What They Say:
It’s the start of the Nationals, and there are many teams with strong players aiming for the top spot. Kuro Matsumi is the first from Achiga to play in the competition. Her challengers think she is weak, but she will show them the Dragon Road.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
So, will we finally get some mahjong? Maybe, but first we have some quiet time as we build up to the first match. We see the girls of Achiga in their off time, waiting for their first match. Kuro has it together as usual, while Ako and Shizuno are a bit on the sleepy side. Coach Arado, however, doesn’t let them waste time on sightseeing or other frivolous things. They’re here to win a tournament, and so she puts them to work studying the matches of the three schools against whom they will be competing in the first round.
For a very brief period, the show turns away from Achiga and turns into Saki. We see Nodoka and Yuuki in the bath having a chat, and even get another cameo as the cat girl from Kazekoshi, Ikeda, shows up. Then we have the first speaking lines from the title character herself (and strange as it may be, she’s still the title character of this series, technically), who is basically hanging out doing laundry. Kyoutarou, Kiyosumi’s lackey, comes and talks to her. Saki seems very focused and determined and she probably is, wanting badly to meet her sister.
Enough build up. It’s time for the first round and Achiga is up against tough determined teams. And once again, we get precious little mahjong. It’s not like we need the wall-to-wall mahjong of the original series, but part of the interest value for this franchise was that we get to see something we don’t often see too much of in the West, which is Japanese-style mahjong being played. All we are given is a few minutes of Kuro playing her game, which is determined by her ability to attract dora tiles to herself. So, Kuro’s supernatural ability, already noted before, is confirmed again, and it helps her to run up the score heavily against her opponents. I wonder why they even bother to introduce the names of the other high schools and their players; the mahjong is over so quickly, you could miss it if you needed a bathroom break and forgot to pause the video.
Afterwards, we get more out of competition activity. We see the girls from Senriyama, including the sickly Toki, who is wrapped up in a sheet and lazing about, head on Ryuuka’s lap. We are being shown them just as we saw Bansei’s players briefly highlighted, since they are in the next group that Achiga has to play. Sad to say, if things hold true to form, it’s largely a waste of our time again, introducing characters who will disappear quite quickly, as it’s clear that Achiga is going to go far. After all, it’s only episode 4, and even if there were only, say, 12 episodes (I haven’t checked what the exact number of planned episodes is), you need to get to that number.
And that, perhaps, is the one serious weak point of this series in comparison to the first one. In Saki, we had a lot of time to learn much about not only Kiyosumi, but also about its competitors Kazekoshi, Ryuumonbuchi, and Tsuruga. The Nara tournament lasted long enough that we could take the time to care about certain characters and what happened to them. Thus, it brought a smile to my face to see Touka and Koromo again last episode, and another small one to see Ikeda come in, along with the girls of Kiyosumi (though not all of them are back really, as we have not yet had a word from Mako or Hisa. Perhaps they were too busy chasing heaven on earth or something like that, though if that were the case, they would have taken Yuuki with them).
There isn’t enough exposure time to develop any feelings about anyone we see in Episode of Side A, and that goes for Achiga as much as their opponents. We’ve barely spent any time with the girls of Achiga, and yet many other girls, their opponents, are given the spotlight briefly and then just as quickly disappear. This constant change makes me rather restless, restless to just get back to the “real” Saki, the girls of Kiyosumi. That’s not fair at all to the girls of Achiga, but then I feel this is the fault of the writers. I understand, this show is only a single season long, so they have half the number of episodes which the original series had, and that forces their hand. But the effect is getting to the point where I’m starting to lose concern for Shizuno’s quest, since I’m being bombarded with so many girls, some of whom are getting more screen time than the ostensible main characters, only to have them disappear after one episode. It may have been thought impossible, but it is possible to have too many cute girls thrown at you, to the point where you stop noticing and stop caring. That’s not good, considering what the main draw of this show is.
We get into the National Tournament, but there are two problems which I feel are emerging in this series: first, there is very little mahjong. While we probably do not need the endless mahjong play that dominated the original series at times, it is perhaps the one unique element of the entire Saki franchise, so it would be good if they provided a bit more of it. Second, while plenty of time is taken to show the girls away from the mahjong table, there is no focus to these non-competition moments. We have barely gotten to know the girls of Achiga (I feel that Shizuno and Ako are largely ciphers, and the others are not much more deeply developed), but we keep on getting introduced to more and more girls from different teams. Each one only gets so much time and none of that time at the mahjong table. It’s at the point where I begin to stop caring to some degree what happens to the characters, since I don’t know them. That’s not a good thing.
Streamed by: Crunchyroll
Apple iMac with 4GB RAM, Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard