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enju

As far as I know, Enju-chan probably never met her parents. Childbirth cannot exactly be safe when infected, however lightly, with the Gastrea virus. Still, I would like to believe that Enju’s name did come from her parents, a parting gift for the child about to face the hardships of a post-apocalyptic world all on her own.

The name Enju (延珠) brings to mind a homophonic word written with the characters for long and lifespan, and meaning longevity (延寿, enju). The first of the two characters finds itself into Enju’s name as-is, expressing her parents’ wish for their child to lead a long and healthy life. Prayers for health/longevity are one of the most common meanings slipped into names in contemporary Japan, but the desire must be felt all the stronger in a dying and uncertain world, and especially so in the case born with a ticking time bomb inside her body.

The second of the two characters in Enju’s name, however, is made different without changing the reading. The character, read separately as tama (珠), refers to a sphere in general, and a pearl (真珠, shinju) by implication. As a symbol of fullness and perfection, the sphere often finds its way into Japanese names, as do references to jewels and precious minerals, which present the child as the family’s treasure. That, at least, is the surface meaning.

If we delve a bit deeper, we notice that the specific character for sphere used in Enju’s name can be further divided into two smaller characters. The left-side radical is a more general character for a sphere (玉, tama). The right side, on the other hand, refers to cinnabar/vermillion (朱,shu), giving us the additional, hidden meaning of cinnabar spheres.

Enju_2         

Many Japanese parents choose to wait until the child is born before deciding on a name in order to include a reference to the time and circumstances of birth or the child’s characteristics in the name. I can only imagine what went through the mind of Enju’s mother when she looked into her daughter’s eyes for the first time and saw the crimson glow confirming her daughter as one of the cursed children.

But painful though that must have been, Enju’s mother chose to accept the truth head on, accepting her daughter the way she was born. In linking Enju’s eyes to a pair of jewels, she is telling her daughter that whatever society thinks of Enju, she is forever her mother’s greatest treasure. And with the first part of the name meant to grant Enju longevity, her mother chooses hope over despair, believing Enju can live a long and happy life despite the danger hanging over her head.

Names are like small miracles – they are messages that never disappear, even if fate will not allow the sender and receiver to meet ever again.

All speculation based purely on the anime, please refrain from posting spoilers.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 05 [720p].mkv_snapshot_05.51_[2014.02.03_15.14.49]

While Saki may be described as a series about high school girls activating crazy powers to crush each other in mahjong, this episode was much more about those characters failing to activate or capitalize on their powers.

For a short list:

  • Yuuki bites off more than she can chew when in the south round, and pays for it dearly
  • Jindai Komaki manages to bring out some of her power… for the last two turns of the last hand of the match
  • Ueshige Suzu fails to “explode” during the match at all
  • Aislinn Wishart gets her ability completely disabled throughout her match

With Suzu, some readers might question whether she even has an ability in the first place, considering her bad showing in this match. But the flashback conversations took place before last year’s Interhigh, when Suzu was placed as vice-captain. Doubtlessly, she had to explode at least once during last year’s tournament, or nobody would take her seriously enough to give her a position as crucial as the vanguard in this year’s tournament.

What exactly went wrong?

Suzu can only explode against strong players going all out.

The Princess gets possessed by her gods when in a pinch.

Their biggest misfortune might have been meeting each other at the table. Suzu will go off as long as the Princess goes off, but the Princess will not go off until Suzu goes off. While those two wait for each other to reveal their “true power”, Shiromi and Yuuki have free reign to rake in as many points a they can. It probably did not help that Yuuki is only powerful for half of every game, while Shiromi has serious issues with “going all out” at all. The events surrounding Cold Touka acted as foreshadowing that very powerful abilities might just fail to go off if certain conditions are not fulfilled, and both Eisui and Himematsu learned this lesson the hard way in the first match of this round.

Funnily enough, this coincidence resulted in Komaki seriously desiring for a god to possess her… for the first time in an official match. Again, we get confirmation that the girl who brought her no-name team to third place in the nation last year was never even trying up to this point…

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Yuuki’s last hand in this match was pretty cheap, but with a three-sided wait, there was little reason to hold back with the riichi. Were this an individual match, a wait-and-see approach might be much more likely to protect the lead until the very end (Yuuki could still win from her own draws without declaring riichi, too). However, in a team tournament, attempting to widen the lead here seems reasonable enough.

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At this point, the discards of all the other players are quite plain – there is no indication of anyone going for a one color or otherwise unusual hand. Considering that three of the 1 of circles are already discarded, and that Yuuki has a hidden triplet of the 2 of circles and can go out on any of the 1-3-4 of circles, a one color circle hand probably did not even register as a possible threat in Yuuki’s mind.

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Little did Yuuki imagine that all eight of her winning tiles will end up in the hands of her opponents! (Komaki having a whooping six of them, and Shiromi the remaining two.)

The possessed Komaki effortlessly combines this defense with a powerful offense and has Yuuki draw her winning tile immediately after the one color hand is all ready… You do not want to play against that girl when she is in that state.

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With a closed chin’itsu, pinfu, iipekou, ikkitsuukan and one red dora, the Princess’s hand scores in at 11-han – just enough for a 24 000 point sanbaiman.

The interesting point here is that it was entirely possible for her to call riichi here and get a 13-han counted yakuman (32 000) with the added riichi and ippatsu (or else riichi and tsumo). Either possessed Komaki never calls riichi as part of her playing style, or she decided to refrain from doing so to avoid the very slim possibility of someone overcoming her flow control and disrupting the game through calls or the like. If the Princess did call riichi, it would be possible for Suzu to call on the Princess’s discard and for Shiro to play into the Princess’s hand with a 6 of circles, thus reducing the worth of the hand to “merely” a 16,000 point baiman… though why the others would try to save Yuuki here is beyond me, so this is all just theory.

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Grin all you want, Awai. Nobody can take you seriously, anyway.

I mentioned a while back that mahjong power and sensing power are not proportional in the Saki universe, but there does seem to be at least some correlation, as all three of the most powerful monster players around were receptive to Komaki’s “descent”.

On the other hand, there are times where people fail to show up on the radar, as was the case between Shiro and Mako.

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In exchange for Kasumi explaining the folklore behind Mayoiga last week, granny Toshi has a lecture on the origins of the Princess’s powers. If the hints strewn about last time were not enough, this week the Miyamori group drops all pretense of being a bunch of normal high school girls with a dream, and they reveal themselves to be a bunch of occult-driven high school girls with a dream. They discuss the Princess getting possessed like one would discuss the weather, and then Shiro is all like: “Not voodoo aura from you three? You’re not being Aislinn, then.” Miyamori is now ahead of Eisui (and tied with Kiyosumi) in the number of supernaturals deployed.

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Eisui’s second player keeps up the proper miko etiquette, so it is growing increasingly likely that the exhibitionist miko is the only one on the team with a shortage of common sense and manners.

There is one person at the table, though, who sticks out.

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Aislinn actually throws her tiles down onto the table. Part of that is probably her innocent and carefree personality, but more importantly, she does not have enough mahjong experience to even know proper table manners. Aislinn has been playing the game for a bit over six months, and most of that time was spent in the anything-goes Miyamori mahjong clubroom.

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Still, within that short time, she has managed to achieve a level of ability giving her the highest hands-won percentage in the nation within the prefectural tournaments. This means she won more consistently than Miyanaga Teru

The only times when Teru can be reasonably expected to lose a hand (especially at the prefectural level of competition) are the very beginning of a given match, and later on when her point inflation gets out of hand and makes it impossible for her to complete a hand expensive enough fast enough. Still, if you remember what Teru’s match looked like, you can imagine the looks on the faces of Aislinn’s past opponents.

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The funny thing is, there is nothing obviously outstanding about Aislinn’s hands and playstyle as compared to other famous monsters. Her ability only activates after the tiles are dealt, so there is nothing stopping Aislinn from starting with a crappy hand. Neither are Aislinn’s “ideals” aimed at voraciously creating high-scoring combinations every hand. She just nudges the flow enough to successfully go out every hand. In that sense, her closest equivalent seen so far is Cold Touka. But Aislinn does seem to get a peek at both the discards and final hand shapes of her opponents, too, which is crazy.

An interesting point is that Aislinn’s discards are perfectly ordinary, despite her being able to tell which tiles are unnecessary well in advance. We do not know whether this is a result of her lack of experience, a back-up measure in case her ideal is not fully realized, or possibly a drawback of her ability where she would break her own ideal if she played an irregular game. If not for this fact, Aislinn could throw away unnecessary but dangerous tiles in the very beginning of every hand, significantly augmenting her defense – one of the possible ways she could improve from now on (as if a power-up for her was particularly necessary).

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 05 [720p].mkv_snapshot_15.45_[2014.02.05_17.05.51]

But what Aislinn needs, and badly, is to go through the same training Yuuki did. Because instead of her dominating the table, we get a repeat of the Yuuki vs Jun match, except with Kiyosumi dealing out the punishment this time around.

Aislinn’s flow control only resulting in down-to-earth tile combinations comes back to haunt her. Someya Mako might not be able to counteract crazy monster hands, but she is dangerous against anything still within the realm of “bad luck”. What we get is a curious result where Aislinn dominates the table as a whole, and Mako pulls the rug from under her feet at the very last moment each hand, thus making Mako dominate everyone in turn.

The only way Mako can stop Aislinn is going for crappy hands instead of statistically beneficial ones. Normally, this would only be a half-measure, because a single high-scoring win from anyone else at the table would result in nullifying the effort that went into Mako’s numerous trash hands. But nobody is going to score big at this table, because Aislinn is not letting them!

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While making unusual calls to break up the flow is something we have already seen, and could be considered a risky but effective strategy in the Saki universe, Mako’s biggest show-off moment was this red 5 of circles, where she started using the other players for her purposes. By choosing to discard a red dora, Mako immediately makes her hand 1-han cheaper, but this sacrifice is not meaningless, because the 1-han from the red dora is more important to Himematsu’s player than it is to Mako at this time.

With a pon on the red 5 of circles, Himematsu gets 5-han from the dora alone. Add a tanyao, and you get a 12,000 haneman (plus another 6000 from the dealer bonus). While the jump from a 5-han hand to a 6-han hand results in a whooping 6000 point difference, the difference between a 4-han and 5-han hand in this case is a negligible ~400 points. There is no guarantee Himematsu would have called on the non-dora 5 of circles.

And, Mako’s weird discard here proves decisive in having Eisui deal into her hand. Not only is everyone focused on the dealer’s potential 18,000 hand, but Mako’s winning tiles become completely unreadable to the other players, who cannot follow her reasoning.

The match ends with Mako’s all out victory. As a result of her trash-hand tactics, the placement and point totals do not change as you might expect, but Kiyosumi easily rises to the top at the expense of Miyamori. Rather than a feat of strength, it is a triumph of experience. The young may not always…

Wait, everyone but Mako is a third year here >_>. I blame Mako for her granny-speak.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 05 [720p].mkv_snapshot_13.47_[2014.02.05_15.38.16]

To make due on my obligatory name references, I will mention that Aislinn is an Irish name meaning “dream”. Breaking up the last name Wishart into its components of “art” and “wish” should be easy enough for everyone. So Aislinn is one of the characters with their abilities encoded into their name.

Also, the above pic has Miyamori’s Kurumi in her “default position” on Shiro’s lap. The Saki Biyori manga calls this the “Shiro charger”, but there does not seem to be any power transfer going on. I think.

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Seems like those two would get along.

There will be delays in the airing of the next two Saki episodes because of Japanese elections. Episode 6 will probably air with only about an hour’s delay, but Saki is scheduled to take a one week break after that on.

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This week’s Saki showed the first half of the vanguard match, which means it was a Yuuki episode through and through. But it was more than Yuuki raking in some points while she still can – Ritz made it a point to show how Yuuki overcame several of her main weaknesses in the short period after the Nagano prelims and before the national competition.

Last time around, Yuuki had her East round luck disrupted by her opponent, Jun, messing with the flow of the game through some unusual calls. The people at the table now know very well about this, and disrupting the flow through calls is the very first thing they try in this match. (Remember me mentioning information warfare as a central theme in this arc a while back?) This time around, Yuki no-sells the whole attempt.

Kataoka Yuuki is dangerous, Ueshige Suzu hears, but predictable – she will call riichi as soon as she can. Conversely, as long as she is not in riichi, you are safe to attack. And so the girl goes all out… and gets stung by Yuuki’s silent hand.

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Yuuki’s newfound tenacity and the determination to milk the east round for every single point it is worth seem to know no bounds. When the heavens conspire against her to take away her double-riichi haneman (12 000) hand through the four-same-winds-in-a-row rule, Yuuki temporarily breaks up her tenpai to come back with a hand which is a haneman at the very least, and a tsumo-riichi-pinfu-iipeikou-sanshoku-dora 2-aka 3, all in all 11-han, 24 000 point sanbaiman at best. No wait, throw in an ippatsu and an ura dora or two and a 32 000 counted yakuman is plenty possible.

This girl is scary.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 04 [720p].mkv_snapshot_04.43_[2014.01.31_14.12.55]

Yuuki is scary, and everyone knows this (except for the useless press, heh). Look at the first hand, when the other players attempt to disrupt Yuuki through calls. Calling once against a riichi can be useful just for the ippatsu-keshi – preventing your opponent’s win during the very fist turn-around after declaring riichi, which is worth one han more.

But even having achieved that by calling once, there is an expectant pause after Shiromi discards her second tile. When it turns out nobody can call on it, we see Jindai close her eyes, knowing the hand will be over in seconds. There is a common awareness between Shiromi and Jindai that Yuuki will go out on that hand immediately as long as she is allowed to draw even one tile, and so the two do what is in their power to skip Yuuki’s turns… sounds familiar? Yes, Yuuki gets the same treatment Miyanaga Teru of all people got in her semi-final match.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 04 [720p].mkv_snapshot_09.29_[2014.01.31_14.22.30] 

When faced with Yuuki’s double riichi, Suzu recalls there being “some superstition about fast riichi plays”. The superstition in question goes: “with a fast riichi, it is either the 1 or 4 of bamboo” (早いリーチは1・4索),  which likely came about as a result of twisting the phrase “a fast riichi tends to be cheap” (早いリーチはやすそう).

It it difficult to see, but Yuuki’s waits for this hand were the 1 of bamboo, the 4 of bamboo… and the north tile Suzu decided to discard. That is probably Ritz’s way of saying Suzu was destined to play into this hand regardless of whether she believed in superstitions or not.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 04 [720p].mkv_snapshot_10.34_[2014.01.27_15.20.07] 

Expressing different personalities through the minute details of behavior at the mahjong table is a mainstay of Saki. Notice how Jindai Komaki makes sure to hold her long sleeve back with one hand whenever she draws a tile. There are various formalities to watch out for when moving around in traditional miko attire.

…let us not think about the other exhibitionist miko on the team for a moment.

Shiro, on the other hand, constantly sits at an angle towards the table. Probably a habit which lets her put on elbow on the table for support when she gets tired. She seems to be keeping up appearances for the duration of official matches at least, though.

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Regarding Shiro, a large part of the exposition regarding her connection to the Mayoiga legend was anime-original, which made for an exciting watch. If Kasumi’s narration throughout the scene seems familiar, her voice actress Oohara Sayaka is the person who did Irisviel in Fate/zero and handled the narration leading up to the reveal of Excalibur’s power… she knows her stuff.

People in the anime tend to sum up Shiro’s power as “her hand getting more expensive the more she hesitates”, but not only does it improve her scores, it seems to help her detect dangerous tiles in advance and act as an all-around buff in several areas.

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We get some further hints that the outbreak of supernatural powers all over the mahjong tournament might be a recent development. I also had to laugh at the pro doing the commentary seemingly recognizing the legend hiding behind Shiro’s playstyle at a glance, while the other lady doing the commentary is like “Huh?”. Ghostbuster time.

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If you play mahjong – you have certainly had this kind of experience when you call riichi on a meh hand just because it was fast… only to have the dealer call riichi right after you. Yikes!

Thankfully, Suzu got lucky here since Komaki was hoarding all the bamboo tiles for herself and blocking both Yuuki and Shiro’s hands only to draw into Suzu’s winning tile herself.

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As far as Komaki is concerned, Horriblesubs/Crunchyroll seem to have screwed up on her big time. Shortly after Komaki wakes up, they have Kasumi remark that “Once Komaki-chan is awake, she works really hard,” which completely misses the point. What Kasumi is saying here is that “Once Komaki-chan is awake, she is your normal hard-working girl.”

As in, waking up is a debuff for her, because she no longer acts as a medium for a greater power, but merely plays her own (average) best. Like Saki remarks, Komaki’s awakening brings about the disappearance of a great power, rather than the appearance of one. No wonder that the first thing she does after waking up is playing into Suzu’s hand! And the Eisui girls immediately start discussing how large of a behind they will end up shouldering after letting human-Komaki face the vanguards of the other teams.

Komaki seems to have misfired, for some reason, and the Eisui girls are currently in a pinch! Or so you would think, if they were not discussing making a 60000+ points comeback with smiles on their faces. Seems like the miko team brought in some other supernatural artillery just in case their ace has a day off.

Is Komaki really out of the game, or can she still fight back against the others even when awake? Judging from her attitude, she will certainly try! Tune in next week to see where this match goes! 

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Readers, are your brains okay?

Ehem. Keeping things short and simple as I will be very busy until next week.

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Way to go rejoicing about finally being able to enter the nationals right in front of your senpai who will not be able to participate… They are lucky Subara-chan is an angel. She is too happy for her underclassmen to waste time feeling down.

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Notice how Maho’s familiar/staff is drooling… It does not look very reliable. Just like Maho herself, I suppose.

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Maho’s hand after calling her second kan that day (on 6 of characters). This hand was supposed to show two things: 1) Maho cannot copy the same person twice a day (or at least during the same game) 2) Maho sucks when not in copy mode. And boy, does it do a good job.

Let us first assume she did win on that rinshan draw by drawing the 7 of characters. That would give her a rinshan only hand worth crap… which is cheaper than what she already has right now! Three concealed triplets are worth two points, but Maho threw that combination away to “feel cool like Saki”. Great going, Maho. The seven of characters was very likely to come out, too, since with all four “6 of characters” tiles visible to Maho, it is obvious that anything above that (7,8,9 of characters) will be very difficult to use for other players.

But what gets me more is that she announces she has no yaku on hand (it is a casual game, so I will forgive her for providing opponents with unnecessary information…) only to discard the three of bamboo immediately afterwards. There are times at the end of a game when people will kan on anything and everything in a “desperation kan” meant to increase dora counters. At those times, they will either be aiming for honor tiles or tanyao (no honors, no 1 or 9 tiles) as their yaku. That is what I would expect Maho to do here, but apparently, she is content holding onto that now-useless 9 of characters (which is a much safer discard anyway…). With a 7 of characters pon, this hand was still winnable… (Possible toitoi or sankantsu, other than the aforementioned tanyao).

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Nodoka’s advice here was for Maho to work more on her basics. That is very Nodoka like, since Nodoka famously disbelieves in “occult powers”. But I dare disagree with her here – there is relatively little need for vanilla-Maho to be a good player, considering that she does not make basic mistakes when copying others. I think the next episode will give me another opportunity to talk about this, but while it is often important to learn not to depend on your ability, it is often as important to learn to depend on it (aka making full use of that ability).

Maho is not yet fully self-aware of her own potential, and her ability also appears to have the restriction of Maho having to genuinely admire the person she is to copy, but the ultimate potential of that ability is off the charts. The average two han-chan match consists of about twenty hands. Are there twenty people out there with playstyles worth copying? I count at least fifteen out of those taking part in this very training camp! There is very little reason for a future!Maho not to shuffle through her repertoire of styles for the entire duration of a match, adjusting her playstyle according to her opponents and the current situation at the table.

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Call me a paranoid conspiracy maniac, but I love the plotline hinted at in the Hisa scene pictured above. Remember the ending of Achiga revealing the stage for the final match – all soundproof and reinforced as if to contain something? Remember the rules changing this year to increase the luck factor of the game? It is not just us, readers and watchers, who have noticed all the supernatural powers running wild. Someone out there knows, and wants them for their own. Let us hope it is for a purpose half as innocent as playing mahjong…

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 03 [720p].mkv_snapshot_12.08_[2014.01.22_22.30.33] 

OGman sees this scene as Ikeda giving up on Captain, and symbolically giving giving her up to Hisa. I have a different take on it. Remember that Mihoko is the Nagano first seed for the individual tournament. It takes just one look at the people gathered here to understand what Hisa is doing here – gathering all of the elite players present and facing them to rake in as much experience as possible playing opponents of the highest class. Which is the very same thing Mihoko needs to do if she is going to succeed at the individuals.

Kana pushes her captain to join the fray, but probably does this against her better judgment. It is hard to miss the attention Mihoko pays to her Ueno-san, and Kana of all people would probably like nothing more than for the two of them to stay as far away from each other as possible. But Kana chooses what is best for her captain at the moment over her own fears and misgivings. It is a simple, but moving, show of strength and love.

(By the way, the table formed here is the most terrifying one of the training camp, if you ask me. The awareness you are getting raped despite there being no flow control involved only makes things worse.)

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Let me get this out first: Hiroe is not exactly one of my favorite characters. But let me give credit where it is due.

From Achiga, we know that Hiroe is Himematsu’s ace player. As the ace of the fifth-ranked team in the country, she is easily one of the best players in the tournament as a whole, right along monsters like Teru, Toki and the Princess. And she accomplishes this without flow control.

In the snippet shown in this episode, we see Hiroe get her first yakuman (limit hand) in the tournament, and it is not a hand won through drawing the winning tile herself, but through tricking an opponent into discarding it (a hell wait, too!)

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 03 [720p].mkv_snapshot_16.12_[2014.01.22_22.33.36]

Chinroutou is one of the easier yakuman hands to get (yeah right, around 0.0018% chance of getting it…), in the sense that it allows calls, so you can grab those 1’s and 9’s your opponents are likely throw away. The issue is, after the second or third call, everyone will already be very suspicious, and the final tiles are much more likely to be kept by other players.

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Hiroe’s opponent here has some rotten luck here. Going for a bamboo and honors hand does not leave her with many defensive options. Under most circumstances, discarding that 9 of bamboo would be mere common sense – it simultaneously fulfills two critical conditions: a) it is a safe tile against the dealer’s riichi (and ippatsu, too) b ) it leaves the chance of going out, and for a very expensive hand.

But this is a team tournament, and when your team has a 50 000 points lead, winning hands like those loses much of its importance. You do not want to deal in pointlessly, especially not to the school in second place. That is why Chachanon considers things thoroughly before dealing that tile.

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Had Chachanon suspected even a slight possibility of Hiroe waiting on a yakuman here, she might have avoided discarding any 1’s and 9’s at all cost. Which was why Hiroe created three lies in order to coax her winning tile out.

First, Hiroe calls an added-kan on the 9 of circles. Keep in mind that a kan made that way is treated like a discard and other players can ron on the tile added – so Hiroe shoulders double the usual risk during this turn. Further, every kan means an increase in the dora, but the one benefitting the most from that is the dealer here, who is already in riichi.

By taking such huge risks here, Hiroe basically lets the other players know she is already in tenpai. But since winning on the additional tile drawn from a kan is a rare thing (unlike what Saki’s playing style might lead you to believe), she is also communicating another message: “I stand to benefit from the additional fu and/or dora points”.

That is the first of her lies – a yakuman hand requires no point calculation, so fu and dora do not count at all. Hiroe’s play lends credibility to the idea she is going for a chanta (or possibly toitoi) hand.

But while calling that kan is useful in and of itself, it is merely a stepping stone for the second of Hiroe’s lies. What she really wants is an opportunity to say: “Rinshan kaihou… not.”

In the Saki world, people state their hand composition (yaku) when declaring a win. However, because yakuman hands require no point calculation in the first place, they do not stack with other yaku. A chinroutou declaration amounts to just one word: “Chinroutou”, and a “Rinshan kaihou, chinroutou” does not exist. What Hiroe needs here is just an excuse to state she was hoping for a rinshan and did not get it, and make it sound natural. For everyone else at the table, that is as good as tacitly admitting she is not going for a yakuman hand.

I am sure many tournaments would deem this kind of bluff outright illegal – one does not usually speak at all at a tournament mahjong table. Just imagine Subara and Toki politely informing each other of what tiles they need to win at that semi-final table. Talking at the table is a great opportunity to cheat, usually by transmitting hidden messages. But in the Saki world, you do not get thrown out if you start undressing mid-game, carry in plush penguins or go “meooooooooow!” at your opponents – the table manners of this world are very loose indeed. And if the rules allow it, Hiroe has no qualms about using every bit of leeway she has to her advantage.

With that rinshan comment, Hiroe’s job is basically done. But lady luck decides to step in here and give her the material for one more lie by making her draw the 1 of characters. Hiroe has no intention of calling another kan here – do that and everyone will smell out the chinroutou, but just discarding it without a second thought contributes to Hiroe’s cause, since it makes her waiting for a hell wait chinroutou even more difficult to imagine.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 03 [720p].mkv_snapshot_15.21_[2014.01.24_23.48.59]

Was all of this this risky on Hiroe’s part? Most certainly. But it was not a desperation maneuver, either. Chachanon’s discards strongly hint at a bamboo-only hand. And since the 9 of bamboo is the only bamboo tile safe against the dealer at this stage, if Chachanon does indeed have the tile in her hand, it is extremely likely for it to come out on the very first turn. Hiroe correctly judged this hand and turn to be the sink or swim moment of the entire match, and bet everything on it.

You can certainly feel the effort Ritz put into this introduction of one of the better players of the tournament.

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In the meanwhile, Hiroe’s team is watching other matches, carefree as if nothing of importance was going on. Other than the comedy, I think this is also an expression of their absolute faith in Hiroe – nothing could possibly go wrong during their ace’s match. And it is no surprise if Hiroe comes back with a yakuman under her belt, either.

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I just want to say I loved Hayami’s work on the Princess’s lines here. Her words are always calm and kind, but there is that undercurrent of strong dignity to them that makes it obvious you are dealing with someone exceptional.

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The early introduction of Kainou pro. So far this is the most the show has diverged from the manga – Kainou pro would not appear until later in the manga. Well, it is not a significant change, and I think it will work out nicely in the end.

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Ueshige Suzu. Her family name means “heavy on top”/”stacked on top”, and relates to one aspect of her playing style… but like with Cold Touka, the show will likely take its sweet time before bringing this up. Well, that is Saki for you.

What is more important right now is the tidbit about her going from vice-captain to vanguard since last year. Vanguards tend to be steady players who set up the stage for the captain without taking significant risks. Vanguards are either absolute monsters, or have something that helps them counter those monsters. What will Suzu-chan bring to the table?

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Hosegawa “White Hope” Shiromi. Not exactly pumped-up for the match, and the very opposite of Yuuki in this regard. Looking forward to the incoming clash between the two.

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Cape Yuuki – always the show off. I really liked the fact that Yuuki decides to shoulder the pride of the other Nagano representatives and those Kiyosumi defeated up to this point. Hisa, Nodoka and Saki have personal reasons to take the tournament very seriously. Mako cannot help looking out for Hisa. But Yuuki was the only one who, up until now, could afford taking it easy. If they lose, she will just have another chance next year. But she does not let this dampen her motivation. From now on, it is business time.

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The people that come to Yuuki’s mind in the final moments before the match. We have seen Yuuki getting close with Ikeda and Mihoko, as well as playing with Jun during the training camp. But why Koromo? If the next episode preview is anything to go by, we might just get a flashback shedding some light on the matter.

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The ED, other than being full of foreshadowing I will not expand upon, takes a new approach to its content. So far, we have focused either on one school playing mahjong, or all the schools fooling around together. This ED acknowledges that all the new characters we will come to meet during this season are rivals struggling against each other for the same goal. Yet it chooses to paint this rivalry in bright colors, as something which may be intense yet fun at the same time. Considering the nature of Saki, where all the teams end up heavily developed and likable, this is a most fitting choice.

I also like the division between the EDs, where the chibi ED portrays all characters but Kiyosumi, whereas the crisis ED is Kiyosumi-only. Since Kiyosumi chibis have already gotten their fair share of spotlight, it is good the other characters can enjoy some increased focus. The crisis ED, on the other hand, will pop up when Kiyosumi is in trouble, not the other schools, so it makes sense for Kiyosumi to take it over.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 03 [720p].mkv_snapshot_23.47_[2014.01.25_15.26.36]

The calm before the storm has ended, and things are looking to heat up coming next week! Till then!

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The second episode is here, and with it the new OP and ED songs! In the pic above, we have Saki showing off a west wind tile – since that particular tile has no personal link to Saki, I assume it represents the western (B) tournament bracket Kiyosumi found itself in.

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The OP song is a simple upbeat tune in keeping with what the show has gotten us used to, with only hints of trouble and conflict to spice things up. There is some nice lyrics/visual sync going on. The pic above comes in for “our meeting – the gift from destiny that gives me courage”. We have “now I think I can put it into words” with Saki moping at home, but finally choosing to look up and face the challenge ahead. And the staff went out of their way to zoom in on Nodoka whenever the lines “I’ve been waiting for you” come up. Them Yuri hints.

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The Eisui girls take the final boss position atop the tower. The torii (shrine gate) comes as part of the miko package. Those gates differ from a normal gate in that they cannot block entrance, but rather serve as a symbolical connection between two worlds – the one of mortals and the one of gods. Well, there is apparently nothing symbolic about the gate pictured above, as there is very obviously something creepy and supernatural waiting just beyond it…

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Wait, wait. Tsujigaito-san? You are so not prancing around Tokyo with a katana in your hand, are you?

In principle, the possession of firearms and swords is prohibited.

Firearms And Swords Control Law. Article 2 

Japanese fans have been joking about Tsujigaito’s yakuza connections for some time now, but I am not sure if it would be funny to have her coming after in you in the dark of night…

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Teh Achiga. You guys will not be getting any scenes this season – let us put you in the OP to keep you nice and quiet.

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I will finish OP comments by bringing your attention to the opening scene where Mako looks up to see a worried Hisa facing the wind. The staff have been digging deep into this relationship since ep. 1, and I like what they are doing.

You might remember Hisa’s half-joking line from the first season: “This is my last year at high school. At least let me dream of winning the nationals.” Well, Hisa’s dream will become ever more real with every opponent they are able to overcome along the way, but the “weight” of that dream will likewise increase with every step.

Kiyosumi depends on Hisa a lot. She keeps everyone in line and motivated. She helps everyone curb their weaknesses and polish their strengths. She gets back the points that were lost in the Vanguard and Sergeant matches. Hisa is there for her team, but who has Hisa’s back?

Hisa’s hell waits might bring about miracles at the very last moment, but the flipside to that is that she cannot afford to make a single blunder – there will not be a second time for her to learn from her mistakes. And as much as she likes to put on airs, she is just human and the pressure will eventually get to her.

This episode, we saw Hisa nervous as she was forced to realize that dream of hers might possibly be coming true. And while most of the girls might not notice the cracks in Hisa’s armor, Mako is there, watching.

Hang in there, Hisa.

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Moving on to something lighthearted for a change, we have Hacchan and her clothing-failure issues. There were a few manga scenes where only miraculous camera angles kept Hacchan’s appearance decent, but the anime staff apparently decided to turn that into a game of sorts, with every other scene involving the girl being just barely work-safe.

Now, please remember that all national matches get recorded on video from several angles… Hacchan should better think about the records left for posterity…

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“We kind of failed to win, but it was very fun!”

Remember Senriyama’s Eguchi Sera hiding her tears after the lost inter-high? Remember Ryuuka and Toki’s promise of revenge? Remember the sweat and blood of that mahjong powerhouse which ended up fourth in last year’s tournament?

Well, Eisui does not have all of that. They climbed up to third in the nation because Princess here felt like “having fun with mahjong”, and if they did not get first, well, that is no biggie either.

Then again, last year Eisui was most likely a one-man team, with only one player willing and able to throw around supernatural warheads around the table. This might no longer be the case this year… (Heck, who am I kidding. It is no longer the case. Hacchan wants in on the fun~)

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Rinkai basically translates to coastal/seaside, so I like the touch of showing those girls hanging around a body of water. (No deep meaning behind the setting here, I think, except a connection to the recollection of Touka’s flow control.)

Please note, however, that in this scene Myeonghwa’s hair is not moving in the wind, despite her being outside and all. Now I can say with 100% certainty that her hair negates and absorbs wind energy while outside in order to release it when indoors, as seen in the first episode. She does that to look cool.

Maybe.

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Most of the episode went into the camp flashback. Pictured above is one of my favorite unusual combinations this episode spawned. Kana has a knack for being noisy and annoying, while Mako has that old man thing going on, so the two just do not mix.

While nobody makes a big deal out of it, Yuuki and Jun are hanging out and playing together, which is extremely important for Yuuki’s development. We remember all too well how easy it was for Jun to cut off Yuuki’s “eastern flow” during the tournament. It is absolutely necessary for Yuuki to learn to deal with flow interference. Which brings us to one of the main points of this episode (and likely the following one): territory control.

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Saki was able to kan her way to victory against a fully-powered Koromo. But in a sense, that was an easy fight, because the two were just going at each other head to head. There was nobody there with flow control aimed at plucking or blocking Saki’s flowers.

We might expect opponents capable of just that to turn up during the tournament. Actually, because of the unusual broadcast order that gave us Achiga-hen first, we already know that the final table will be a huge mess with Awai and Saki vying for kan control while Shizu tries to seal them both. Saki is crappy at non-supernatural mahjong, but she must be ready to fight under such conditions.

Part of her training was playing net mahjong, and now she got to face one of her natural opponents in the form of Cold Touka.

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Cold Touka wins cheap. To an outside observer, there is little to nothing that makes her stand out, except that she somehow wins again and again and again.

But to those at the table, she must be a monster indeed. “I couldn’t get a single kan in,” says Saki after the match. But we can see from the record above that as early as in the fifth hand of the match, Saki had already given up on her signature playstyle altogether, abandoning pairs that could eventually blossom into triples and, finally, kans.

Was Saki overcome with certainty that she could not form a kan under Touka’s influence, or had she tried for kans throughout the first few hands and failed so badly as to resort to a different playstyle? Either way, Saki failed to find a way to break through Touka’s control.

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Could this girl, Yumeno Maho, hold the key that will let Saki overcome that obstacle? One thing is for sure. Takei Hisa invited the girl to the training camp, and Hisa never does things without a reason.

Yumeno Maho, by the way, is an obvious play on the phrase yume no mahou (夢の魔法), or the power of dreams. What is the shape of Maho’s power, born from dreams and aspirations? (Tune in next week, heh.)

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Another important point raised in this episode is the existence of resonance-based powers. There is that thing in Saki where players will detect other powerful individuals from far away, and this episode in particular was full of people going Ping! Ping! Ping! for each other. This sensory ability has been shown to be completely separate from an individual’s level of mahjong ability, flow control and the like.

But this episode goes further and demonstrates the existence of powers and abilities that can only be activated against equally powerful opponents. Again, we saw an important example of that in Achiga-hen with Shizuno. Achiga’s captain did extremely well against powerful ability users in the semi-finals, bringing Awai in particular to her knees.

But that same Shizuno was in a pretty desperate situation in the quarter finals when facing completely ordinary mahjong players. There was no flow control for her to negate there – her opponents were not dependent on such abilities in the first place. In the same vein, Cold Touka did not awaken during the Nagano finals. How would have things turned out if she had awoken? Nobody can tell. But feel free to take the “Cold Touka incident” as an unspoken promise from Ritz and the anime staff – those unstable “resonance powers” might make or break the matches soon to come.

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Closing things up with the ED, I must admit I was surprised with what we received. Saki has always had a happy chibi ED and a crisis ED to choose between. What is odd is that we got what sounds like the crisis end after a very light-hearted episode. I hope this does not mean there will only be one ending this season, as I always liked the double EDs this series offered.

See you next week!


Other places covering this season of Saki:

Randomwalloftext

Yurination

Hanner’s Anime Blog

Shirogane no Suiren

All-fiction

Draggle’s Anime Blog

Maserbeamdotcom

Subdued fangirling

[Ohys-Raws] Saki Zenkoku He - 01 (TV 1280x720 x264 AAC).mp4_snapshot_01.57_[2014.01.07_14.43.11]

So begins the reunion with the much beloved cast of one of the craziest mahjong anime out there. I hope to cover this series regularly, with my impressions coming out later into the week for scheduling reasons.

Did I like the opening episode? You bet I did.

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Some people were dissatisfied with the lack of mahjong battles in the first episode, but personally I was actually impressed with how the few seconds of mahjong action in the episode were used to provide basic characterization for the characters and teams involved. Hacchan (loli miko) makes someone drop below zero without going into the captains’ round through some obviously occult combination, and we immediately know she’s one to look out for in the coming matches. Awai goes double riichi –> kan –> dora 4, and we know it is not just “luck”.

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On the other hand, Himematsu is shown buying their way into the tournament through a paltry 2000 point ron. Coupled with the down to earth character designs, we may begin guessing that Himematsu is a team of (mostly?) normal humans who win their matches through reasonable choices and good, if non-spectacular, mahjong – a counterpoint to the teams who wear their occult weaponry on their sleeves. Can such people put up a fight against the legions of superpowered mahjong girls? Or does Himematsu have some secret weapon of their own?

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I expect Himematsu to get more time to shine in the coming episodes. In the meanwhile, we can get a good look at some other teams.

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Eisui – within just a few short scenes and lines of dialogue, we are left wondering not only who those girls are, but also what they are. The princess in particular deserves attention, as it is not just a nickname we are dealing with, as the other members openly address her with honorifics reserved for nobility. With a rigid distinction between the main house and the branch houses, we see that Eisui is not so much a school team but a team made up of the members of a single family – one which might have other purposes in mind for the tournament other than just having fun playing mahjong.

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The divide between the princess and the other members lies not only in their respective social positions, though. We see the princess resting within the darkness, illuminated only by the light of candles, and she seems to be a part of a completely different world from the cheerful waiting room the rest of the team is gathered in. What is the mystery behind her? What is the reason for the reverence the other team members hold for her. Jindai Komaki – her last name meaning god-representative or vessel of gods – is likely to surprise us in the coming episodes.

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But true to the tradition of Saki, the respectful terms Jindai’s teammates use are mixed in with informal and friendly speech patterns, and when Hacchan declares they are not letting the princess shoulder all the burden this year round, you can tell there is an undercurrent of true affection to the respect and hierarchy of this mysterious family. For all the questions surrounding them, the Eisui girls might actually only be out there for the fun for it. (Maybe.)

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While the pro and his partner commentator discuss Hacchan’s kimon (literally demon gate, but also a different way of saying “northeast” – the direction considered most unlucky, from which disasters were believed to come) the term is not supposed to make much sense to the viewer at this time – and neither does it have much to do with mahjong. In fact, this short conversation hints that many of the pros in the Saki world might be more akin to the ghost busters we know from series like Bakemonogatari than mahjong pros in our world!

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While Hacchan will have more than enough time to show off her occult tricks in the future, the first episode introduces what will be a central theme in this season of Saki – information warfare. The miko team are not afraid to reveal some of their cards during the prelims, but that confidence comes at a cost. If a pro can analyze an ability and possibly find a way around it, there is a very real possibility that one of the other teams in the tournament will do the same.

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The same could be applied to Saki, of course, who held nothing back during the Nagano finals, but then again, she hardly had any choice but to go full out against Koromo if she wanted a chance to win. This cannot be said of Shiraitodai’s Awai, who revealed some of her ability in the match presented in this episode for a pretty reason… and those of you who have seen Achiga-hen know how that ended up for her.

The question is, are all the teams alike in this matter – holding nothing back in their battles and ready to take the risks involved with that, or are there people waiting for the right time to strike…?

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Miyamori – it is easy to see they are nobodies, out of place among the other schools. Their past history in the tournament is not mentioned in the episode – they have none. Heck, one look at the empty mahjong clubroom tells stories of the (nonexistent) prestige Miyamori enjoys. Eislinn sticks out as a transfer student, but do not mistake her for a mahjong genius brought from abroad like the Rinkai girls – when she first came to Japan, she probably barely knew what the game was about.

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Five friends and a granny with a vision. All members of the team are third years – all comrades and equals taking their one and only chance at the mahjong tournament. Sae declares they will enjoy mahjong more than anyone, and thus reach higher than any other team. But is there anything they can do against the might of the schools standing against them? Or is it that nothing is impossible with the power of friendship?

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And Rinkai… just Rinkai. They are like Shiraitodai done right. They are like Teru five times over. They are likely to be the only team in the entire tournament without a single weak link. I am sure they eat babies for breakfast. Someone please confirm that for me.

Just look at Myeonghwa. Putting aside the fact that she is French and still manages to have an eastern name impossible to spell, her hair billows in the wind… indoors! Someone call Mulder and Scully, quick!

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I loved how the episode also found the time to give us a glimpse of teams from all over – even those that had their chance to shine in the Achiga-hen spinoff and will not be taking an active role in the episodes to come. In a sense, Achiga-hen limited itself to the story of two teams – Achiga and Senriyama. This season stays true to its title and takes responsibility for the event as a whole – a gathering for mahjong lovers from all across the country. This is only supported by the appearances from the cast of the previous season.

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The appearances from Kazekoshi and Ryuumonbuchi are not merely a rehash of what we have already seen and know. Relationships have progressed and lessons have been learned – which this episode manages to tell us through just a few stills at the end. Particularly heartwarming is the fast-developing friendship between Koromo and Kana, something which was difficult even to imagine during the first season of the show.

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Other tidbits include Hisa and Mihoko going shopping together, with Mihoko keeping both eyes open for a change. Is the girl fishing for compliments, or is it just that she feels that much at ease next to the Kiyosumi captain? Your call.

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This episode also marks the first appearance of the Ikeda family in all its glory (sans the parents of course). Ikeda’s three little sisters show up often enough in the Saki Biyori yonkoma manga, but might have been something of a surprise to anime-only viewers. Kana-oneechan~.

I was also glad to see Kazekoshi more at ease with their coach, as that was one of the more strained relationships presented in the first season. Has Kubo changed, or was she always only tough on the outside, wishing for the best of her team inside her heart?

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Closing the episode with this image of Saki quietly reading a book is most fitting. Besides mahjong, their penchant for literature is one of the biggest common points between the two Miyanaga sisters, and it serves as a subtle reminder of what Saki is here for – to reestablish that long lost connection.

By the way, Saki appears to be reading some kind of parody of the Lord of the Rings. Since the Japanese fans tend to call Saki “Maou”, or evil overlord, I have to wonder which side she would be cheering on when reading Tolkien’s work…


Other places covering this season of Saki:

Randomwalloftext

The G-Empire

Hanner’s Anime Blog

Shirogane no Suiren

Welcome to my third end of the year post. I felt this year might have been lacking in ground-breaking series, but instead offered us many solid and consistently enjoyable works.

Without further ado, here is my personal top 12 of the year.

 

Log_Horizon_Anime_b14

#12 Log Horizon

This series is weird. Really, really weird. People expected this to be a SAO clone, but SAO played its tropes mostly straight, while Log Horizon does not seem to care about meeting anyone’s expectations. It rejects obvious sources of tension, like actually letting the characters die or face mortal peril. It rejects obvious sources of progression, like letting the characters grow in strength. It is flippant to the extreme, and I can only be curious where it goes from here.

 

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#11 The World God Only Knows Goddess Arc

I will not be be particularly original in elevating the third series of this franchise above its predecessors. It is a series which came this far parodying other titles of the genre, but it has now matured enough to subvert its own premises. If nothing else, this is probably the series with the most thematically fitting ending of the year. I have a hard time imagining a better ending than Keima throwing away the responsibility for the carnage of a hell-and-heaven war left behind him, only to face the smoldering remains of a more personal battlefield. Great stuff.

 

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#10 Fate/kaleid Liner Prisma Illya

I initially dropped this after watching the first episode, but giving the series a second chance was fully worth it. Prisma Illya is a curious series in that it does not even pretend to have any kind of story and rides entirely on its two characters and action sequences.  The action is superb. Miyu is cute and easy to empathize with. It is a very straightforward series, and successful for it.

 

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#9 Hidamari Sketch – Sae-Hiro Sotsugyou-hen

Two episodes presenting a (possible) conclusion to a four season franchise. More than anything else, this OVA is notable among other SoL shows for how it resists the temptation of overwrought drama and manages to remain true to its usual atmosphere while also doing justice to the storm of emotion wreaking havoc in Yuno’s heart. Hidamari-sou forever!

 

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#8 Monogatari – Second Season

I could never call myself a true fan of the Monogatari franchise, but this second season did much to win me over. The lessened focus on Araragi finally allowed other characters to come alive and add variety while retaining the strengths the series has gotten us used to. And Kaiki. Mostly Kaiki.

 

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#7 Chihayafuru 2

The second season was not always as well-paced and directed as the first, but it does not fall far behind either. I am still left holding my breath over the outcome of poem-smacking matches and in awe of the voice performances – including what are possibly my favorite roles by Miyano Mamoru and Kayano Ai.

I did not think we would be getting a second season, but now I hope I can be proven wrong once more. Hoping for a third meeting with this wonderful cast!

 

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#6 Kami sama no Inai Nichiyoubi

It is rare for me to be at a complete loss how to approach a show in terms of its messages and values, but Kami Inai makes a habit of subverting any expectations it builds up in this field. When you think the series is right about to make one moral point or another, the characters throw in the towel and admit they do not actually know what is right and wrong. But then again, that is fitting for a world where the rules are in constant flux and reality, both physical and spiritual, is not as consistent as one would expect it to be.

 

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#5 Kyousougiga

This is like Uchouten Kazoku, except it works. It is whimsical all around, straightforward where it counts. The kind of anime you can show to anyone. And there are gods and buddhas and other divine beings all over the place, so obviously I will have a soft spot for it xD.

 

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#4 Love Lab

Most reviewers agree that with its title and premise, Love Lab has no right to be as good as it is. The key to the show’s greatness is that it combines the strengths of a yonkoma/four-panel comedy with a strong central storyline and constant character and storyline development. This year saw plenty of great slice of life series, but the ability to hook the viewer on the story sets Love Lab apart from its peers and guarantees that even an unfunny gag (and no comedy can please all viewers all the time) is never completely useless.

 

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#3 Railgun S

The Sisters arc was carefully and beautifully executed, but truth be told, it was also something I have seen and read several times over in different incarnations of the franchise. Which means that yes, what really had me smiling fondly at the screen was the Silent Party anime-original arc. I am absolutely in love with the stuff they write for Railgun – the “filler” content for this series has a consistent theme in exploring Academy city and its society, makes full use of all available characters and is full of tongue-in-cheek fun. The final episode of this season is easily one of my favorite episodes of the entire year.

 

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#2 AKB0048

What can I say? There were some pacing issues, inconsistent episodes and funny CG, yes, but the emotional highs of the series left little time to think about such things. With its unique mix of sci-fi technology, creepy spirituality, conspiracy theories and tough idol business, AKB0048 stands as one of the most unusual anime series of recent years, even as it covers what seems to be familiar ground. Half the cast are either selfish or misguided, and yet it is difficult not to love them for their faults. After all, they are risking their lives and identities for our right to listen to pop music. Yeah.

 

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#1 Symphogear G

There was no way to predict how Symphogear would transform so much in its second season, but here it is. The series threw away all unnecessary weight and just went from one crazy cliffhanger to another. Great music, smart scripting and Yuuki Aoi with an incredible performance as the lead of the series.

If I have any complaints, it is that it is obvious that the creators were ready to end things with this season, and so put in a lot of effort to conclude plot points and deliver messages in the final episodes, which is perfectly fine for almost all series, but not something Symphogear needed that badly. At least not at the expense of its great speed and not with the now-announced season 3 ahead of us. But things ended with Miku saving everyone again, so I can forgive a lot.

Now I am seriously looking forward to S3. It is time to start guessing what crazy title the writers have in store…


2014 is right ahead of us, and there are already tons of things to look forward to! The newest Saki season starts airing January 5th, and I will probably end up posting about the series one way or another.

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