Saki Nationals – continuing from the prequel known as ‘Saki’ highlights the national arc of competitors as they fight with pride. But to trace back a bit, you might be asking yourself the question: why should I continue to watch Saki? After all, it’s about mahjong, a Chinese game involving four people sitting in a chair moving little board pieces. But to see through this setup is easy once you get into the show as Japan has transformed the mahjong into an art. A beautiful art that requires innovative minds, guts, and skill to surpass the limits of yourself.
Basing off the manga of the same
name, Saki Nationals details the events of Kiyosumi team at the National tournament, a prestigious event held to test the limits of the players. Of the schools selected includes Miyamori, Eisui All-Girls, Himematsu, and Rinkai All-Girls, Achiga, and Shiraitodai. As with most tournaments go, competitions is to be expected and Saki Nations delivers that with our competitors. Or should I say, cute girls?
As a continuation, the series assumes that you are already familiarized with the style of Saki. Chances are if you’re watching this, you probably want to see who will survive and prevail in this national arc. After all, it’s a battle of wits, skill, and testament to see who comes out to the best of the best. Director Manabu Ono returns to craft this season’s story. With his innovative skills already demonstrated from his work from the previous seasons, expect a similar style of presentation. And by that, I mean a tournament of extravaganza. You see, mahjong isn’t exactly a game similar to basketball where you move around often or requires teamwork. Rather, you sit down in a seat and have 3 other competitors not sitting more than 5 feet away from you. The tension is there and stress soon kicks in especially when it’s your turn. But for a show like Saki, it clearly and skillfully engineers this concept by transforming it into a product of eccentricity. By that means, it creates an atmosphere of energy and anticipation. Every competitor makes unpredictable moves and pulls tricks out of their hats from different angles.
For what’s worth, there are a lot of characters in the Saki universe. Sure, the titular character Saki is perhaps the most prominent competitor. She demonstrates it too later on in the tournament. Yet, there are other characters such as Hatsumi, Jindai, Koromo, Yuuki, Toyone, Kasumi, Nodoka, among others who shows off their skills. The National Arc highlights these competitors and demonstrate performances at their best. Furthermore, it cleverly uses various flashbacks to effectively show their purpose of being there. The anime furthers this performance by throwing in anime original scenes to illustrate connections. And connections is an important in the Saki world. Even when your teammates aren’t physically there, they are behind the scenes supporting you. A tournament of gameplay with team support backbone clearly shows the strong bond each player has with their school. Saki National pulls that off beautifully. After all, friendship and a strong bond is also a key to motivating one’s self to win; not just for yourself but for your team.
And beautiful as it is, most of the girls are designed as such with bishoujo characteristics. It also demonstrates a case of gimmick that matches each player/team’s style of play. In essence, there is a decent diversity of players involved in the tournament, with some making more prominent stands than others. The intense battle aura that fills each match also colors what’s it is like to be there. You can almost feel like part of yourself is there with them. Whether it seems normal or abnormal with their superhuman like maneuvers, these girls takes mahjong to a whole new level. Each of the characters has her own signature move that captures their moment of stardom. The so-called ‘monsters’ also have their own superpowers. These superpowers ranges from a variety of advantages such as luck, precognition, and sensory intuition. It will draw your attention despite how unrealistic it may seem to be. The only draw side is perhaps the show ceases to explore these powers by their origins as in where it came from.
For a mahjong game with such hyperactive energy, the show retains its realism in terms of gameplay. That means, the series sticks to yourself with the real life mechanics behind mahjong. Unfortunately, the series also expects you to understand the concepts of the game. In other words, it takes no time to go into details of what each move means. As a strategic game that requires thought, this could come as a backlash for those who are less knowledgeable about mahjong. There’s no cheat sheet so coming into this series without any prior knowledge of mahjong may lessen your experience.
A show like Saki Nationals has both its fun and serious atmosphere. On the fun side would be the girls during their break times. The beginning episodes of the season drags a little with an introduction of the competitors. Furthermore, not all the competitors gets a chance to shine. In essence, it may come as a disappointment if your favorite character in the show didn’t step up to the plate. Also to note is the fan service that can come as distracting. Some of the girls have breasts that will raise eyebrows while camera angles points to suggestive angles on occasions. Additionally, there are some yuri-undertones throughout the show that can be charming yet distractive. Luckily, the show does manage to overcome this with more comical moments, even during matches. There’s a balance of pacing between these moments that focuses on will, in a way that draw in attention for its creativity.
The artwork remains tolerant and still generally the same. Gameplay sequences retains its energetic moments and showy displays. Signature moves also calls out for moments that captures its specialty with remarkable highlights. It puts not only the competitors but potentially the audience at the edge of their seats. Diversity also brings out the character designs for the show. Each team has their own style of clothing. For example, Eisui school members are dressed in shrine maiden clothes. Yuuki’s signature came gives her motivation while characters such as Toyone invites a dark aura surrounding her outlook. On the other hand, background remains average and the tournament itself isn’t anything specially designed to write home about.
Mahjong doesn’t need music to highlight the style of the show. But when you have cute girls displaying superpowers, there’s a need to perform a distinctive OST to match that style. Luckily, this show pulls that marvelously. This is demonstrated during scenes when signature moves are pulled out, moments of strategizing thought, and charming flashbacks. But for what’s worth, the OST only pulls this out effectively during key moments. On most standards, it can be obscure. Similarly, the OP and ED song are charming but isn’t anything Oscar level worthy. Some of the characters voices such also has distinctive tone and catchy phrases such as Satomi’s ‘wahaha’. Other characters such as Yuuki’s voice can seem childish or even monotonous in cases of Saki herself.
Given the chance, Saki Nationals is a series that shines with the strength of its characters. They have transformed the game of mahjong into a medium of entertainment to an unimaginative level. Although it obstructs realism, the show seizes every moment to deliver thrilling moments of gameplay. And through connections, it’s easy to see why some of the characters are there in the first place. But do be aware of the concept of mahjong or you’ll find yourself digging a hole of questions. Furthermore, the fan service can be a distraction. And because this show is only 1 cour, expect some parts cut off from the manga. But yet, Saki Nationals still demonstrates that mahjong is no practical game to mess with. Believe that.
Hmm, I am particularly vexed at what I saw at Saki: Nationals. However, I'd be best to practice prudence and avoid spilling some spoilers. As usual, I'll start in my usual review format.
Story is somewhat mouthwatering. It's the nationals, folks! As a direct sequel to the 2009 prequel. There's a lot of directive-ness and I was so glad that even after a long wait, a seemingly closure is somewhat reasonable to expect. Though, that is with regards to the adaptation reference. I am not particularly a fan of Saki manga and I only saw some chapters whenever I whimsically browse for randoms and this is
the case why I ignorantly set a high expectation from the very first episode which is personally aggravating. I had no idea that was it all can offer.
Well, but in regards to the content, I am fascinated. I am not really a seasoned mahjong player but as far as I can remember, I have played over a thousand games as well. Not as a profession but just a pastime. My grandma who lives in the boonies often gathers her friends on a weekly basis and they played like 5-8 hours mahjong party and as I child, I often sneaked in and watched them play until I became a part of the mahjong table one day. Well one thing is, I do find the wonders Saki brought in the story. They're particularly occult and not feasible but of course, this is fiction so why not let a little imagination mess up with you, right?
Content-wise, Saki 2014's have upgraded what they offered in their prequel. Newly high-level adversaries, newly tile effects, newly twists, it has all the factors to draw the fans from the original and I must say, they've succeeded and set themselves as a proper sequel. The pacing was still the same as ever, a day-by-day coverage which is I think a lot better than using a time-skip.
However, one point I don't find reasonable was to include a lot of flashbacks which could've added more mahjong footage instead. But well, this is still a minor and a personal rant. Don't get too much on this.
Art wise, a significant upgrade is visible. They're cuter, much more detailed, the tile effects was more awesome and the boobs, I mean, the character design upgrade is visibly better than the prequel. Why, of course, it's 2014's digital drawing. I have nothing to note here except they've done a really outstanding feature.
Sound wise, the bgms were pretty much retained. It's all about listening to the each character's bgm and their tile effects and I must say, bravo. However, I am not particularly drawn by the OP and ED but again, this is just another personal taste based comment.
I have enjoyed Saki 2014 until I learned of the sad closure. This is a bit of a problem since telling the very fact might seem to be spoiling so I'll refrain from this. But at the very least, like I said, I enjoyed Saki 2014 like a 7 out of a 10 and still, it's a good verdict in my opinion.
Closing, Saki 2014 is all about the opening days of the Nationals where the Kiyosumi gang are threading their path to the finals. With enough twist to knock off one to his/her seat, Saki 2014 offers good story, nice background of characters(old and new), easily understandable mahjong terms, good pacing and a solid potential overall however[This part will be hard to maintain a spoiler-free run and I apologize for it, this is my limit]... I am somewhat betrayed. Almost 5 years after it's prequel, I thought they are offering a taste of what is going to be the sister's feud conclusion but instead, they did it again. Inserting another teaser preview in hopes they will get another continuation.
Personally, I still want more of a conclusive closure or rather, I hope there's still more to come in the future but as we all know, most of the titles who ends up getting cut at their highest peak of hype often gets the short end of the stick. I am diligently praying Saki won't be one of them.