Anime Review: Saki, the Nationals

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This is the Saki series’ third season and fourth arc (if you count Saki: Episode of Side-A) for the anime. With Saki Miyanaga and the Kiyosumi girls’ victory at the Interhigh Mahjong regional championship in Nagano, the story continues where they left off as they enter the Nationals!

Saki: the Nationals (Saki Zenkoku-hen) is essentially a warm-up for the events to come at this National championship. Let’s face it though: for as long as the series is, we are lucky to have as much character development as this series has! One thing that original writer Ritz Kobayashi does best is devote a lot of attention to all of the perspectives that go on in this tournament. The quarterfinal match featured in this part of the arc is no exception.

The girls of Saki: the Nationals, as depicted by a white board drawing

The girls of Saki: the Nationals, as depicted by a white board drawing by Aislynn Wishart (Miyamori)

I honestly believe that getting perspective from all of the girls is the strength of this series. With 15+ new girls featured in the quarterfinals, we learn everything from their strange abilities to their motivations when playing Mahjong. It may or may not surprise you at this point, but there have been times I honestly wished some of these girls could win.

Miyamori’s team, specifically, is my favorite team over all in this arc. All of the girls are third years who are participating in this national tournament together for the first and last time. Aislynn Wishart, their second seat, drew the picture shown above. But what truly makes their team shine is Toyone Anetai, the fifth seat, who has monster-level abilities related to the good and bad luck days on the Japanese calendar, which caught Saki and the other girls off guard many times! But despite her tallness and her supernatural skills, she embodies the friendship that extends through this tournament.

The Miyamori Girls’ team is very similar to the Achiga Girls’ team in many ways, such as how friendship got them as far as it did, and that their seemingly makeshift team has gotten them to debut at the national tournament.

The Achiga Girls' team, from Saki's perspective, makes reference to the same scene in Saki: Episode of Side-A

The Achiga Girls’ team, from Saki’s perspective, makes reference to the same scene in Saki: Episode of Side-A

I really like this series, but I can’t judge it fairly as a standalone series. There are a lot of references in this arc that are related to the spin-off series Saki: Episode of Side-A as well as to the previous arcs. If you’re new to the Saki series, I suggest starting with the original series. However, if you’ve never read the manga, it’s decent enough to not only stand on its own, but in my opinion, it’s probably better.

In this particular arc, there are a lot of scenes that embellish on the events that occur in the manga. One thing I think was amazing was Saki’s flashback when she thinks about her sister, Teru. As far as I can tell from everything before this arc, Teru is supposed to be the girl you’re supposed to hate in this series, and I always wondered why Saki is so hell-bent on trying to bring her to the light. In a flashback that occurs in the last episode of this arc (ep. 13), we meet a new character from her past that might have ties to the development of the Miyanaga family feud.

Teru Miyanaga in Saki: the Nationals

Teru Miyanaga in Saki: the Nationals

Finally, there is one reference that only the manga followers might know about which has led me to predict an interesting outcome that will appear in the Finals of this extended Interhigh National tournament. Two of the Pro Commentators at a bar, which is a reference to the pilot to Shinohayu: Dawn of Age, a prequel to the Saki manga that follows the pro players and coaches when they were in a particular National Mahjong tournament as children! I’ve read the first six chapters so far, and I have to say there is probably something tragic but sentimental that brought all of the players together.

Commentator Hayari Mizuhara greets Yoshiko Kainou, kicking off the Shinohayu story line.

Commentator Hayari Mizuhara greets Yoshiko Kainou, kicking off the Shinohayu story line.

That scene is definitely a reference to a possible production of a Shinohayu animation, but if anything, the events of Shinohayu will come full circle in the current Saki canon!

Fans know that Saki: the Nationals is just a warm-up to the Semifinals on Kiyosumi’s side and, of course, the Final round when Kiyosumi [though not technically set in stone] will challenge Shiraitodai for the championship. However, with all the developments along the way and the attention to detail, from the story execution to the visuals and the score, I enjoyed every minute of it!

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