Saki Episode 2
I finally got around to watching it. I liked this episode a lot better than the previous one, truth be told, mainly because the characters were all fleshed out a little bit and there wasn’t as much fanservice or pointless, poorly executed yuri moments. Now then, you might be thinking something along the lines of “is it possible to have poorly executed yuri?” No? Well I was when I was watching the episode. Anyway, I’d say that whether yuri is well or not well executed is a matter of personal opinion; there’s no subjective measure of whether it’s tastefully done or not and I just felt that it was a little bit jarring to have Saki x Nodoka, complete with luminescent blushes and bubbly backgrounds, for no apparent reason from the very beginning of the first episode. This differs, in my view, from Nanoha where it wasn’t so overstated and kept strictly to subtext and Strike Witches where in the scope of all the other fanservice that was going on, the yuri subtext was only a minor part of the anime even if it was equally as jarring. Plus “flying in formation” is one of my favorite euphemisms of the past decade.
The measure by which fanservice is pointless is another subjective point. You could say that all fanservice is pointless. On the other hand, if one character is earmarked as a designated service vehicle then a certain degree of it is to be expected and thus, in my mind, it cannot be said to be pointless anymore. That said, excessive amounts of it will still classify as pointless. Much like this tangent.
As for the story itself, Saki transformed almost overnight from a character I found really irritating to a character that I could almost be impressed by for her skill (?) at Mahjong. Mainly because she stopped insisting that she didn’t care about mahjong at all. Nodoka also had what I consider to be a crowning moment of awesome:
“I love mahjong. So it’s really painful to lose to you. Because you don’t even like mahjong!”
In that single, defining instant, I found myself identifying with her completely. It was almost like a technician vs. performer, a talent vs. effort dichotomy playing out before me. People have told me that I have talent, although I don’t think so, but I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. I’ve been able to play at piano recitals to a degree of competence equal to the top-ranked performers in my class with half the practice. I’ve been beaten by those same performers in competitions precisely BECAUSE I only put in half the practice. I really feel for the injustice of the people in anime and TV shows who work hard but are then just beaten with contemptuous ease by people with more “talent”, it really tugs at my heart for whatever reason. Basically that one quote cuts to the heart of why I disliked Saki in the first place. She literally did not enjoy winning up until she joined the club and played only to draw with such formidable skill. It completely flies in the face of my belief that there is not a single person in the world who doesn’t enjoy winning. My worldview doesn’t account for someone like her.
I know someone in real life, among my wargaming group, who repeatedly insists that he doesn’t care about winning at all and every time I win against him I feel like an asshole for caring. It’s not like I abuse the rules and use only top tier tournament lists or anything. Maybe I’m just letting all the jokes about Legion being a cheese army get to me. As they say in 40k, “blessed is the mind too small for doubt”. So, coming back from that little tangent, Saki’s personality touched a pretty big nerve because of the knot of complex issues and personality conflicts surrounding the idea of competition and playing to win vs. playing to have fun in my mind. I was happy to see that she decided to become a bit more of a normal person who plays mahjong, enjoys it, enjoys winning, and has a healthy competition with a skilled rival.
In theory anyway. It looks like I won’t drop Saki just yet, but for it to get its own category it’s going to have to work a bit harder.