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Saki – The Nationals Episode #12 Anime Review

7 min read
A brief reminder for Ritz Kobayashi: this is your main character.
A brief reminder for Ritz Kobayashi: this is your main character.

The second round match comes to an end in thrilling style, but things we may take for certain are not necessarily so.

What They Say:
Episode 12: “Hand 12: Truth”

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
We continue from last time with Saki seemingly on the warpath. But she doesn’t win the next hand as Kyouko of Himematsu manages to win, enough to pull herself into good position, currently holding second, but only a hair’s breath ahead of Eisui. Toyone and Kasumi know that they need to up their games as well. What exactly is Saki playing at? She’s in some sort of zone, but it’s hard to get a read on her objective here.

In the next hand, however, Saki manipulates the tiles expertly until she wins in her usual manner, rinshan kaihou, though for a rather cheap 400/800 hand. And that ends the final hand of the fifth players’ match, with Kiyosumi in the lead and Himematsu continuing into the next round, having barely managed second place ahead of Eisui. Miyamori, in the end, came bottom of this group of death. Afterward, Kyouko consults with the other members of her school as well as her coach. There is just something off about the way Saki was playing, so it seems to her. What I had been suspecting is confirmed by what Kyouko says: Saki was playing ±0 mahjong again. And yet Saki managed to win. It seems Kyouko is going to need help in order to surpass Saki, and Himematsu’s coach calls in the rather strange pro Kainou (the one who continuously spouts gratuitous English, whether in the broadcaster’s booth or not) to advise them. More will be coming as well as Himematsu seems very set on advancing. [Considering who is available to play and who would know the most about Saki, I suspect Himematsu will want to invite the large number of Nagano players who just happen to be in Tokyo].

Toyone loves autographs
Toyone loves autographs

Frankly, the episode could have ended right here if they’re not going to move any further into the tournament. We spend time with Eisui and with Miyamori. I’ll skip the strategizing and sadness over losing to get to the amusing things: Toyone is apparently a mahjong groupie, getting autographs from the other girls in the final match as well as asking for autographs from Nodoka and Komaki Jindai; the other bit of humor is Komaki herself. She’s not thinking about the Individual Tournament much at all. Instead, her mind is entirely set on the beach. In fact, they’re all going to the beach, Miyamori and Eisui, it seems.

The sea! The sea!
The sea! The sea!

As for Saki and Kiyosumi? Saki is upset that she couldn’t win the way Hisa wished her too. And…she’s clearly afraid of Kyouko, even though Kyouko, we know, has no superpowers of any sort. Saki lacks the confidence to play Kyouko again though Hisa thinks that Saki may have some extra power left (after all, she notes, Saki didn’t take off her socks this time). It may be that Hisa will have to use all of her wits to out-think the strategist from Himematsu.

The final scenes of the show give us a few glimpses of the future, including one of the pro commentators calling Usuzan High School, one of the two schools making the Last Eight for the first time, the team she would least like to face. We’ve only seen brief sightings of this team. At the end, Kumakura is seen talking to her former protege, Harue Akado, the coach of Achiga Girls Academy. The dialogue establishes the timeline, which is right before the Semifinals match for Side A. The preview makes it clear that we’ll be learning a little more about Usuzan while also seeing the reunion of Nodoka with her former middle school friends from Nara, which was already shown in the Episode of Side A spinoff anime previously.

As the season (but not the series as there is another episode to follow) comes to an end, there was actually a missed opportunity here. While it’s certainly nowhere near the end of the story, this would have been a good point to end on a triumphant note for Kiyosumi and Saki personally and then relax a bit with the Kiyosumi players before viewing the challenges ahead. Instead, we have our attention directed more to everyone and anyone not on Kiyosumi for the most part. I’m quite certain that the coach of Himematsu, whose name I’ve not even bothered to learn (and am not concerned enough to look up) had far more lines than the entire Kiyosumi team put together this episode. More and more, I’m starting to think that this follow up series has been badly misnamed. This isn’t Saki. This is Ritz Kobayashi’s Girls’ National Mahjong Tournament Story.

There is nothing wrong with spending time with the other teams and giving some greater life and depth to them, but Kobayashi really has started to do it too much. This was a central problem with Episode of Side A, which spent very little time trying to establish why we should give a damn about any of the girls on the Achiga team. The last few episodes of that series, in fact, were much more The Episode of Toki Onjouji than anything else. It seems this lack of focus has affected the main Saki storytelling as well, as we have easily spent much more time with Miyamori, Eisui, and Himematsu than we’ve spent with Kiyosumi this entire season. The only Kiyosumi player to get an extended bit of glory was Mako (who deserved it). Even Saki’s seeming triumph here at the end was completely undercut, as we’re told up front that Kyouko is going to work hard to surpass her and Saki herself expresses her doubts about her ability to beat Kyouko in another match. Of course, that could just be Saki’s usual self-doubt and lack of confidence in her own abilities that was mentally beaten into her during her unhappy family matches when much younger. But that mental block can be the difference between winning and losing.

Many of the strengths and highlights of the original first season of Saki have been lacking this time around. The original series, while it spent plenty of time fleshing out and giving some depth to the opposing teams, stayed firmly focused on Saki and Kiyosumi. That is no longer the case, as I could tell you more about what Eisui ate for lunch than what all of the Kiyosumi players did the entire time they were not at the table. I’m not joking: Eisui had soba. How do I know? Because they animated it, that’s how.

You doubt me? Well, then, eat this!
You doubt me? Well, then, eat this!

At the beginning of the season, I was really quite excited as I enjoyed the original Saki and still do (I have rewatched it a couple times). This, however, is far less interesting. There’s a point at which one’s attention gets pulled in entirely too many directions. Yes, I find it amusing that Toyone is a groupie and Komaki wants to go to the beach. It’s nice that Kyouko shows us that even a normal human can stand up against the monsters that the twisted rules of the tournament brings forth. But…I feel like Kiyosumi is slipping away more and more from our grasp, like the shadowy image of Teru Miyanaga in Saki’s mind, a fading memory of a nice older sister. If this show is going to continue to be called Saki, then I really need to get the sense that she’s still the main character. Even here, in her moment of seeming triumph, she was the main character for all of 5-8 minutes or so.

And next episode looks to be just an add-on to coordinate the timeline with the far inferior Side A side story.

In Summary:
Saki Miyanaga brings the final players’ match to a triumphant conclusion for herself and Kiyosumi, though the potentially most dangerous team for them in the future, Himematsu, also pulls through into the next round. Saki herself has some doubts about her ability to face Kyouko again. Kyouko has no superpowers, but she’s just a very skilled player. Where does this leave the show? Sitting at something of a stopping point with hardly any sense that we’re watching Saki’s story. So much time is spent focused on what everyone else is doing, why bother calling the show after any one character in it?

Grade: B

Streamed by: Crunchyroll

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

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