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Saki – The Nationals Episode #09 Anime Review

6 min read
Saki - The Nationals Episode 9
Saki – The Nationals Episode 9

The fourth players’ match ends with little change in the standings, but the main event begins now as the most powerful players for each team take their seats at the table.

What They Say:
Episode 9: “Hand 9: Sortie”

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
So, we continue to wait and see if the underdressed loli, Usuzumi, will be allowed to use her cheat to score her shousuushii (“small four winds,” a yakuman, a very high scoring and rare hand). Sae of Miyamori continues to strategize as she realizes that it might be safe for her to let up on the block she has put in place to prevent this from happening. She may have to stop anyway, because the physical toll of using her own blocking power is beginning to wear her down. The question is what will happen if she does relent.

Sae does let up and the evil demon gate of cheating opens up. Since she knows of the danger, but believes Nodoka to be unaware of it, she intends for Nodoka to play into Usuzumi’s hand. Will it work out that way?

No, because unbeknownst to Sae, Nodoka is fully aware of the threat, thanks to Hisa’s warning, and so instead of Usuzumi winning a big hand, the hand ends in an exhaustive draw, with only the underdressed loli in tenpai (one tile from winning). Sae continues to play her game while Kinue of Himematsu is largely on the sidelines, until she takes a minor win off of Nodoka’s discard. At this rate…I’m ready to fall asleep.

Of course, at the end, the powers that be look to be in alignment again for Usuzumi, who manages to make her collection of winds ever more obvious with a kan of North Winds. Kinue is in a panic and Sae seems resigned to allowing the cheat win to occur. Can anything stop it? Will Nodoka be forced to lose to a blatant cheat? Sadly, yes, as Usuzumi scores her victory by drawing the final tile for her yakuman win.

Yawn.

There has to be some regulation somewhere forbidding miko from acting like this
There has to be some regulation somewhere forbidding miko from acting like this

The fourth players match ends with Himematsu continuing to be in the lead, as Kinue played well enough to retain the points advantage. Nodoka managed to keep Kiyosumi in second place, with a slight gain in points. Sae and Kinue were shocked by Nodoka’s not being shocked at the major win Usuzumi managed. Well, as we know, Nodoka in general does not believe in special powers. All of that work by Sae was for nought, as Miyamori dropped into last from Usuzumi’s big victory.

Okay, enough of that. Time for the main event. Toyone Anetai of Miyamori enters first. Next comes Kasumi Iwato of Eisui, followed by the hand off by Nodoka to Saki. Finally, we see Kyouko Suehara of Himematsu start off for the final match. This is crunch time as we can expect at least three of these players to have special powers.

Sadly for Saki, she can’t pull her normal rinshan kaihou maneuver at will as Kyouko calls a discard to change the order of draws from the wall in the first hand. Kyouko then wins that opening hand to boot. Kyouko manages to go on quite the winning streak, not allowing the power users to do anything. It finally ends with the fourth hand of the round as Saki manages to meld a kan off of Kyouko’s discard to carry out her usual unusual victory. Toyone scores the next victory off of Kyouko. The tall girl’s thing seems to be calling riichi after another player has done so, but then wins off the next discard by the other player. Toyone pulls this trap twice on Kyouko in quick succession. Saki and Kasumi have minor victories before Toyone appears to trap Kyouko again. And it works again. Kyouko is foolish enough to tempt fate yet a fourth time and yet again Toyone wins off her.

Look at me! I must be evil from the way they drew me!
Look at me! I must be evil from the way they drew me!

Let us pass over further comment about the fourth players’ match. It did what it needed to do, getting us to the final table and Saki. Of course, it would be boring to have Saki come in and steamroll over the opposition, which she’s never really done in a major round of the tournaments so far. And that’s as it should be. For the moment, we’re shown that Kyouko may be a strategist, but she doesn’t quite know when to stop while she’s ahead. Playing into Toyone’s trap once is bad. Twice is unlucky. Three times, however, borders on foolish and yet she decides to do it once more? You would think that after three instances, one would be on guard to prevent a fourth. But not in the Saki universe. Because we have to have it pounded into our skulls that this is what Toyone does, grasping onto others who have called riichi first and then taking victory from them.

The only question mark is Kasumi from Eisui. After the rather big lead up to Komaki before the season even got fully underway, Eisui has been somewhat disappointing. Last round’s one-trick pony didn’t help things. Kasumi, however, is shown doing very little other than being aware of the powers that other players have and commenting in a concerned manner (and I have this overwhelming desire to hear her say ara ara and laugh, but that’s neither here nor there). What will her secret be, the reason why the girls of Eisui have been consistently unconcerned when we’ve seen them in their team room?

So, more questions than answers as the fifth players match is underway.

One slight problem is that the more I watch this show, the more I see the basic formula for every match. One player is designated the “focus” of audience attention, while another takes on the role of antagonist. This has nothing to do with the “main” or “lead” characters of the series, as the current and past rounds have had Sae of Miyamori and Kyouko of Himematsu as those focus characters, with Usuzumi of Eisui and Toyone of Miyamori filling in the “villain” slot. Of the ostensible “main” characters, only Mako and Hisa filled in the focus slot during their rounds (Yuuki was comic relief in the first round). Nodoka lost her focus after “ascending” to Nodocchi and Saki has been on the sidelines so far, though that may well serve dramatic purposes well here. I fear, however, that the show has lost a little of the magic that was present during the Nagano Prefectural Tournament arc in the first season, as there were many occasions when all four players at the table felt equally present in the match. This feeling that everyone is part of the table has been lacking for some time.

In Summary:
The severely underdressed loli finally gets her predestined winning hand…and I’m not sure if I could care less. The end result is that the standings of the teams are largely the same as at the beginning of the fourth round. As the fifth and final round begins, it’s Kyouko of Himematsu’s turn to receive much of the focus, with Toyone of Miyamori taking on the role of antagonist. Saki looks frustrated and Kasumi appears falsely benevolent. A little underwhelming so far.

Grade: B

Streamed by: Crunchyroll

Review Equipment:
Apple iMac with 4GB RAM, Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard

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