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Saki Episode #25 Anime Review (Season Finale)

7 min read
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Saki Episode 25 (Series Finale)

We come to the end of the season, with all of the other schools invited by Hisa to have a large training camp to help prepare Kiyosumi for the Nationals. So, it’s time to train hard. Or maybe not.

What They Say
Hand 25 – Nationals
The final decision match, and its members chosen from 4 schools, has started. However, upon arriving instead of training, everyone played around in the lounge. In the meantime, Saki and Nodoka slip out over the schools fence and share something that can only be bought with time…

The Review!
Content:
(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The final episode does what it can to end things on a high note, though it’s naturally going to be a bit anticlimactic as almost 90% of anime adaptations of manga tend to be, for no other reason than that anime productions staffs are not masters of the their own fate (and this group was likely less in charge of it than many others with regard to their main company bosses;, Gonzo’s “Studio No. 5” would in fact soon split off to form their own company, Studio Gokumi (which means “Group Five”)). As the manga is still ongoing to this day (the end of summer, 2016), you cannot expect a full resolution.

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What you might have been expecting…

What you will get is a training camp and a silly onsen episode rolled up in one, with a coda at the end to provide a peek into what will be on the horizon. Though the episode turns out to be 85% silly hot springs, with plenty of time for the baths (both indoor and outdoor at this resort), steam, dark shadows, and impenetrable objects like rock and wood (hey, this isn’t an eroanime, duh). In addition, we have ping pong (where Touka, at first dismissive of pursuits meant for commoners, turns out to be a demon and probably should have been on the Olympic team), lounging in yukata and for our leads Saki and Nodoka, a trip to a local temple to pray for victory and pick up souvenirs. Yes, silly yuri nonsense accompanies this entire segment; the core audiences for this show must be sated before the multi-year drought that would follow (it would be a nearly five year wait before The National Tournament Arc would come along).

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…what you actually get.

There was a hint of seriousness to the episode as well, as it is here that it finally comes out into the open for all the other girls gathered that Saki is indeed the younger sister of Teru Miyanaga, who is called a monster by Touka Ryuumonbuchi, no less, who saw her play at the Nationals the year before. It’s not all happy though for Saki: she is quite naturally a little upset at the revelation (which was shown in an earlier episode, but repeated here) that Teru no longer recognizes the existence of her younger sister. It’s up to Nodoka to help her regain her composure afterwards, though Saki tells us that she is not surprised by her sister’s behavior. Sadly, we have to leave things there.

We also get a preview of what is to come ahead, the Nationals. It looks like there are many strong players and perhaps a bumpy road ahead for Saki to be able to play mahjong against her sister. (And the wait for that moment is still here, as it has not happened even in the manga).

Series Retrospective:
When I first started watching Saki seven years ago (was it that long ago? Yeesh), I did not really know what to expect. While I knew what mahjong was (I was not completely in the dark about that aspect of the show) I had little idea of what else would be involved, be it the lesbian subtext, the fierce sports-like competition, or the near-magical powers displayed by some of the girls at the mahjong table at times. Now that I have formally gone through the entire run a second time with my critic’s hat on, I can say that the final product, with some exceptions, is much more interesting than its constituent parts. While it is, in terms of genre and formal composition, a sports anime with all of the classic cliches including secret techniques, training camps to improve one’s abilities, surprise outcomes and all of the slightly over the top special effects, from lightning flashes to slow motion movements, Saki has been more enjoyable than that. During the opening run of episodes up through the main tournament section, there was a very good use of pacing. Even the mahjong matches, which take up a great amount of the show, are planned well enough to maintain the narrative flow with dramatic revelations coming at the proper points. I think I would say the show dragged about twice, which is quite a compliment when discussing a 25-episode season.

Perhaps what makes the show more watchable than this kind of material usually is for me has been the relatively good development of the characters. While it may be unfortunate that she has a set of breasts that are structurally impossible in the real world, or at least improbable short of surgical intervention, Nodoka Haramura is actually a sweet girl with a steely determination to win and a firm belief in her abilities. A natural sports heroine. Hisa Takei, the cunning master strategist president of the club, combines a devious mind with an almost sentimental love for the game. Yuuki Kataoka and Kyoutarou Suga have provided acceptably funny comic relief, while Mako Someya has almost been the wise old man character at times, commenting knowingly on events.

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Not only Kiyosumi High School is filled with interesting characters. From the rival schools, a very odd assortment of players emerged at the Prefectural Tournament: a rival strategist to Hisa at Tsuruga Academy, Yumi Kajiki, and her “stealth” weapon Momoko Touyoko; the heterochromatic (her eyes are different colors) captain of Kazekoshi Girls School, Mihoko Fukuji, who chooses to keep one eye closed all the time, opening it only to reveal a secret power, and her adoring, to a slightly insane extent, teammate Kana Ikeda, who quite literally worships her Captain, as does most of the Kazekoshi team; and finally, the odd cast of characters from Ryuumonbuchi High School, the defending Prefectural Champions, including the haughty, yet strangely motherly, Touka Ryuumonbuchi, her maid/teammate Hajime Kunihiro who has the most questionable dress sense ever, and the even more unsettling Koromo Amae, Touka’s cousin who looks like she is 7, but is actually older than Touka (who is about 16), and has a fearsome power at the mahjong table. Yes, a group of oddballs and eccentrics, but then most audiences want memorable and lovable weirdoes, don’t they? They don’t really want to see boringly normal people on screen, do they?

In comparison, Saki herself is rather bland. The vanilla to the more interesting flavors that the original author Ritz Kobayashi has offered us throughout. Yet, Saki, it turns out, is really the glue that holds the show together. For without her divine (or is it demonic?) power to control the tiles and assure victory or defeat, Hisa’s dream of going to the Nationals would never have gotten off the ground. It is also Saki who teaches Koromo, who had come to believe that all other players were inferior beings (literally), what it is to have fun while playing mahjong. A sense of fun she herself learned for the first time by playing with Nodoka and the other members of the Kiyosumi club. She may be boring, but Saki in some ways provides a background in front of which the other players can shine a bit, until those times it becomes necessary for her to stop being a wallflower and instead emerge as the single most frighteningly powerful player any of them has ever seen. Later in time, I personally feel that this essential truth, Saki as the glue that holds it all together, gets lost a bit in the massive wave of new weirdoes who appear in the Nationals. But for that, you may read my reviews of the sequel series.

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At the very end, into the ED credits, you get a look at the future, some of which will be realized in The National Tournament Arc sequel series. Not this scene, though.

It’s not a great show. The animation usually is competent (there are times it falls apart), but nothing particularly special. The voice acting is very suitable for the situations, but it is very much in line with the broad caricatures that some of the characters are. In terms of writing, the “sports” situations, while they have been rendered into mahjong terms, have been seen elsewhere. But, it is a very entertaining show. Even if much of what you see here is not entirely original or very different from what can be had elsewhere, the overall execution has been solid and the show will even have replay value, as one wants to see again, from the beginning, the journey that Saki takes from a shy little girl who hates mahjong to one of the most fearsome players in her entire prefecture and perhaps the country.

I just wish I could say the same for the sequel…

Episode Grade: B+
Series Grade: B+

Streamed by: Crunchyroll

Review Equipment:
Apple iMac with 12GB RAM, Mac OS 10.11 El Capitan.

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Until those flowers may bloom on the mountain again…