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[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_03.24_[2014.01.14_21.55.32]

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.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_03.46_[2014.01.14_21.56.15]

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.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_04.11_[2014.01.14_21.57.28]

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…

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_04.01_[2014.01.14_21.56.50]

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…

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_03.55_[2014.01.14_21.56.30]

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.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_05.55_[2014.01.14_21.41.04]

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.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_01.07_[2014.01.14_21.37.14]

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…

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_00.49_[2014.01.14_21.36.06]

“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~)

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_17.56_[2014.01.14_15.39.19]

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.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_15.43_[2014.01.14_22.02.06]

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.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_17.07_[2014.01.14_21.46.24]

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.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_18.25_[2014.01.14_21.48.38]

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.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_20.46_[2014.01.14_21.51.57]

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.)

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_14.56_[2014.01.14_22.01.00]

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.

[HorribleSubs] Saki - The Nationals - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_22.23_[2014.01.15_22.44.51]

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

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Saki_pro1

This is a story from a long time ago.

The story of a girl, mahjong, and one more girl. 

Word has been out already that Ritz and Aguri liked working together enough to start another Saki-related project following the completion of Saki Achiga-hen, but so far we could only speculate on what the new serialization would contain.

Now the cat’s out of the bag – starting from 25th September, the Ritz x Aguri combo will start serializing a new story following the previous mahjong generation, most of whom we know as active pros appearing in the main story.

I am so looking forward to this. Already we have some new information regarding the power balance in the old Saki world, with Ms. Taciturn-pro showing up in a Shindouji uniform. Other things to look forward to:

  • The Legend-Grandmaster-Hayarin-Taciturn square-off featured above – one match to determine the strength tiers of half the known pros
  • Kokaji Sukoya during her ascent – the more we learned about her, the less we understood. Will the past bring us answers?
  • Harue during her prime – what are the limits of the perfect analysis-type player against ability users?
  • The ‘beloved by the tiles’ phenomenon – was it in full swing ten years ago, or is it something unique to the current generation?
  • Middle school Kouko fangirling over her future sweetheart. Harue’s yuru-yuri clubroom past. Come on, it’s Saki.
  • Hints regarding the master plot of the series – is somebody trying to fish out the supernatural players? If so, for what purpose?

Can’t wait till September!

Saki_pro3

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You know I have my gripes with Shiraitodai as a team. Their team creation method that insists on gathering players of a single type is downright ridiculous, making it completely possible that half of the school’s top 10 players end up warming the bench while amateurs (coughSeikocough) that got lucky to team up with Teru somehow go on to represent the school. The result is obviously an incredibly unbalanced team almost entirely reliant on Teru, and even lacking the flexibility to at least try and protect the huge leads Teru gains.

But honestly, Awai takes the cake.

 vlcsnap-2013-05-28-16h55m36s162

Shiraitodai in last place. Needs a baiman from Achiga or Shindouji (8 han, 16,000 pts), or a haneman from Senriyama or own draw (6 han, 12,000 pts) to advance to the finals.

Make no mistake, this is bad.

vlcsnap-2013-05-28-17h21m45s75

Luckily enough, Awai manages to turn her hand into a haneman-capable shape. It is still a difficult situation, as she basically has no choice but to go out on a self-drawn six of bamboo if she wants to move on to the finals (or call riichi and add the possibility of going out on Ryuuka’s discards). Still, Awai is determined to see things through to the end.

Only, all her self-restraint and reason seem to be blown away the moment she draws the tile necessary for her kan. She ignores what she sees as a opportunity for a 24,000 point victory from Shindouji just because “it wouldn’t get her first place”. There’s no benefit to getting first place here, except for bragging rights, so I cannot see it as anything but Awai putting her personal pride before the good of the team.

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The result we all know: Awai just barely manages second place anyway. The real kicker is, had she followed her erroneous assumption that she will get four kan dora and did the reasonable thing (winning from Shindouji), Awai would have won a 7 han baiman hand… and lost to Senriyama, making Shiraitodai drop out of the finals!

This really makes me question what Ritz wanted to convey here. Awai wins only because she was selfish AND cocky? That’s a broken Aesop if I have ever seen one. vlcsnap-2013-05-28-18h58m26s41

Either way, I cannot see Shiraitodai as a serious team anymore, and I am looking forward to seeing them get their assess kicked in the finals. I am sure Ritz will make them look stronger in the main story than here, but Shiraitodai will always be the least team-like team out there, and it is a shame teams like Senriyama and Shindouji had to make place for those “returning champions”.    

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ww_20130321204125

Initial broadcast dates for the two final episodes of the Saki Achiga-hen anime have been announced:

Ep. 15 (AT-X) 2013.4.02(Tuesday) 19:30~20:00
Ep. 16 (AT-X) 2013.5.25(Saturday)19:30~20:00

The manga has recently finished it’s run, so watch out for spoilers until then.

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Saki_Rinshan_Kaihou_Blu-ray

The Saki universe has two types of mahjong matches: individual and team matches. What we get to see in the anime is mostly the latter. But to be honest, most Saki teams are pretty crappy at doing this “team” thing. Shows like Chihayafuru make it clear that a team battle is something completely different from a set of individual battles, but the tag team matches in Saki often boil down to just that – a series of individual matches with a joint score. Which is not to say that the concept of a team is completely meaningless in the Saki universe. Let’s take a look at how major players in the series took advantage of team tactics (or failed to).

 

Kiyosumi

The good:

  • placing Yuuki as vanguard and thus relieving her from the duty of thinking tactically about point differences (acknowledging and eliminating an individual’s weakness)
  • Hisa concealing Nodoka and Saki’s ability level by having them go last in the team order, making it unnecessary for them to play seriously (or at all) before facing the strongest teams in the regionals
  • Hisa helping develop the skills of all her other teammates

The bad:

  • extreme differences in playing styles and approach to mahjong make it impossible for team members to give each other tactical advice, to the point that Nodoka outright refuses to listen to crucial bits of advice from her team captain

Kazekoshi

Kazekoshi:

The good:

  • positioning matched to work against crucial opponents (vs Inoue Jun); learning from experience 
  • ace in the opening position lets the other team members play a calm, better game
  • team captain offers tactical advice during match breaks

The bad:

  • nobody but the captain ever does anything for the team – with around 80 members, there is nobody in the mahjong club to watch and analyze matches of rival teams in time for it to matter
  • weaker members are completely unable to see the difference in ability between themselves and their opponents, failing to turn to a defensive style when necessary

Tsuruga:

The good:

  • clear awareness of team members’ respective ability levels lets the first three players play a honest “survival-style” mahjong
  • positioning may cause opponents to let their guards down, making them easy pickings for the best players waiting at the end

The bad:

  • the fact that they have to give up three matches to begin with is pretty sad

Ryuumonbuchi:

The good:

  • reliable ace in vanguard position sets the flow of the game in the team’s favor
  • Koromo’s taishou position lets her play at night, at the peak of her ability

The bad:

  • team members put personal issues over victory on a regular basis, Touka to show off, Koromo… for plenty of reasons

Achiga:

The good:

  • Kuro in vanguard position acts like the usual ace against ordinary teams, and as damage control against monsters that outrank her (hands scored against her will be less expensive than average without dora)
  • mentally tough taishou doesn’t let a chance for victory slip by for emotional reasons
  • the coach is one of the most perceptive people in the Sakiverse, providing her team with crucial intel, as well as supporting them through training and other ways

The bad:

  • damage control is all fine and dandy, but it is somewhat questionable if pitting Kuro against top tier opponents all the time is really the best use of her potential 

Senriyama

Senriyama:

The good:

  • as always, a vanguard ace is always a good idea, especially with Toki, who is the most powerful defensive player we have seen to date while being “only” very good on the offense, and therefore more suited to preventing the team form going into minus points rather than gaining back those points as a taishou
  • team members actually adjust their playing style to the point totals in terms of offense/defense, playing cautiously when in the lead (why this is a rarity is beyond me)
  • the team analyzes data of their opponents before a match (sorry Kazekoshi) and adjusts their tactics accordingly

The bad:

  • the coach sets somewhat questionable goals before the team members, pressuring them into making risky decisions (insistence on first place)

Shiraitodai:

The good:

  • reliable ace in vanguard position, backup ace in taishou position (perfect for any team which can afford it)
  • willingness to study their opponents and pick the most “convenient” opponents to leave in-game, if possible
  • team members show the initiative to study the team’s weaknesses and the playing styles of other teams in order to offer suggestions or countermeasures

The bad:

  • the third and fourth player should just kill themselves… or practice playing mahjong without relying completely on their abilities

Shindouji_ani

Considering the above points, the only team that acts like an actual team throughout the entire match is Senriyama. No wonder that they are ranked #2 in the country despite mostly lacking “supernatural firepower”.

But I did leave one team for last – Shindouji.

You see, a team like Senriyama has three ace-level players and their fourth can hold her own easy enough, so they can easily adjust their strategy by evenly shifting the pressure (the necessary points) between several players, not forcing anyone to bite more than they can chew. This also means that there is no need for complicated tactical decisions beforehand or precise role assignments.

Shindouji, on the other hand, only has two players who can comfortably take on monsters, so they are more like Kazekoshi in terms of combined ability level (okay, maybe slightly better). However, this is a team with an idea.

I mentioned above that putting your best players in vanguard and taishou positions is likely the best formation. That is exactly what most strong schools in Sakiverse do. The Shindouji team was made to destroy that formation.

Schools using that formation have weaker players in positions 2-3-4, and the last player (taishou) is their last resort in case something goes wrong. What happens when a school like that goes against Shindouji?

They get a fair share of points by throwing their ace at the sacrificial pawn Hanada. That said, we are talking about somebody who stopped Miyanaga Teru twice, once without the help of supernatural powers (I cannot even imagine what happened in that match). Whatever they get, it won’t last for long. Yoshiko comes next, and her sense of when to go for high point hands and when to go flushing everything down with silent trash hands is great. It might seem like her achievements during the match presented in the anime are not that great, but this is an unprecedented 15.000+ victory of a normal mahjong player over an elite ability user like Sumire. Lieutenant Ezaki might pull through or not (everything depends on the politics), but either way, club president Mairu is hot on her heels. Now comes the scary part. Mairu preying on the weaker vice captains should at best be enough to repair the damage done to Hanada. But the power difference is superimposed doubled on the taishou (captain) match, through Mairu and Himeko’s promised victories (reservation –> key). This is where Shindouji completely breaks the balance where pouring more strength into one battle should result in worse results in another. The more uneven the Mairu matchup is, the easier the next round becomes for Himeko. The taishou match, supposed to be a battle of equals, may very well turn into a slaughter in Shindouji’s favor.

It is indeed beautiful how each member contributes to the team strategy, be it Subara’s sacrificial pawn resolution or Yoshiko’s playing style adjustments against Sumire. But who set all this up remains a mystery. Shindouji’s coach has yet to make a proper appearance, while individual members were not informed about the precise reasoning behind their positioning (Subara was supposed not to know about the reasons behind her selection, Ezaki did not realize why the club president goes fourth etc.) Will we learn more about this team at a later date, or will it remain a mystery forever? Only time will tell. 

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achiga

Recent interview with series director Ono reveals that the Saki Achiga-hen special episodes will continue until episode 16, one episode longer than previously revealed.

Well, the more the better. The more detailed the portrayal of a Saki match, the more impressive it is, so more time can never hurt. If only they had done Achiga in a two cour format to begin with…

Source:

achiga_2

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vlcsnap-2013-01-02-00h09m58s0

The 13th episode of Saki Achiga introduced us to two new abilities: Sumire’s [Sharpshooter] skill, which aligns her waits with a chosen victim’s predicted discards, and Takami’s [Harvest time], which lets her draw a hand composed of all her initial discards throughout the match in the very last dealing of the game.

Unlike Sumire’s ability, which is quite complex and requires the reader/viewer to make some additional assumptions about its mechanics, Takami’s ability is quite easy to replicate in real life. So how strong is it exactly? I played a few times Takami-style, giving myself 11 chances to collect discards (the same as in the Achiga match).

takami1

First attempt. With a near-guaranteed shousangen (two dragon triples and a dragon pair), and plenty of options leading to a honitsu (one color and honors), this hand should usually result in a haneman hand (12,000 points, or dealer 18,000). A daisangen yakuman (three dragon triplets) is entirely feasible under normal circumstances, but more risky.

takami2

Ugh. Trying to go for wind pairs/triplets left the hand crippled. The daisangen tiles are the same as above, but the odds of going out on this at all are very bad…

takami3

Lesson learned. The third attempt is just asking for a daisangen, with quick runs on the side.

takami4

See above, the fourth attempt can result in daisangen tenpai as fast as during the first go around. Terrifying.

To sum up, Takami’s ability:

  • might sometimes result in a slow hand if the discards are not chosen carefully (but Takami probably has plenty of experience with her own ability)
  • does reliably provide at least a shousangen hand almost every time, with other bonuses possible on the side
  • makes the probability of a daisangen hand ridiculously high

vlcsnap-2013-01-02-00h08m51s98

But! (there is always a but, isn’t there?)

The make-or-break of this ability is whether your opponents know how it works. Attempt four above, which is an almost guaranteed yakuman under normal circumstances, becomes very tricky if your opponents know exactly what you have in hand. Though admittedly, going out with the hand still requires much less luck than drawing into a daisangen on your own…

There’s basically no way to see through this ability on your first try, though. Takami’s discards are almost perfectly natural even as she aims for the eventual daisangen (dropping a dragon tile before discarding non-yaku winds is slightly unusual, but not outrageous), and the contents of her final hand remain unknown to other players as per standard mahjong rules. On average, Takami has to call once to complete her daisangen triplets, but a single call on dragon tiles is something so common that nobody will think about it twice. People will grow wary after a second call, and you can’t really expect a dragon tile to come out after that, but in Takami’s case, that’s all too late.

So the main factor holding Takami back is that she cannot hide her play style and people actually check and analyze her play records, leading to Senriyama and Achiga both realizing the truth behind her ability long before the match. Shindouji does not seem to have this intel, which makes Takami’s life much, much easier in this case.

But as for anti-Takami tactics, I am with the Sera-camp in getting as many points as possible during dealer hands, regardless of the consequences in the final hand. Sure, it is hard to avoid paying up 8.000/16.000 points when Takami starts with 11+ tiles of her choice, but getting that many points or more during two dealer turns solves the problem quite nicely. And even if Takami gets in a win, it might be a ron off another player, not necessarily a tsumo.

Saying that it is fine to let your opponent win a yakuman hand sounds kind of irresponsible, but Takami apparently does not have the basic mahjong skills to make her opponents regret this approach. Usually, a yakuman win in the last hand is enough for a reversal even in quite dire circumstances, but Takami has been losing points left and right throughout the whole match. There is nothing in her ability that could make it difficult for her to take a defensive, cheap and silent hand approach outside her dealer turns (where she wants to call a lot and win quickly if cheaply), so her huge point loss is entirely the result of the difference in ability between her and Sera/Ako.

So Takami’s ability is first-rate, but her poor mahjong skills and the fact that this is an officially sanctioned tournament make it impossible for her to bring out its full potential. That sounds like a good summation of Takami’s threat level… unless she is the final dealer. The final dealer gets to repeat the last hand as many times as they can keep going out… and the very thought is terrifying. Under the right circumstances, Takami might be one of the very few people in the Sakiverse who could give Teru a run for her money in a direct matchup. But first, Takami would have to survive until the last hand…

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Little.Busters!

 

Picking a list of twelve favorite shows for this year’s AniBlogger Choice Anime Awards was quite a challenge. Deciding on the top ten was easy enough, but after that, I ran out of shows I feel really deserved the recommendation. Normally, I would just put in an ambitious-if-flawed series in there and be done with it, but most of the critic bait this year completely failed to hook me, so I will leave Kokoro Connect, Tsuritama, and Kids on the Slope to the people who actually managed to watch them through. There was the passing temptation to recognize the animation quality of such players as Fate/zeroor Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai,but this would be awkward in the presence of series which managed to balance form and content, including one other KyoAni show.

When I was about to give up the two last spots entirely, I finally remembered there is more to anime than regular series. Movies couldn’t help me out in my predicament. Nanoha and Madoka could probably easily make it onto the list, but that’s for next year. The Strike Witches movie was actually surprisingly good, and would have been here had it ended any other way. But there were some OVAs out there to join the fight and give final form to this list.

Without further ado, my Top 12 of 2012.

 

TAR2

#12 Tari Tari

Tari Tari is a coming-of-age slice-of-life series in a high school setting, which sounds like a summary of every second anime out there. Tari Tari manages to stand out by being the cream of the crop of the genre. Character designs and animation are just what you would expect from P.A. Works – beautiful and consistent in their quality. But the studio also shows it has learned its lesson from Hanasaku Iroha by producing a better-paced and more consistent series that does not stumble with side stories for characters nobody could care less about. Some of the epic feel is gone with the change from a two cour series to a single cour format, and if you compare Ohana and Konatsu as leads, the former leaves a more lasting impression, but the three female leads of Tari Tari work much better as equals. One last hurdle P.A. Works have to clear is making their male leads half as interesting as the ladies (though Wien certainly had impact).

nise

#11 Nisemonogatari

I was not exactly crazy about Bakemonogatari when it first came out, but it is difficult to deny that the combination of Shinbou and Nishio Ishin has style. The second season keeps up tis predecessor’s original style while switching focus to some new themes. A rebel among its peers, Nisemonogatari tramples over some the medium’s favorite tropes and themes while remaining an otaku feast in other areas. Nisemonogatari gets on the list for its hot dialogue and the questions it asks about justice and morality.

horizon

#10 Sekai Senjou no Horizon II

I might have enjoyed Horizon more if I were not watching it raw and all, but the series is good enough to get on the list even with some things going over my head. It features the best-animated one-on-one character fight this year (Futayo vs Gin), some breathtaking aerial maneuvers and plot-relevant debating sessions. Of course, achieving so much on such a scale, the series must also suffer from its fair share of luggage – the enormous cast makes it impossible to focus equally on everyone, the fan-servicey character designs can scare people off, and the infodump sessions are already an established part of the show’s style. But it certainly feels like the Musashi crew made a huge step forward in their great journey, and I am eagerly looking forward to another season of their adventures.

akb0048 2#9 AKB0048

I have a soft spot for shows that manage to break through my prejudice and prove they can work even if it seems like they should have no choice but to fail. AKB0048 is one such show. Whatever it did, it would be attacked as a marketing ploy for AKB48 (and that’s certainly one of the reasons it exists). Thankfully, the people behind the show took this adversity as an excuse to make one of the most audacious shows of the year. The hilarity inherent in the whole “idols are serious business” theme of the show carries it through the first few episodes, until the characters can make things work on their own. The half-friends half-rivals relationship the girls share makes for some unique plot developments, as the characters’ loyalties are constantly being tested by internal and external pressures. The idea of an entertainment ban/ galaxy-wide cultural oppression is fascinating. And that Chieri-Nagisa scene where one of them silently bemoans that a Kirara never followed her, while the other is thinking about how the Kirara in question never once shone for her, is one of the overall best character scenes this year, instantly establishing tensions that last throughout the entire show. I would like to get at least a glimpse of other entertainment groups apart from AKB0048, just to get away from the idea that AKB0048 are the only victim of the entertainment ban and the only group trying to change things in the DES-controlled part of the universe – here’s hoping that the second season may include something like that.

touhou

#8 Touhou Musou Kakyou

I was a few months late in noticing this gem had come out. Musou Kakyou does not exactly match Maikaze’s promotional videos in terms of character designs or animation quality, but it still marks a visible improvement over the first installment and gets enough things right to make my Touhou-fan’s heart dance. I love how all those characters act pure and innocent while actually being quite mean to each other, how Youmu considers skewering somebody reasonable retribution for getting a watermelon stolen (and the poor communication skills that lead to the misunderstanding!), the random developments that will somehow turn out to be part of a Yuyuko/Yukari master plan… The VA cast is a a treat to the point that I still do not know how they got those people on board (Yuuki Aoi as Youmu and Nakahara Mai as Reimu are just delicious!). One thing I’m left wondering is, how the heck did Tewi of all people outrun Youmu? There were probably some dirty tricks involved there, but the chase did not get animated… Another question would be how many years it will take for the third installment to come out…

tamayura-hitotose

#7 Tamayura Hitotose OVA

Attakai Kaze no Omoide Nanode

A heartwarming OVA much in tune with the rest of the series. For my gushing over the series, check last year’s ACAA entry. Here, let me complain about how unfair Japanese name are instead. You see, Fuu’s name is written like this 「楓」and most often read as “Kaede” (meaning “maple tree”). But Fuu’s father is a huge cheat and changes the reading from Kaede to Fuu, shifting the focus from the basic meaning of the kanji and towards the wind radical (風, fuu) on its right side, changing the meaning of the name from “maple tree”to “the wind blowing among trees”. Í am so jealous the Japanese can do cool things like that with their names >_<.

Saki .Achiga-hen #6 Saki Achiga-hen

Saki is just a mix of all the anime tropes I adore. Beautiful female friendship (®), personality-based superpowers and mahjong as a weapon of choice, it’s difficult to go wrong with that. Achiga-hen does have its share of problems, like the awkward pacing and the writer’s inability to decide whether they want to develop the main characters at all or just focus on the Senriyama girls. The original series would be fighting for the top spots, while the spin-off stops at #6. But with its meticulous attention to detail and epic “battle”scenes, the show deserves this high spot on the list.

『咲-Saki-阿知賀編 episode of side-A』は今年の6位にとどまる。といっても充分高い。どんだけ咲好きか、僕は… 正直なところ、展開が速すぎたり、主人公たちの出番が少なかったり、いろいろ問題のあるシリーズだったけど、やっぱり毎週楽しみにしてた。大将戦も気になるし、最終話早く見たい。本編の第二期も…

Shana

#5 Shakugan no Shana Final

A returnee from the ACAA 2011 list, jumping six spots after showing the full extent of what it had in store. Did I mention that I have a soft spot for series that manage to break through my initial dislike for them? I have never seen the first season of Shana, but I did watch the first movie. I remember sympathizing with the Crimson Denizens much more than the Flame Hazes, and I thought this series could not work. But what I thought was the author’s shortcoming was actually part of his plan all along, as what is right and wrong is no longer obvious in this series. The main bad guy crushing the good guys’ morale by showing them their life of hatred and revenge no longer has purpose or justification is a singularity not to be found in other series. The sacrifices the Denizens suffer for the sake of their shared dream made me feel nervous every time it seemed like their efforts would be all for nothing. The Serpent God being all soft-hearted and indulgent when it counted most made me sigh along with Bell Peol. The idea of Hecate being nozomarete kitaru, born through the prayers of others, added gravitas to her self-imposed martyrdom. Sakai Yuuji, an absolute pragmatist but also a man with the biggest messiah complex ever, quickly became one of my favorite characters. Seeing Shana grow strong enough to walk by that fool’s side, but smack him over the head when he really needs it, was yet another pleasure. There were times when the sereis seemed to lack time or budget to spare, but as for the content, it was one hell of a ride.

hyouka

#4 Hyouka

I am quite open about being a KyoAni fan so Chuu2 not making it into my top 12 was a huge disappointment, but Hyouka more than makes up for it. Yes, it was a bumpy ride. for the first few episodes, we were not really sure whether this series would be really good or just extremely pretty. Some early Houtarou-Satoshi conversations hinted that the series could pull off something great if it wanted to, but there was no guarantee. But Hyouka was steadily getting better – not through its mysteries, which had their ups and downs, but through its characters. At some point Hyouka broke through the magical barrier where you do not care what the characters are doing, as long as they can bounce off each other. Heck, I even lobed the fan service scenes in Hyouka which revealed the wild, magnetic attraction Houtarou felt for Chitanda despite his conscious desire to avoid anything as troublesome as a romantic relationship. Satoshi and Mayaka were also great as two flawed characters who did not fit exactly into any character stereotype, remaining something of a mystery until the very end. I might be alone in this, but I consider the mountain incident mystery episode to be the best character development episode of the year, casting Houtarou’s personality and choices in a completely new light just by clearing up a seemingly meaningless mystery.

jinrui

#3 Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita

Let me be honest here – Nakahara Mai is my favorite seiyuu and every minute of this show, with Nakahara at her best and enjoying herself with a sarcastic and morally skewed character, was like a festival. Jintai had the best lead of the year, suicidal bread, biting social commentary, nihilistic faeries, lonely space probes, everything. It was touching when it wanted to be, ridiculous all the time. If there was one weakness to the show, it were those few moments when it was smart without being funny. Still, Jintai was an experience, nothing alike anything that came before it.

girls und panzer

#2 Girls und Panzer

I remember commenting on Yumeka’s Jintai/Hyouka review and telling her the two would be my second and third place shows of the year unless something incredible happened in fall. And then Garupan happened.

This show knows perfectly what it is good at, and makes sure to pack every episode as full of those things as realistically possible. The action scenes are breathtaking, the use of CG top class, the setting and characters completely wacko. Some scenes, like Yukari’s espionage mission and the Katyusha rendition, are simply one-of-a-kind. The pacing is great – the hook at the end of episode one is like a promise that no, this is not just a moe show. Not that there’s shortage of moe for those interested, but Garupan never gets too caught up with just one thing, always ready with another trick when you let your guard down. Can’t wait for the conclusion to the series… and hopefully a second season!

Garupan was very, very close to taking first place, but the foe waiting there was fearsome indeed…

chihayafuru

#1 Chihayafuru

Whoever made this show should get locked up immediately – its pure awesomeness makes it criminal. Nobody in the west cares about the poem-game karuta, but that is not a problem – nobody in Japan cares either, except a handful of maniacs, as the show freely admits. What counts is that you will soon care very much about the dreams, doubts and struggles of those maniacs.

Chihayafuru appeared on last year’s list after airing around a quarter of its episodes, and it only kept getting better afterwards. Chihayafuru passes the “magical wall of character development” I mentioned for Hyouka soon after the karuta club is properly established, with the newer characters no less engaging than the leads. My favorite part of the show might just be the Taichi – Nikuman / Kana – Tsukue final matches, which is saying a lot as I love Chihaya as the lead of this series. The incredible thing is that none of the characters exist separately, their dreams clash, intermingle and affect each other in unexpected ways, revealing new strengths and new weaknesses in characters we already know, providing them with a new direction. Every opponent Chihaya faces gets better development than some leads in other series, having their own goals and backgrounds, and the experience of fighting them remains in Chihaya, shaping her future actions.

So I would have fallen in love with those characters, whatever it were they did.
But of course it is impossible to remain indifferent to the portrayal of karuta in the show. Very often, portrayals of even relatively complex sports find themselves running out of ideas on how to keep up the feel of progression throughout their run and end up relying on the “faster! stronger!” formula. Chihayafuru never seems to have this problem, revealing step by step how karuta is a game of speed, detecting sounds, memorization, positioning of the cards, positioning of the body, timed breathing, psychological warfare, observational skills, endurance and even argumentative skills. All of this is presented in an easily understandable and believable way, meaning that you will never look at the ‘silly sport’ the same way again.

Chihayafuru rarely uses cliffhangers, but to me, almost every episode ending felt like a cliffhanger. The need to know whether on the next day the characters wake up stronger, ready to learn from their mistakes, is incredible.

Can’t wait till January.

 

Other ACAA 2012 entries to check out:

http://angryjellyfish.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/acaa-2012-ajs-top-12-anime-of-the-year/

http://organizationasg.kokidokom.net/2012/11/27/kuukis-ani-blogger-choice-awards-2012/

http://organizationasg.kokidokom.net/2012/12/19/geniuss-second-take-in-the-aniblogger-choice-anime-awards/

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Achiga

After a long, long wait we now know the initial broadcast date for the 13th episode of Saki, Achiga-hen.

The episode will air on AT-X channel on the 24th of December, starting from 23:30 o’clock.

There is still no officially confirmed information available concerning the release dates of episodes 14 and 15.

Saki, Achiga-hen is likely to be one of the series in my top 12 for kiddtic’s Ani-Bloggers Choice Awards 2012, so this should be a welcome reminder of the show’s strong points before the voting deadline.

As manga readers already know, the atmosphere surrounding Shiraitodai radically changes the moment Teru ends her match. Anime-only fans can look forward to some surprises waiting ahead.  

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Teru_win

There is a track in the Saki-Achiga soundtrack entitled Miyanaga Teru.

This is not exactly something to write home about. The character bearing that name appears in the show, and there is nothing unusual about her getting a track to herself. But for some reason, the track title stands out from those for other characters. Theme of Shizuno, Theme of Yuu, Ryuuka and Toki, but Miyanaga Teru. Cold and formal, creating a sense of distance between viewer and character.

teru

The mahjong champion is a normal girl with her own worries and silly slip-ups – and a time will come for us to learn of those things, but not now. The first time we experience Miyanaga Teru, we must see her as do the girls sitting by the same mahjong table, as an overwhelming and unstoppable ‘something’. The tacit understanding delivering that image is everywhere – in Nakahara Mai’s drone-like voice acting, in the lack of Teru’s internal monologues, in how the other characters refer to her more often as ‘champion’ then by name, in the directing and the music.

And that understanding even found its way into the track titles few fans will ever see. But that’s fine. Because if you can unite the entire staff under a single vision, the final effect always pays off. 

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