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Saki – The Nationals Episode #11 Anime Review

7 min read
Saki - The Nationals Episode 11
Saki – The Nationals Episode 11

In the game of monsters, it’s risky to reveal your abilities, since an even greater threat may exist, biding its time.

What They Say:
Episode 11: “Hand 11: Threat”

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
So, it’s crunch time. Kasumi of Eisui realizes that if she doesn’t go on the attack, she won’t even come in second and advance. Toyone of Miyamori knows her lead is small so she’s not about to stop being aggressive either. And what about our alleged lead character Saki? She just looks concerned and does nothing. Um…what’s the show called again?

Oh great. Another flashback, this time to when Kasumi was just a small child. And we learn that she has the ability to tame demons, her role in protecting Jindai the princess. Her power is enough to overcome Toyone’s cheats…I mean abilities. The one I feel most sorry for right now is Kyouko of Himematsu. She even expresses my frustration as she complains about the “monster” mahjong going on at the table. Couldn’t they all just play a real game? Kyouko doesn’t give up, but she does recognize that something is desperately wrong. She needs to think, but…I don’t think thinking is going to solve anything here.

The ara ara was strong with this one, but not strong enough.
The ara ara was strong with this one, but not strong enough.

But Kyouko does come up with a strategy. Since Kasumi is just a big cheater who hogs an entire tile suit every hand, you might as well play as if she’s not even at the table. How can you do that? Three-player mahjong. Kyouko is long used to playing the three-player version, so while she’s at a disadvantage relative to Kasumi, she has a slight advantage over Saki and Toyone. And she exploits it to the fullest, creating a winning hand from the only two suits available. The girls from Eisui are in shock. Though loli girl (Hatsumi) notices something that all of us probably noticed as well.

Saki let Kyouko win that hand.

So, a replay of how Saki dealt with Amae Koromo? Saki is the master of controlling the flow at the table. She is fully aware of everything at the table and has decided to do something about this stalemate. So this time, Saki deliberately sets up Toyone to win with her “chasing riichi, so it seems. Except that she’s not going to allow Toyone to win. Instead, she’s going to do her standard rinshan kaihou maneuver, as Saki has figured out that Kasumi’s ability to control the available tiles on the table does not extend to the “dead wall,” the group of tiles placed separately that cannot be drawn from except as replacement tiles when a player declares a kan. Well, we know which player is renowned for consistently getting sets of four…

Saki begins to dominate play, not just using her usual win after a kan. Here it seems as if Kobayashi finally remembered something about the Saki we saw from the very first chapters of the story, the full character she created: Saki doesn’t just win in one way. She is a master manipulator of the tiles at the table. It’s Kyouko who finally figures it out. Saki Miyanaga is actually the worst cheater at the table, but the way she does it is so much more interesting. Why? Because it’s not a matter of the moon being in alignment or other players engaging in certain moves first.

“She can do whatever she wants?!”

Yes, Kyouko, that’s the problem you’re up against. When Saki puts her full spirit into it, no matter what else the other players do, regardless of what supernatural powers they have, Saki can bend the tiles to her very desires. Now, you begin to understand why her family didn’t like playing mahjong with Saki until she deliberately developed her ±0 style.

And then…it just gets worse for the others. Even the monocle in Miyamori’s waiting room begins to shake. In fact, Saki destroys it. The other players can feel the pressure. And then, Saki calls another kan…but she doesn’t even bother using the tile she draws from the dead wall.

Okay, this can’t be good.

In the Saki universe, this means…you really don't want to know. Running and hiding might not be enough.
In the Saki universe, this means…you really don’t want to know. Running and hiding might not be enough.

As we get the “serious” ending theme playing (“True Gate” by Miyuki Hashimoto), perhaps it’s time to reflect on what just happened. It was not, in the end, a repeat of how Saki topped Amae Koromo in the Nagano prefectural qualifiers. This was something different. This was dominance on a level that few other, if any, players can exert. One wonders why Saki doesn’t just do this all the time. I have an explanation, though it’s nothing but pure speculation. Saki is not infallible, she’s not invincible. But she watches, she waits and she studies. She is able to pull off her little rinshan kaihou nearly at will, so long as no other players have powers that can interfere with it. If they do and they stop it, she cannot just call it up at will…

…until she has thoroughly studied what their abilities are and how to counter them. It would appear that no power will be able to stand up to hers so long as there are enough hands for her to do a thorough study of what the other players are capable of. It’s not a matter of canceling out the other players’ abilities either. She allows Kasumi to continue limiting the table to two suits for everyone other than herself. She allows Toyone to quickly call riichi for her chasing riichi trap. Saki does not cancel out other players’ abilities, just as she did not, exactly, revoke Koromo’s tile control with her haitei (“bottom of the sea”) power. She uses the other players’ abilities to manipulate the tiles to her will.

Okay kids, you just woke up the real monster. Have fun with those remaining hands.

All one can say at this point is “well, finally.” Of all the Kiyosumi players so far, only Mako before this episode had been allowed to shine a bit (and that was deserved, since Mako is probably the player with the fewest “extras” granted to her by the author). The show was starting to lose focus quite seriously with all of the attention lavished on the girls from other schools, a problem that the Achiga story suffered from to the point where I would rather have seen Toki: Senriyama-hen than the half-assed Achiga story we got. (Frankly, Senriyama are a more interesting group than Achiga). Having Saki come to life is the lifeblood of the story and so the story is finally moving to its next major checkpoint.

Now, of course, one could argue that we all pretty much already know, even those of us who have not been reading the manga at all such as myself, that Kiyosumi has to make it to the Finals, since they are fated to meet Shiraitodai there (and we know that Teru Miyanaga’s school has already secured their berth there, along with Achiga). So, there is no real drama to speak of here, except perhaps as to which team will come with Kiyosumi to the final table. It could be one of the three we see here…or it could be one of the other teams which have been prominently featured in the opening animation or in the very last scenes of season 1 of Saki, where we saw a glimpse of the (then) future National Tournament.

The end is near for this round of the tournament.

In Summary:
Toyone’s dominance at the table leads Kasumi to unveil her own attack abilities, normally not seen. It’s an arms race that Kyouko, the only player at the table with no supernatural abilities, desperately tries to counter, using strategy and intelligence to outplay the two revealed monsters at the table. It would seem that an ordinary human might have a chance…but this was all just the overture to the action to come. Saki has been sitting their quite quietly for most of the second half, blushing, looking concerned, looking a little lost. But finally, she lets herself go. At full force, Saki is a force of nature, making the tiles do her bidding regardless of the other players’ abilities. And it’s not over yet.

Grade: B+

Streamed by: Crunchyroll

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

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