Readers, are your brains okay?
Ehem. Keeping things short and simple as I will be very busy until next week.
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.
Notice how Maho’s familiar/staff is drooling… It does not look very reliable. Just like Maho herself, I suppose.
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).
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.
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…
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.)
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
The calm before the storm has ended, and things are looking to heat up coming next week! Till then!