senriyama have 2 days before their match so they have the luxury of going sightseeing before watching videos of their opponent’s match. They watch Achiga’s match and Ryuuka recognizes Kuro and gets excited. When Achiga wins and advances to the next round, Ryuuka gets even more excited and will support her team. Aren’t they going to play against them next? Oh… In that case, she’s not sure who to cheer… Of course the other Senriyama girls aren’t fazed and are confident Achiga won’t be a match for them. Why do losing opponents always talk and act like that? I guess this is must for sports anime, eh? So for the second round, Achiga is pitted against Koshigaya from Saitama (why do the girls here wear weird headgear?), Kentani of Hyougo and of course Senriyama. Except for seeded Senriyama who is a ‘veteran’, the rest are ‘newcomers’ in terms of appearance in this round. When Kuro steps into the room, she is greeted by Toki.

Episode 5
Toki has a dream. The kind of dream that has us find out a little more about her past. She’s a sick girl with a weak body who just came out of the hospital. Ryuuka made it as a regular in her mahjong team and Shiraitodai bulldozed their way and won. Ryuuka invites Toki to go to the Nationals with her. So the first match of the quarter-finals is about to begin. Besides Toki for company, Kuro will have Koshigaya’s Sophia Arai and Kentani’s Miyuki Tsubakino. Because Toki is a relatively new player, there are no past data on her match play. But Senriyama has already analyzed Kuro’s playing style so Toki can anticipate what kind of tiles she will pull off as Kuro’s hand is easy to read. Toki draws first blood to stun the rest. But the commentators are puzzled why Toki and Kuro are putting out weird tiles instead of going for higher value ones. Flashback reveals why Kuro doesn’t discard her dora for other tiles. Whenever she discarded them, she won’t get a single one for the next few days. Her late mom used to tell her to value her doras. It soon became natural that she felt the doras were coming to her. So as the match progresses, more analyzing sh*t that I can’t comprehend. Toki seems to be targeting and taking points off Kuro. The analyzer concludes Toki has this ability to look one turn ahead in the future! It’s like almost predicting the future. But it sometimes backfires. And when Toki calls a riichi that she doesn’t do so, something fearsome happens. I’m not sure what because I don’t understand. But she’s taking points from others like nobody’s business and calling riichis in a row. Toki’s health is taking her toll so the others decide to strike and play fast. But Toki ends the match with a huge lead for Senriyama while Achiga ends up rock bottom with most of their points taken. And you thought Toki would be the one who will be tired from her physical condition. But it’s the other girls who are ‘tired out’ instead! Man, she must be one heck of a killer. Kuro trudges back, still reeling from the shock of defeat. Yuu goes to fetch her and consoles her emotional sister. She vows to get back the lost points. Thus for the second match, Yuu will be facing Senriyama’s Izumi Nijou, Koshigaya’s Hanako Asami and Kentani’s Sumiko Yorifuji. Of course Senriyama has also analyzed Yuu’s playing style and something about her unbalanced draws. Despite Yuu having a somewhat similar ability to see which tiles are coming to her, Izumi notices her hands are easy to read too and will take this game home.

Episode 6
Another short flashback. This time about Yuu always getting bullied by the boys because of her tendency to wear scarf on such a hot day. Kuro was always there to save her so I guess that’s why Yuu feels it’s her turn to return the favour. Despite Yuu calling riichi first, Izumi decides to observe her play for a while. From Senriyama’s analysis, they figure Yuu has this tendency to hold on to certain tiles even if she has only one and not discard them. Something about she’ll end up with getting more of them later. Or maybe it’s because she felt those tiles are warm? But when they start to feel cold and Izumi makes her move, Yuu fears her playing style has been figured out. And when Izumi starts her winning streak, it is definitely they’ve got a hold of her playing style. But in one of the hands, Izumi had a bad feeling and true enough, Yuu got a sequence of triplets. The Senriyama girls analyze Yuu’s data again and realize there has been a misprofile. It’s not that she sticks to a certain character but tiles with red. In the end, their overall positions didn’t change. Senriyama increases its lead but Achiga closes the gap over the other 2 schools. Albeit only few points but it’s better than nothing. The Achiga girls refuse to dampen their spirits because this is the Nationals. This kind of play is expected. Just play their best. The third match sees Achiga’s Ako facing off against Senriyama’s Sera Eguchi, Koshigaya’s Shiori Mizumura and Kentani’s Kozue Furuzuka. Ako being Achiga’s best player starts off furiously and aggressively by winning as much points as she could. Hatsuse and Nozomi are watching Ako’s match and Hatsuse recalls the matches they played together when they were at Ada. It was just like yesterday they were both watching it on TV. Now she’s at the Nationals and Hatsuse herself still watching. Maybe she’ll be there next year? Who knows? Sera knows Ako is trying to dash ahead and knows she mustn’t be greedy. So instead of taking big points, Sera takes smaller points. The match becomes a fight predominantly between Achiga and Senriyama so much so that the other schools just sit out like as though they’ve been reduced to spectators. Though the match ends with Senriyama increasing their lead once more, Achiga has made up grounds that it is now in second place! So it may seem Senriyama is running away with the lead but the points separating the other schools are very close. It’s going to be a tough fight for second place. Arata steps up for her turn now. Why does she need to wear a bowler’s glove? I hope she won’t bowl over the mahjong tiles!

Episode 7
So Arata has got Senriyama’s Hiroko Funakubo (the main analyzer and ‘mad scientist’ of her school), Koshigaya’s Tamago Utsgui and Kentani’s Yuuka Morigaki. For once, it isn’t Senriyama or Achiga who draws first blood. That will be boring, right? Instead we have Yuuka calling riichi. Her comrades are confident Yuuka will get them to the semi-finals because as they note, sticking to tradition may not be good enough and they needed somebody unconventional. So that’s where Yuuka comes in. Her move puts Kentani back into second place, swapping with Achiga. As the fastest match (in terms of viewing time) of the series ends, Senriyama once more widens the lead. Hiroko seems to take an interest in Arata because of her unexplainable discards and weird habits. She views her as an interesting specimen to observe. Sure, it’s not that yuri feeling? So the final match puts Shizuno against Senriyama’s Ryuuka, Koshigaya’s Keiko Yagihara and Kentani’s Riko Yasufuku. Shizuno is confident that she’ll turn things around but she carelessly fell into Riko’s trap. Achiga is rock bottom once more but she refuses to give up. See that burning determination in her eyes. Yeah, nobody is going to stop her. To make a comeback, Shizuno needs some super hand. She thinks she has got it and will wait for that tile despite the risk of losing is high. True enough, that tile she wanted was discarded and couldn’t win it. They need a miracle now. I’m not sure what hand she must make but she has to hit Kentani with the points directly or else everything will be in vain. In the final hand, Yuuka in her discard was careless and this gives Shizuno the chance to make a clean hit on her. This means Achiga edged through to the semi-finals as the second placed team by the skin of their teeth! Amazing! So while Achiga deserves to celebrate but Akado throws caution to their victory. The gap between them and Senriyama was 90,000 points! What more, the semi-finals will feature Shiraitodai whom the press has labelled as favourites to take their third consecutive final. The other semi-finalist is Shindouji, the power house of Fukuoka prefecture. In short, they have no chance at winning at all. What a damper. But Shizuno is going to let this affect their mood and has the girls go out to eat ramen. On their way, they see Akado talking with Kumakura. They eavesdrop and to their horror hear that she is inviting Akado to turn pro and that having Achiga reach the semi-finals would look good on her resume. Akado will properly reply via email. Ako is devastated thinking she has been using them as a stepping stone. Plus, she did mention their written off chances. But Arata rubbishes that and still believes that Akado wouldn’t do such a thing. Kuro shouldn’t feel bad about herself throwing away the points. Suddenly they bump into something. No! Wait! Did they bump into a ghost?! Oh sh*t! Not exactly. Remember Tsuruga’s Momo? Yeah, that anti-existence girl. They remember her because of the recordings of the Nagano matches they watched previously.

Episode 8
Momo with Satomi take the Achiga girls back to the latter’s grandma place where they meet the rest of the Tsuruga counterparts and their captain, Yumi. Seeing that they want to improve (even if it’s impossible in a day), Yumi approves to play with them. Besides, this will be a good experience for her side too (there’s this rule that says individual players cannot play with others outside their school and since Achiga didn’t enter the individual tournament, I suppose this is not breaking the rules). They call over some of the Kazekoshi girls (Mihoko, Kana and Miharu). The Achiga girls are surprised with some of the moves they make and as Yumi said, though she has no weird power like Toki, she did analyze their playing styles and came up with her own strategy. More surprise in store with Kana pulling lots of riichi and Mihoko using her hidden eye power to see the hands of her opponents (since they’re going all out, there is no reason why she should hold back, right?). So with each game, Achiga gets really excited to play more. This is what Nodoka and her team went through to beat to the Nationals. Tough sh*t. Yeah, this is what the Nationals is all about. I’m sure they learnt lots of valuable lessons and hints. Next day, Achiga put that full day off to good use. They go to see Kei and have a practice match with her. Kei also has brought some of her friends along who are the best mahjong players in their area. I don’t know. They look like a bunch of cosplay girls. There’s one that looks like a zombie, one wearing a qipao, another looking like Otohime and another one that has this feel of a movie director. Heck, even Kei is in a nurse’s outfit. Walking back home, Shizuno wonders if Nodoka and her team had won her game but the rest thinks it’s better not to know for it may deflate their spirits if they find out she lost. Arata returns to her room and sees Akado reading her book. She seems unconcerned where the girls have been all day. Could it be? Arata’s believe in her is starting to waver. Keep it strong. Shizuno spots Kumakura outside and rushes down to see her. In tears of despair, she asks about Akado going pro. If she does, it’ll be hard on them. But Kumakura says she has rejected the offer because she wants to stick with the girls till the end. Only after the tournament she’ll think about her professional career. Now in tears of joy, Shizuno thanks her and rushes back to her friends to explain. But they’re still worried about the powerful school they’ll be facing. Screw that! They shouldn’t be thinking about how strong others are. They should believe in their own strength. Believe that you can make it all the way to the finals! So the first semi-final match is here. Kuro and Toki once again are the first players for their schools. And besides Kirame Hanada from Fukuoka, right off the bat they’ll be facing Teru from Shiraitodai. This is going to be explosive.

Episode 9
In the first round, Toki attacks first with her riichi and plummets Teru to the bottom of the table. But as mentioned by the commentators, in team tournaments she usually uses the early rounds to observe her opponents’ habits. So when the second round starts, Teru starts her monstrous streak winning hand after hand. Each win, the margin she gets grows bigger. Toki tries to use her one turn prediction but it didn’t work. As guessed by the others, it seems Teru’s prediction ability far surpasses Toki’s. I thought Kirame’s smile has jammed her face seeing she can’t stop smiling (maybe the trauma of the match did her in?) while Teru’s hand is just like a whirlwind when she pulls off her winning move. WTF. By this time, Teru has won her sixth straight match. This has Toki reflect her past. When she was discharged from hospital, Sera and Ryuuka told her she was being made the ace based on her recent performance. Toki thought Sera should be the ace seeing she is the best of the lot but she doesn’t mind if this makes the team is stronger than herself. Toki told them about her one turn prediction and if she reacts to it and changes her actions, she won’t be able to see anything for the next two rounds. Her friends are amazed by that ability and give her the encouragement that they’ll win. Toki notices Kirame trying to fight back despite getting pounded by Teru before. This made her remember how much fun it was playing with her friends. It doesn’t matter if she won or lost. She just loved touching those mahjong tiles. Toki plays into Kirame’s hand and the latter wins the round to break Teru’s streak. Albeit it is just small points but it’s better than letting Teru go on wining. They’ve got a mountain to climb since Shiraitodai has opened a gap of 50,000 points! Toki realizes that if she takes into account Kirame and Kuro, they can help stop Teru’s streak. Speaking of which, Kuro hasn’t really done anything yet, has she? She’s just sitting there feeling like she could turn into panic mode anytime. Toki uses her one turn prediction and tries to minimize the points Teru will win. However to her surprise, it didn’t work and Teru ends up back on the winning track, securing more points. Can anybody stop her? And can Kuro stop being such a worrywart being useless?

Episode 10
Nodoka wakes up from a dream that she met her Achiga friends. As the match continues, Kuro is close to breaking down. What do you expect your 1 day training miracle to work now? But Kuro notices something about Teru. She could’ve won easily from the tiles she threw away. The Achiga girls also realize this. As Ako explains, Teru often ignores a potential win and went on to win hands that worth more. That’s why people thought it’s her confidence as a champion. What if this isn’t her confidence but her weak point? At the end of the first round, Teru wins big and I guess the smiling just stopped from Kirame. During the break, the Achiga girls tell Kuro about Teru’s habit. Just like how she never throws away her dora, there must be times when this works to her disadvantage. For the second half of the game, though the seating arrangement has changed, Teru starts off with a bang and begins her winning streak. Again, each hand gets more and more expensive. Toki uses her prediction and it seems with each consecutive win as a dealer, each additional bonus increases her winnings even though Teru doesn’t rely on that. She predicts her next win will be at least 9,300 points. At this point Kuro is close to looking like a psychopath. She has so many dora hands but they’re not getting her anywhere. Toki predicts Kuro will be playing right into Teru’s hand and there is nothing she could do about it. True enough, it happened. Kuro is now like a zombie and Teru chalks up her sixth consecutive win. Exhaustion is taking its toll so Toki recalls that in addition to her one turn prediction, she can sometimes see two turns ahead if she concentrates very hard. So during club practice, she tries out this move and collapses. Though she is rushed to the infirmary and alright, Ryuuka doesn’t want her to use that move ever again. Well, as Toki reveals, she did practice that move secretly back home. By now, Shiraitodai leads by 100,000 points! Toki thinks she can pull off her two turns prediction and can handle it this time. After all, seeing one turn ahead isn’t going to be enough to stop this Shiraitodai monster.

Episode 11
Using her double predictions, she sees Kirame going out on a limb. Using that ability once more, she realizes Kirame is trying to help her out and uses this chance to call tsumo and puts an end to Teru’s winning streak. Toki is getting tired by the second. Even lifting the tile seems heavy. The Shindouji girls look at Kirame’s face and despite looking very calm, they feel she won’t last. Flashback shows us that the club president put Kirame as the first player as sacrifice. She knows that their school has never done well in the Nationals and each time they put their aces first, they get slaughtered. She’s speaking from experience. That’s why she decided to change the order to sacrifice the first player so that they other 4 will make up and fight back. Though Kirame overheard that painful conversation, she didn’t take it in bad light. Instead, she views it as an ability that the club needs her. That’s why she is going to be a sacrificial pawn and reduce the lost of points. Kirame doesn’t even know what she’s playing and is playing for the heck of fun, Toki is gradually tiring out and Kuro… Oh, she’s still a wreck. I’m glad that didn’t change. But I’m more worried about this one: Teru continues her winning streak and Toki seemingly ‘can’t see’ anymore. So much so she plays into Teru’s hand and since Teru is the dealer in this final round, she decides to continue the match and slaughter everyone till there is not a single drop of blood left! At this point, Shiraitodai has obtained over 200,000 points! Meanwhile Nodoka, Yuuki and Saki are running late to the tournament hall to watch the matches. However Saki felt her sister playing and tells her pals to go along first while she takes a breather outside. Toki dreams how her pals come up with a schedule taking turns doing stuff so that Toki could come along on their training camp. At least they had fun. Thankfully Toki didn’t pass out long enough because it’s her turn again. Teru shows no mercy and extends her lead by 130,000 points! Toki deduces Teru’s next win would be at least 18,600 points since her last was 12,300. Kirame also deduces at this rate somebody will go bust and the match will just end. In this case, Shindouji may just take second place and advance to the finals. Not so bad, eh? But Kirame is not going to make Teru let anyone go bust. Toki and Kirame confide with each other (telepathically?) that they’ve did their best in holding out. And that Kuro keeps hording the dora so the other hands were much easier to read. Toki is weakening and the tiles feel even heavier. But she is going to do the impossible. Do or die. She’s going to look three turns ahead! Toki, NOOOO!!!

Episode 12
Another flashback for the Senriyama girls. They friends have been together since middle school and dreamt of going to the Nationals. So when they enter high school, they get into intensive training and among them only Sera made it as a reserve them. But that was good enough. It’s amazing that Toki is still conscious after her triple prediction. She saw Teru calling a riichi and Kirame making a pon move. Then Toki does her triple prediction again. She is on the verge of collapsing but draws her inner strength to fight back the blackout. She saw Kuro making her move. Kuro’s pride means she can’t discard her dora. Due to that, Kirame calls a pon and Teru gets stronger (at least the whirlwind on her arm seems to indicate that). Then Kuro thinks back. She remembers how her friends at one point left her while she stayed back. But they returned though she doesn’t know if Nodoka will ever come back. Till now she has never chosen to go a separate way but in order to move forward, she’ll have to separate for now. Because even if they don’t come back, she’ll always be waiting. She throws away her dora and calls a riichi, surprising Teru and throwing perhaps her calculations off course because she never expected Kuro to do that based on her observation. I guess she never took into account about people surpassing expectations, eh? Toki and Kirame setup the tiles for Kuro to take the final win because Toki already saw the tile Teru is going to take will be Kuro’s winning hand. In the end, Kuro gets her first win and takes a walloping 16,600 points! The match is over and Toki collapses for real this time. She says she’s faking it? Hah. That’s really bad acting if that’s the case. She is rushed to the ambulance with her comrades by her side. But she leaves it to Izumi for the next round. As for out Achiga girls, as they’re preparing for the next round, Shizuno unexpectedly meets Nodoka in the hallway (she is here to watch the match but the hall was full)! It has been 3 years since. Shizuno says they’re going to be playing in the final round but Nodoka can’t make such promise and will do her best to get there. So as Yuu makes her way to the hall, the second match is about to begin.

Mahjong Is Not For The Faint Hearted!
What the hell?! This is how this spin-off sequel ended?! You’re damn right if I am feeling unsatisfied if not close to upset. I thought this would go on for around 26 episodes so when I read it was going to last for about a dozen episodes, I believed that there was going to be lots of fast forwarding and condensed parts. Well, some of it. I’m not sure if I should be happy when the announced that the semi-finals will be over in another 3 episodes. But the problem is, I couldn’t find out more information on how those final episodes will be released. Are they going to be in OVA format or air over television? Besides, what about the intervals? I am afraid they may be pulling off something like Bakemonogatari whereby the remainder of the episodes in the series were released at irregular intervals. But even when that is done, what about the finals? I can guess and speculate that 3 of the 4 teams that will be featured in the final would be Kiyosumi, Shiraitodai and Achiga. Based on storyline-wise. Remember Saki wants to meet her sister? At which earliest point in the tournament can she face her? The finals. Remember Shizuno and friends want to meet Nodoka? At which earliest point in the tournament can they face her? Right again. The finals. That’s why I can ‘see’ who will be taking up those final slots despite not reading the manga. And who might be this year’s champion? My bet is on Kiyosumi the underdog because it’s their anime series ;p. But we’ll leave that discussion for another time.

So for this season, I have to admit that I did not entirely enjoy everything because of the mahjong terms that I am still troubling to cope. For the record, I still did not even understand a single point scoring system and the terms! Look on the bright side. It means I am not going into mahjong because in the real world, that game is always associated with gambling and if you lose, you lose much more. Say, your life if the stakes are real high. Really. One reason why I will say that makes it enjoyable is the characters although due to the short duration of the episodes, we don’t really see them get fleshed out more. Each of the main characters and some of the supporting characters have their usual quirks and sometimes it makes them funny. For example, Yuu is always a person who wants to be kept warm. She really hates the cold so much so I thought she’s a dead person, a ghost or a zombie because no matter how many scarf or clothes she puts on, you can still see her shiver from the coldness. Is she that cold blooded? Funny indeed. Kirame’s ever-smiling face makes her funny and especially with her frequent trademark line “Marvellous!”, it probably shows she doesn’t really know what’s going on and is just playing for fun. Isn’t that what mahjong is supposed to be? Not like some high level tense competition that some uses supernatural prediction skills that could affect your health. Thus for the other girls at Achiga, even though I want to say that they are close and very well bonded to each other, I just can’t really feel that impact. The girls care and look out for each other and though you can pinpoint and tell that, I just don’t feel the intensity of their friendship. Akado is willing to put her professional career on hold till she sees the girls through whether they make it or not. Speaking of which, I wonder what was it that she left behind at her semi-final that made her unable to move on. Maybe will learn of that once everything is really over?

The other characters that appear in the original Saki series also make their cameo appearance and considering that this isn’t their stage, I guess it is fair they only have a few minutes of appearance. For our original Kiyosumi girls, sometimes I felt that their cameo appearance here and there serves as a teaser and a reminder that this is what Achiga’s goal is. As for some of the schools that come and go, I thought Kei would have made a more prominent appearance seeing the way she was described as a genius but I guess since she only appears for the individual tournament and that her school lost out, maybe that short training stint for the Achiga girls is all we ever get to see her as proper appearance in the flesh. The most amusing side characters are the commentators and their co-analysis. During the first round matches, Eri Haryuu and Eiko Mihorogi did the honours. Though Eri is more grounded to earth, she can’t help get annoyed by Eiko sometimes because she is supposed to be the analyst with experience and sometimes when she asks for her opinion about the match, Eiko tells her up straight that she doesn’t know! But Eiko is not dumb because she can see where the match is going so I suppose this is her own way of analyzing things. For the semi-final match, Kouko Fukuyo and Sukoya Kokaji replace them. Like a role reversal, it is Kouko who is very energetic, making weird gestures, gets easily excited, straight-in-your-face, no-holds-barred and have the guts to tease Sukoya about her age and cause her to panic. So sometimes when I don’t really comprehend the match, sometimes I would just listen to what the commentator and analyzer say to tickle my bone. Albeit I still won’t understand the mahjong analysis, perhaps it’s the way they say it that makes it funny.

Speaking of the flow of the series, it was shocking at first when we see Achiga suddenly making their way into the Nationals after 1/4 of the series. I thought it was going to take a couple of episodes but it didn’t even last half the episode! And the synopsis really painted as though Bansei is going to be their toughest opponent. Apparently not. We were fooled. Maybe Bansei really did underestimate Achiga. After all when you’re at the top for so long, you can’t really see your feet or the grass that is growing underneath them. Perhaps the fast forward is good in the way that we don’t need to waste time in seeing Achiga going through ‘unimportant’ opponents in their prefecture The focus of 2/3 of the series is on the first round of the Nationals and the remainder is just on the first round of the semi-finals. However in this semi-final, it feels that Achiga has taken a back seat and the focus is on Senriyama and Shindouji, especially from the perspective of Toki. It feels like Toki and Kirame were the main players trying to stop Teru’s rampage and stranglehold on the game and that Achiga and Kuro were nowhere to be seen. If you ask me, if the entire match was shown without Kuro, I think it could’ve gotten by except for the last scene. Thus I feel they show Kuro so that viewers won’t forget that Achiga is still in the match. I speculate that the first round match that lasts for 4 freaking episodes is to showcase Teru’s supremacy. In the original series, she’s being painted like as though she’s more than a talented ace. Like a monster. She seems to live up to it. At least in the scary aspect. Now we know why people who played mahjong with her get thrashed. We don’t see her speak much here save when she makes a call and that she puts on an expressionless face (which probably would like to tell us, “Don’t mess with me, you f*ckers” or “You’re all my prey for tonight”) so it also feels like the match is a strategy and tactical approach by Toki and Kirame against her. With Kuro being reduced to a ‘cry-baby’, it puts a contradiction whereby she was believed to be the strongest mahjong player at Achiga till Akado left. Probably she waited for everyone to return instead of polishing her skills so that honour now goes to Ako.

Something I want to mention about the design of the characters. Though we see lots of minor and supporting characters, I can’t help notice that some of them have this outrageous hair design or hair accessories. I know it’s a way to identify, differentiate and give them an identity even if this means we won’t be seeing them frequently and are just ‘extras’ to make up the numbers so our heroines can advance to the next stage. I mean, take a look at Kirame. I thought her hairstyle resembled like crab pinchers! Koshigaya’s Sophia had dreadlocks and Keiko’s headgear makes her look like a Red Indian. Sometimes it really makes the character look funny. Maybe you’ll remember them better this way since they won’t have any other impact for the rest of the series. Some of the characters are boyish too. Who says mahjong is a feminine game despite in my country old aunties and grandmas are the ones who play them. Take for instance Sera. I thought she was a boy! She hates wearing skirts so much that she is willing to wear pants and look like a boy. Izumi too looks very boyish and Shizuno, I thought her dark jacket design makes it look like a typical boy’s uniform. I believe I don’t recall her wearing Achiga’s girl uniform before. As for the mahjong play, the exaggerated visuals still made me laugh. Especially the lighting and current flowing through the tiles, the thunderous thuds when the tiles are laid, the energy that flows through the player’s eyes and the stylish pose they make when they flip and throw the tile onto the table. Impressive. Does that really change the outcome of the game or just putting psychological fear to your opponents? Especially the stormy whirlwind on Teru’s hand, I thought man, if it goes any bigger her entire body will turn into a tornado and engulf the entire building! I wonder if there’ll be a typhoon named after her. Just kidding.

With a new cast of characters lending their voice to this sequel spin-off, Kana Hanazawa (Nadeshiko in Bakemonogatari) is very much identifiable as her role as Kuro. Aoi Yuuki voices Shizuno and after hearing her voice sweet little girls’ role like Ichigo in Yumeiro Patissiere and Murasaki in Kurenai, I guess she does it fine too voicing a tomboyish role like this. Other casts include Mako as Yuu (Yurie in Kamichu), Nao Tooyama as Ako (Kanon in The World God Only Knows), Yumi Uchida as Arata (Nagi in A Channel), Naomi Shindou as Akado (Shizuru in Mai-HiME), Yui Ogura as Toki (Alice in Kamisama No Memo-chou), Arisa Noto as Sera (Notti in Kaitou Reinya), Marie Miyake as Kei (Ringo in Mawaru Penguindrum) and Satomi Arai as Kirame (Shirai in To Aru Kagaku No Railgun). For the rest of the characters that appear in the original series, each one of the original seiyuu is retained. The opening theme is Miracle Rush by Stylips and is the kind of song that you would expect to fit an anime about a group of friends striving their best together to reach their dreams. I thought the pace and overall of this song reminded of Saki’s first opening theme, Glossy:MMM. There are two ending themes for this series. Futuristic Player by Miyuki Hashimoto feels like the kind of dramatic pop song whereby it gives the feel of carrying on the fight. The other piece is Square Panic Serenade by the seiyuus of the Achiga girls. This one feels more light-hearted and pop group material. What makes it funny is the animation which sees the characters in chibi form and the weird antics they do during mahjong. I mean, we see the mahjong tiles catch fire, being chased by a fire breathing dragon, Arata bowling her flaming tile like a bowling ball, Ako chiding Shizuno for sitting on the wrong side of the table and the girls riding on the mahjong tiles. Funny and cute? On a trivial note, the next episode preview feels like the girls making a joke. For example, they make that single round circle pattern in a mahjong tile on how similar it looks to a washer. Or how those strong opponents are so strong that they shoot sparks from their eyes and bloom flowers when they win. Or Shizuno wanting to release her excessive energy by doing some somersault body spinning jump. What about the one whereby some trivia about tea helps you makes you more alert before the match, low in calories it won’t make you fat? Except for the penultimate episode, there is total silence! Like as though Dooms Day has arrived.

The way I see everyone here so dedicated playing mahjong it’s like there is some virtue in this sport. The end narration about mahjong having top players from around the world vying for the top sport may sound absurd but at the rate we see them putting their heart and soul into the game, I won’t discount the fact that mahjong may actually be an Olympic game! Of course from where I come from, because of the gambling element, many don’t really see mahjong in a positive light. Once money is taken in, I guess that is where everything goes downhill. Just like in any other sport that involves betting. So once more, I have failed to understand the workings of mahjong and despite I should just for knowledge purposes, this doesn’t seem to be very likely in the near or distant future. Maybe I really don’t have talent at all for mahjong. The only mahjong game that I’ve been playing is Microsoft’s Mahjong Titans and even that I cheated (I press the ‘H’ button for hint frequently) and my statistics of winning are very dismal. Really no talent with mahjong tiles at all. Riichi, kan or pon? Dora or tsumo? What’s that again? Yum. They sound like delicious Japanese delicacies to me.

Bamboo Blade VS Saki

October 22, 2010

Oh yeah, it’s that time again after another long hiatus (just a few months probably). Before I really forget that such a category in my blog exist (yeah, right. Like that will ever happen), I guess it’s timely for another versus blog. This time pitting 2 animes of the sports genre. They are Bamboo Blade and Saki. Both sports in the form of team format during competitions and is mainly focused on a group of girls.

Type of sport
Bamboo Blade: Kendo.
Saki: Mahjong.

The school
Bamboo Blade: Muroe Private High School.
Saki: Kiyosumi High School.

The girls that are part of the club
Bamboo Blade: Kirino Chiba, Sayako Kuwahara, Tamaki Kawazoe, Miyako Miyazaki AKA Miya Miya, Satori Azuma.
Saki: Hisa Takei, Mako Someya, Nodoka Haramura, Saki Miyanaga, Yuuki Kataoka.

The captain
Of the club of course.
Bamboo Blade: Kirino.
Saki: Hisa.

The new prodigy
Behold! The arrival of the genius that will turn their dark horse status into a formidable contender.
Bamboo Blade: Tamaki.
Saki: Saki.

Her initial reluctance to join
The reason why the new prodigy didn’t want to join their respective club in the first place. But it never hurts to give it a try, right?
Bamboo Blade: Tamaki is a pro at kendo at such a young age that she thinks of it not as a hobby and thus unnecessary to join one. She decides to join in to save the club from bullies as a form of hero of justice.
Saki: Always playing with her family members, Saki always bear the brunt of her family members whenever she wins or loses, thus her special ability to keep her score at plus minus zero. Because of that she hates mahjong too. She tries out the mahjong club because of Kyoutarou’s advice to try out and to borrow books to read. Then it is her will to see her professional top-ranked sister that propels her to join and reach the Nationals.

The loser
Not to be misinterpreted as idiots but rather because this is a team based tournament, it’s like you have to win some and lose some in order to show the potential of the other members and for a possible comeback. Just that these characters in our heroine group seem to lose more often than win.
Bamboo Blade: Miya Miya.
Saki: Yuuki (unless it’s during east hands rounds).

The bespectacled one
Who ever says you need good eyesight to play the game?
Bamboo Blade: Satori.
Saki: Mako.

The guys of the club
Feels kind of redundant, eh? But in order to stop the entire series from being dominated by females and to prove useful as comic relief or mule…
Bamboo Blade: Yuuji Nakata and Danjurou Eiga AKA Dan.
Saki: Kyoutarou Suga.

Club advisor
The teacher heading the club.
Bamboo Blade: Toraji “Kojirou” Ishida.
Saki: Not known. Probably nil.

Mascot
Erm… Little cute animal that although don’t make a starring role, if you open your eyes, you may catch them.
Bamboo Blade: A little gray cat.
Saki: Nodoka’s stuffed penguin named Etopen.

Opponents
Some of the selected and other schools faced.
Bamboo Blade: Machido High School, Seimei High School and Tozyo High School.
Saki: Ryuumonbuchi High School, Kazekoshi Girls School and Tsuruga High School.

Dangerous girls
Not to be messed with.
Bamboo Blade: Reimi Odajima because of her infatuation for Miya Miya and thus her stalker behaviour. Also Miya Miya and her dual personality and Yuuri Andou of her sadistic behaviour.
Saki: Hajime Kunihiro. Why? She’s got her hands chained so she must be dangerous, right? Even if it’s to prevent her from cheating in mahjong due to her influence from dad as a failed magician, that is still dangerous, right?

Proud girls
Ego…
Bamboo Blade: Half-American half-Japanese Carrie Nishikawa who is a love rival for Miya Miya.
Saki: Touka Ryuumonbuchi the rich granddaughter of the founder of her school who loves people paying attention to her.

Tomboyish girls
Girls who seem to display more of their masculine side.
Bamboo Blade: Maya Yokoo of Machido.
Saki: Jun Inoue of Ryuumonbuchi.

Battle duration
The length of the shown matches
Bamboo Blade: Individual and overall team matches are fast and last several minutes the most.
Saki: Individual and overall team matches are long and can last up to several episodes.

Battle techniques
If they can do it, can a pro in the real world do it too?
Bamboo Blade: More realistic and such moves are possible in the real world.
Saki: More exaggerated and such moves/styles are not possible to pull off in the real world.

Road to the Nationals
The progress of the club to ultimate glory. At their level.
Bamboo Blade: Unfortunately, the lost in the third round of the prefectural tournament when Tamaki lost the decisive match to Rin and are out.
Saki: Kiyosumi beat all odds and even upset the champions and favourites to qualify for the Nationals.

Training camp and baths
What is a club if you don’t have these kind of activities…
Bamboo Blade: In episode 15, the Muroe kendo girls train with their Machido counterparts by camping at their school.
Saki: In episode 5, Hisa takes her members to a mountain-side inn for training. In episode 25, Kiyosumi invites the other opponent schools in a joint training camp to prepare the former for the Nationals.

Non-tournament episodes
You can’t be always powering up and playing the sport, right?
Bamboo Blade: Episode 8 whereby Tamaki does her first part time job. Episode 20 whereby Yuuji invites Tamaki to a Blade Braver play at an amusement park.
Saki: Episode 20 whereby Kiyosumi as the new prefectural champions head to the water amusement park for fun and relaxation. Episode 24 whereby the gang helps Yuuki study to pass her retake exams and attend the summer festival.

Number of episodes
Bamboo Blade: 26 episodes.
Saki: 25 episodes.

Opening and ending themes
Bamboo Blade: 1 opening theme named Bamboo Beat by Ryou Hirahashi, Megumi Toyoguchi, Sachiko Kojima, Houko Kuwashima and Rina Satou. 1 ending theme entitled Star Rise sung by the same quintet.
Saki: 2 opening themes. The first one Glossy:MMM by Miyuki Hashimoto and the second one Bloooomin by Little Non. There are 3 ending themes all sung by Kana Ueda, Ami Koshimizu, Rie Kugimiya, Ryoko Shiraishi and Shizuka Itou. Netsuretsu Kangei Wonderland (ending 1), Zankoku Na Negai No Naka De (ending 2) and Shikakui Uchuu De Matteru Yo (ending 3).

Conclusion
If I look overall in terms of the sporting aspects, even though I know nothing about both kendo and mahjong, I would say I would prefer Bamboo Blade over Saki because the former’s terms and jargons aren’t heavy as compared to the latter’s which causes me to be in a total loss. Furthermore, Bamboo Blade focuses more on the interaction between the main characters and their relationship instead of focusing on match battles as compared to Saki. No doubt the latter too has its share of character interactions and bonding but the mahjong factor seems to overwhelm it. But in terms of character quirkiness and personality, I would say that both shows have their own unique, peculiar and odd characters. A girl who cares less about her club’s dedication and is more infatuated with her boyfriend or a girl who possesses the mind boggling anti-existence? You just got to love them. Anyhow, I didn’t turn into fans of either sport. But I may just run around like crazy with a stick in hand or flip/throw small tiles in style.

Bamboo Blade
Saki

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