Okay okay, I confess, I give up... Saki has finally won me over come the end of this series. After rolling my eyes and pouring scorn on the various daft premises that make up this show in previous reviews, as we moved into the second half of this series I noted something rather odd - Suddenly every weekend on a Sunday evening I was left on the edge of my seat by a mixture of tension and excitement, occasionally even shouting at my monitor or punching the air in glee. Just what happened to me? More importantly, what happened to Saki to elicit such responses?
For starters though, I really need to make it abundantly clear that Saki is no less daft throughout much of its second half, with just as many unlikely mahjong hands and "special powers" as ever, illustrated in ways which could outdo the likes of Naruto and Bleach. However, once you drill down past these oddities, you're left with some genuinely compelling mahjong "action". Yes, it's just a bunch of girls sat around a table and fiddling with tiles, but there's a lot to be said for the way this series manages to mould this otherwise sedate game into a thing of intense excitement, ramping up the tension and nerves as the second half of the series covers both the team and individual prefectural qualifying tournament before cruelly leaving us hanging come the end of the series on the cusp of the national tournament itself.
All of this excitement also serves to actually build up a relationship with some of the show's instantly recognisable characters where the series itself has failed to do so - While episodes often veer off into telling the stories of some of the girls at the qualifiers and their particular friendships or tales of woe, you can't help but end up picking your favourites and cheering them on to win simply on account of having someone to support in a given match, never mind who they want to be their friend. This leaves us with a rather odd state of affairs where Saki's efforts to get to the emotional crux of the various girls and their friendships more often than not fall flat, while the arguably secondary purpose of the show in the form of the game of mahjong takes all the plaudits.
Still, if you don't mind this imbalance and can live with sitting through the attempts at character building employed by the series (as well as occasional bouts of fan service towards the end of the series as it runs out of steam), there's actually quite a lot to like here - Even aside from all of the tension and excitement Saki can be fun to watch if you're in the right frame of mind, and despite my initial misgivings I have to confess I'm now leading the cries for a second season of the show - Judging by the fans reaction to the series in Japan, I'm sure I'm not the only one either.
Considering that this particular anime has streaked ahead of the manga on which it is based (which is still stuck in the final game of the prefectural qualifiers), it does a surprisingly good job at moving the story forward notably to its temporary conclusion - Perhaps the popularity of this anime is enough to save the ailing Gonzo into the bargain? Only time will tell us the answer to that question, but the prospect of a second season of Saki is as good a reason as any to cross your fingers for their survival.
At the time of writing, Saki can be viewed in streaming format from Crunchyroll - The entire series is now available to be viewed on the site by premium members, with 24 episodes available free to all members.
Japanese audio, English subtitles - Available in Standard Definition, 480P and 720P streaming resolutions.