Season finale. Time to put the whole Saki universe’s house in order, tying up side stories and wasting our time…I mean providing perspective.
What They Say:
Episode 13: “Hand 13: Old Friends”
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
So, the entire point of this episode of Saki is just to integrate the timelines of the National Tournament arc of Saki with the side story of Episode of Side A, which already went into the Nationals? We’re spending an episode doing this?
If you’ve see Episode of Side A, then you’ve already seen much of what the bulk of the first 10 minutes or so have to offer, as it’s pretty much the end of that series, though from different perspectives (mainly Nodoka’s). Okay, we do move a bit beyond, to see Saki and Nodoka talking after she decided to stay out of the auditorium, not wanting to come in contact with her sister. We continue to follow Saki (for a change!) and see her alone. A memory…
Saki has a memory of her youth, standing on a pier with a friend whose face we cannot see, looking at the fish in the water. Her friend is interested in fish and would like to open an aquarium one day, though she can’t swim anymore. We are not left curious as to why that is so, as at the end of the pier there sits a wheelchair (and we know Saki never needed nor used one). The friend also knows Teru, so this mysterious girl may well be some sort of key to understanding how the sisters broke apart. I doubt we will learn too much further now, however.
That’s because we have to go back to Nodoka. After she had her fateful reunion with the Achiga girls (which I’ve skipped, since we already saw it awhile ago in Side A), Nodoka gets interviewed by the mahjong reporter whom we first met way back in the original series and have seen pop up now and then. She’s interested in the connection between Nodoka and the Achiga girls. It comes as a great shock to the reporter (though the bigger shock is that grade school Ako looked like present day Yuuki–maybe Yuuki will look like Ako when she grows up), but is…frankly ancient history for all of us.
So, how do we end things? With a preview of the Side B Semifinal: Himematsu of South Osaka; Kiyosumi High School from Nagano; the second-seeded Rinkai Girls’ of East Tokyo; Usuzan High School of South Hokkaido. Yuuki wears that damn cape again…and I get a sinking feeling about the rest of the this franchise. Final montage is set to the original first season’s opening theme, “Glossy Future” by Miyuki Hashimoto. At least there are swimsuits (as we know the losers of the last match, Miyamori and Eisui, said that they were going to the beach).
I suspect there will be a few more episodes of Saki: The National Tournament Arc to come. The home video release of Episode of Side A contained three OVAs at the end, so it would not be surprising for there to be a similar pattern to follow. What those three episodes will contain is an interesting question. I doubt they would complete the entire Side B Semifinal in such a short span. That may, in fact, work against the idea of anything further for this series for now.
What do we say about this show then, now that it’s over? What I can say is that I am very disappointed with what happened this season. The first series of Saki was, for the most part, a well-paced, tightly-written, well-plotted story of a small group of characters battling against the odds to climb the mountain of victory in competition. Sure, no different from any number of sports anime, which the original Saki was in many respects, though its choice of “sport” was very different. Featuring girls instead of boys, it had to include a high quotient of cute in order to find its audience, but this was not a serious detriment. Even though it had to move to filler to an extent by the end (since it overshot the source manga), that first season remains a thrilling story.
All of that fell apart once the Achiga side story entered the scene. The problem with Saki: Episode of Side A is that it failed to focus on any one group of players, not even the nominal protagonists, the girls of Achiga Girls’ Academy. It felt like the creator, Ritz Kobayashi, became more interested in creating characters (and she gives all of these characters names; we don’t get “Random High School Student A” or the like with very few exceptions) than in telling the story. The story became secondary to just shoving characters and their individual back-stories at us, in ever-increasing amounts. At the end, I think I might have been able to tell you more about Senriyama’s team than Achiga’s. I can understand Shiraitodai receiving a good measure of attention, but they weren’t a major focus either. Sure, it was nice how, in the end, the Achiga girls were allowed to shine (necessary, since they have to be built up into credible contenders for the National Finals), but they were nothing more than second-class leads for much of what was supposed to be their show.
This lack of focus completely scattered my attention for Saki: The Nationals. There were so many new players and their stories being thrown at me, it was at times hard to keep up. I’m sure I mixed up Himematsu with Miyamori at least once in my reviews. Can you really blame me? There was information overload. Ritz Kobayashi is in love with creating characters and telling us all about them. That’s really nice, but…I came here to see Saki’s story. Let me repeat that: I came here to see Saki’s story.
Let’s see…by the end of it all, including this very last episode where we did get some alone time with Saki, we might have had…ten minutes of Saki’s story? Let’s be generous and say twelve. I don’t object to the other teams getting their chances to shine. It was all a part of what made the original series enjoyable. You know what also made the original series enjoyable? The natural way that the other teams, Kazekoshi, Ryuumonbuchi, and Tsuruga, were brought into the narrative. Side A was far less fluid, just shoving the other teams into our sight and dumping their life’s stories into our laps. Unfortunately, that was the model followed here, of just dumping piles of Eisui, Miyamori, and Himematsu at us and saying “Here look at the interesting lives all of these cute girls have!”
I felt like we barely spent any time with the people we’re supposedly rooting for, the girls of Kiyosumi. Only Mako was given some positive focus and that was for barely half an episode. Saki had her moment of glory, but it was completely undercut by what we were shown afterwards, of Saki’s doubts and Kyouko determination to beat her. A “crowning moment of awesome” was reduced to a “she won’t be able to pull that again.” To be honest, I don’t really care for Himematsu’s team. They were the least interesting of the three opponents and that’s saying something since I have a very strong dislike for under-dressed lolita characters (yes, I know, how in hell can you watch Saki without complaint? It takes some effort on occasion) and Eisui had one of the worst (it’s not your personality I dislike, Hatsumi, it’s the highly exploitative nature of how you’re presented). When they showed them gearing up for the next match…I really could not have cared less. You role is to be an opponent who eventually gets defeated so that Saki can meet her sister again. You’re not supposed to sit in the spotlight and be treated as if you are the main characters.
I’m very sorry, Ritz Kobayashi, but a story does not work if you have thirty (or more!) main characters. You have to choose a side. Even sprawling multi-volume sagas with casts of thousands still only work if you choose a limited number of focus characters (and you can make it easy for your readers by naming the chapters after the characters through whose point of view we are seeing events). By making all twenty girls (five girls each for four teams playing) the focus for every match…it’s hard to feel much for any of them unless a bond was established before.
So, how does this series rate a B-? For the quality of the animation (which is quite good from Studio Gokumi) and the goodwill built up from the original series as well as the few drips and drabs of Saki’s story that we get. If we remove those elements, we’re talking more like a C/C-. As it stands, I think I would rather have had a nice, tautly focused 4-episode OVA telling the story of Saki and the Kiyosumi girls in the first two rounds of the National Tournament rather than this bloated, Side A-infected mess. But, you’ll respond, this is a faithful adaptation of the manga, is it not? And I will answer, sadly, that it is.
Episode Grade: B
Series Grade: B-
Streamed by: Crunchyroll
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