Saki: Episode Of Side A (cont.)

October 12, 2013

At least it didn’t take years. When the sequel spin-off to the mahjong anime series somewhat ended abruptly, it was announced that there were going to be additional episodes to end the all important semi-final match but without telling the dates of those episodes. So after around half a year or so, Saki: Episode Of Side A or also known as Saki: Achiga Hen has finally come to a close with 4 additional episodes. I clearly remember that I wasn’t into this mahjong game because of all the crazy terms and hands. I never understood a single one of them. So I had no idea about the scoring system or the impact if they landed a certain hand at certain positions. It took away the fun. There was no fun. So why am I watching this? Because I love to finish what I started. It is a good thing that no more episodes came out after that. That would be tad sad. I would be screaming my head off and pulling out my hairs. Considering if I am still sticking to my belief of finishing what I started. And even before the series started, I already had an idea who is going to make it (just like I predicted in my last blog). So let me get over this mahjong game for one last time. I’ve sit through 2 seasons of it so how bad can it get?

Episode 13
As the second match begins, Harue starts playing matches with Kuro so that she could revive her dora. By the time she has played enough games, she will have that dora feature by the time Achiga reaches the finals. In the second round, the match pitches Achiga’s Yuu with Senriyama’s Izumi Nijou, Shiraitodai’s Sumire Hirose and Shindouji’s Yasuko Yasukouchi. Yasuko seems to be making big wins, a very different playing style from what is previously known from her as she usually goes for cheap wins. At the same time, Sumire the sharp shooter is targeting Izumi and has her stepping into her trap and lose big. Yuu remembers Harue once told her that if she makes it to the finals, her opponent would most likely be Sumire. How true that has become. She has pulled some strings and has got several play records and videos on her. There is a sign to tell whom Sumire is targeting and you can know if you carefully watch her finger followed by her eye movement. Yuu realizes she is Sumire’s next target and learning from this valuable information, not only she manages to dodge Sumire’s attacks but let her to be played into her hand as well. Not once, but many times. The other Shiraitodai girls wonder if Sumire has a telltale sign that is allowing Yuu to circumvent her attacks. They try to look into the replays but couldn’t find anything. At the end of the game, Senriyama suffered very heavy losses. So disheartened Izumi had become that she spaces out. She can’t bear to go back to face her other members but her fellow comrade Sera tells her not to think too much. They always have next year. Even though Sera is in her third year, it’s all the more reason why they have to go all out and do their best. Wow. After the first game that lasted for several episodes, this one just lasted for half an episode!!! Surprise, surprise.

So the third round begins. Players for this round include Achiga’s Ako, Shiratodai’s Takami Shibuya and Shindouji’s Hitomi Ezaki (blame politics!). Izumi goes back to her team’s room and is told by her comrade that age does matter in the finals so it is no surprise that first years like Izumi will get beaten up by third year players. Of course there are exceptions with first year geniuses. Too bad Izumi isn’t one of them. At the end of the first half of this round, Sera is raking up the points and wins quickly while Hitomi further falls behind. Ako returns to her room and they discuss about Takami. Based on her record, she has this history of pulling off some yakuman hand in the final round. They know it is not coincidence but there is a pattern to it. They know the kind of draws and hands not to make in order to not let Takami get in that situation but it is easier said than done. The match resumes and Ako finds herself in unfavourable positions. She has no choice but to carry on playing. Sera also continues her winnings till Senriyama takes over Achiga for second spot in the current standings. Though, there are a handful of times Ako is able to stop Sera’s hand. Now it comes down to the final hand and they are expecting Takami to pull off her yakuman. Yeah. She too is anticipating the seeds she has sown will now turn into plants and bear fruit.

Episode 14
Ako has a really bad hand does some analyzing but it’s too late because Takami has already pulled off her hand with some daisangen. At the end of the match, Sera scores the most followed by Ako. Although Takami won big in the last round, the overall score for Shiraitodai still dropped. Losing lots of points is of course Hitomi. Blame politics! And now for the fourth round. Arata will represent Achiga while the very analytical Hiroko represents Senriyama. If Shiraitodai had an archer, this time they have a fisher! I don’t really understand but as explained Seiko Matano will call 3 times before winning. And true enough for the first round, she fishes out her tiles and draws first blood. For Shindouji, Mairu Shirouzu seems to have this link with Himeko Tsuruhime. Their wins are linked and Himeko always plays after Mairu. In that way, Himeko’s wins are doubled but if Mairu doesn’t win, Himeko won’t. In other words, if Mairu limits herself not to win a particular hand, Himeko also won’t win that hand. Geddit? I think… So I guess that is what this ‘torture’ scene whereby Mairu puts a limit on herself, tries to release herself from chains and sends the winning key to Himeko. I just don’t get it. We take a short break from the battleground to see Hajime and Koromo visiting Saki in her room. They talk about Nodoka and remember she had a childhood friend back in Achiga because they played them during their training stint. Seems they ended up making Achiga stronger and warn to beware their fifth player who is somewhat ‘problematic’. Harue calls Shizuno to warm up her game and she doesn’t just want to go up a gear but 10 gears!

While Mairu continues her reservation release thingy, Seiko falls into Hiroko’s trap. Before they know it, the quietest girl whom they seem to ignore from the very start, makes her move. Arata pounces on them with some bowling move. You throw a tile like throwing a bowling ball? What kind of style is that? I guess this is the price to pay for not noticing her. Hiroko doesn’t have much data on her but even if she had little, she notices her old fashioned playing style due to some long hiatus or someone she looked up a long time ago. Seiko further falls into Hiroko’s trap and Mairu continues to get more ‘winning keys’ for Himeko. Hiroko is closing in on Arata and thinks she can pip her to second place. Everyone thinks they are safe from Arata as long as it is anything but circle tiles. But she surprises with a different move and causes them to lose lots of points. Flashback of Arata tells us why she was chosen because of her level headedness. She didn’t realize the responsibility and expectations she shouldered till she went through lots of such situations. It was the support of her people that made her pulled through. People entrusted her with things. She is here because of their feelings. She wondered if Harue went through something similar. So with this shocking move, she has closed Achiga’s gap with Shiraitodai at the top. A direct mangan hit could well put her in top spot. Now everyone is wary of Arata. Mairu needs to go reckless because the little points she’s got won’t change anything. Hiroko thinks of playing it safe when she realizes a rare data she remembered on Arata. Her old fashioned playing style is from Harue as well as a mix of her own. She realizes the sentiments of Achiga in the semi-finals. The strong wills the pupils are mustering for their teacher. It is revenge 10 years in the making.

Episode 15
Toki is recuperating well in hospital and even has a wise crack. The fourth round ends with Shiraitodai barely clinging on to top spot and Achiga close on their heels. Shizuno is fired up to go next but first she is made to put on her school uniform. Even the most tomboyish girls did that when they enter the battlefield. So accompanying Shizuno for the final match are Shindouji’s Himeko, Senriyama’s Ryuuka Shimizudani and Shiraitodai’s Awai Oohoshi who is said to be Teru’s successor. Instantly as the match begins, Awai unleashes her demonic aura. It makes everyone start with a bad and slow hand. Wow. Is this possible? But Himeko takes a chance and decides to use her mangan key and break the spell. This proves fruitful as her baiman gets Shindouji out from last place and into second. Ryuuka is low on confidence. If only Toki was here. Flashback of their bonds together and she feels that their bond too is unbreakable. Because Toki always uses her lap as a lap pillow, she can still feel Toki’s presence. And yeah. More like Toki’s spirit comes to talk to her and give her hints on the current round! Ryuuka is able to see into the future and the best tiles for the current round. However she can’t use Toki often as there is a limit to how many times she can call her for help. There’s always a limit to every super power, eh? Following the guides, Ryuuka is able to make up some points and because all the teams are very close together, any big win will have them leap into first place. For now, Senriyama is occupying that spot and dethrones Shiraitodai. But that will only be a brief moment since Himeko strikes back and reclaims top spot.

Awai couldn’t hold it in much longer and wants to unleash her specialty. Something that was supposed to be saved for the grand finals. I guess she couldn’t wait since she is playing with top players. Seems this double riichi call of hers must be so great that her hair is standing on ends! It’s like she’s in friction land! Did she turn into some kind of hair monster? Shizuno notices Awai’s double riichi and it is coming. She remembers Harue telling her about Awai. Shiraitodai consists of multiple teams and those who win get to advance to the Nationals. Awai who is under Teru’s team is an attacking team which means her abilities are offensive nature. She also shows a video of her opponent’s facial reaction moments before Awai declared her double riichi. It’s like she saw a ghost!!! That scary, huh? Why do they have cameras focusing on the girl’s face anyway? Harue also warns there are several things to look out for when a double riichi is called. And looks like Awai is already setting it in motion. Shizuno makes a wise move in backing down because had she not like Himeko, she would have fallen into her trap and lost points. Shiraitodai moves back up. It is predicted that Awai will win in the next few rounds but it seems nothing much happens. Till Shizuno pulls off a shocking move that has her opponents starting to take notice of her. With that move, it allows Achiga to go top and avoid some penalty. First half is over too. After the short break, the battle to decide the 2 schools that will advance to the finals begins.

Episode 16
Awai is back on the offensive with her riichi and double riichi call. But Himeko won’t give up yet and uses her mangan key to fight stave off Awai. As some have already noticed, Awai’s power is not totally invincible because there are some hands that she doesn’t win. Even Seiko herself mentions she did beat that double riichi of hers though it was a despicable tactic. Awai continues he win over Himeko. Hiroko talks to us about mountains and corners in the mahjong tiles, something she just observed that prevented Awai from winning. Then we shift a little to Shizuno’s flashback whereby she was running around the mountains at full speed like as though it was her own backyard. So what is the significance of these? According to Hiroko, due to the eyes of the dies that Awai won her double riichi games, the dice decide where the corner will be. So certain numbers will mean the corners are deep in the wall and this means they are under Shizuno’s territory. I don’t get that. Seriously. It really is her territory when the scene starts to get misty. Awai can’t see clearly and she can’t use her usual power. It forces her to take notice of Shizuno. And she’s starting to be afraid of her that she dropped her tile! There’s fire aura coming out from Shizuno!!! But Shizuno is one cool cat! Because of Shizuno’s influence, Awai’s power seems to be waning. Himeko and Ryuuka start noticing this. Ryuuka heightens her senses to the max. Hmm… She can see body temperature, heart beat and breathing. I don’t know how that enables her to see the opponent’s next tile or move. Shizuno surprises everyone by going for a cheap win. Himeko is feeling the strain of getting lost in the mountains is affecting her bond with Mairu. Going into the final round, suddenly it hit Awai. Achiga currently is in top spot while Shiraitodai in dead last. Due to some circumstances and Shizuno’s cheap win, even if Awai direct hits Shizuno, she will be tied in points with Achiga. And because of dealer preference, Achiga will rank higher than Shiraitodai which means they will end up in third. Dragging Achiga down from first is impossible now. She can’t even do double riichi on her last hand.

But Awai realizes it would be an insult to aim for second place just to qualify for the finals and will give it all she’s got to aim for top spot. Her dilemma is to whether to declare riichi. The rest are just one move from winning their game. Then Awai declares riichi, thinking winning off Achiga or drawing will put her in first place (unless she calls some hand that ends up with that draw points and dealer order preference thingy). Just when Awai makes her winning move, Shizuno tells her to check her tiles. Awai thinks Shizuno hasn’t accepted defeated and checks anyway. To her surprise, it wasn’t the tiles she expected. Those tiles mean she isn’t in her territory. I don’t know what that means but I know the game has ended! Yahoo! The semi-finals ended for good! Yahoo! Safe to say, Achiga is through to the finals at top spot while Shiraitodai sneaks in at second place. It is a tearful goodbye for Senriyama and Shindouji team but you know, you-did-your-best comfort thingy. Harue becomes emotional that she has finally overcome this stage. Since teams who qualify for the finals have the right to visit the different stage that they will be playing, Achiga takes this chance to have a look. Harue is surprised to see her pro mahjong colleague. Harue is not afraid like before because she has the Achiga girls behind her. That’s when she decides that she wants to try her hand at being a pro player. Shizuno and co rejoice at her decision while the other semi-finals that involve Kiyosumi get ready to play.

Is This Mahjong They’re Playing?
In the end… I never get it! Not a single bit. The scoring, the terms, the analysis and the possibility of the outcomes of their hands (especially those explained by Hiroko). Even when I used terms like baiman, riichi, yakuman and the likes in this blog, I still don’t really understand the meaning behind them. It is regrettable that I sometimes feel that I have wasted my time watching something that I do not fully comprehend but on the bright side, I managed to finish this series! Wohoo! What an achievement! A feat in the wrong department… But all is not bad because the only thing that I truly enjoyed and never cease to be amazed is the exaggerated special effects. Yes! The way they throw the tiles and the aura they emanate seem to make it funny. I know they mean serious business but look at it from my point of view. They’re just playing mahjong, right? Wow. So much of these power ups and special effects just to win some hand. The thundering and lightning effects, the tile on flames, the different dimensions that they go to and yeah, even a little visit from a friend’s spirit. Ridiculous, no? It’s like they’re not playing mahjong but in some supernatural game that looks like mahjong. Get what I’m saying? Anyway, those special effects are the best moments in making me smile in what would have been a very dull and draggy game. Besides, I think this is the main reason why this show is ‘exciting’. It’s spiced up with lots of those effects. You don’t want to see just girls making normal plain boring moves, right?

As expected, Achiga and Shiraitodai advance to the finals. But during the episodes, I feel that Achiga’s presence from all their representatives feels lacking. I think they try to give the other teams have more screen time and not focus too much on Achiga since each one of them have their peculiar special ability. In a sense it is quite well spread out but seeing that this anime series is about Achiga, in a way it feels that they are just sitting around until they make some surprise move or one that would give their opponents a little jolt. Just like how in the original TV series I remember, Kuro was reduced to some ‘useless cry-baby’ with the might of Teru dominating almost all the way and Toki using her life threatening ability to stop her. I thought Shizuno would be making more impact since she is the fifth player and what I believe to be the ace. However it was spread out with Awai dominating in her freaky monstrous fashion way while Himeko and Ryuuka try to put the brakes on her. I know it is tough having to settle for second place but at least they qualified for the finals. Just like the fate of screen time among the Achiga girls, it is somewhat limited till that mountain backyard crap kicked it. Not that I fully understand. Yeah. Mahjong is like the wilderness. If you don’t understand it, you can get lost and lose your life.

In the end, it is a good thing that I never got hooked on mahjong. Because as I said this game in my country is viewed as a gambler’s game. Gamblers have a bad reputation, you know. It’s bad being a gambler anyway. It is a bad thing that I did not pick this up because from the way I see the girls play, it keeps your mind sharp, analytical of all the possibilities and makes you good in calculation. If there is going to be another sequel whereby our main characters from Kiyosumi and Achiga meet in the finals, I’m not sure if I want to watch it. I know it is for the sake of finishing and completing this series as a whole. But what are the chances? I don’t want to go through another season of cracking my brains so hard and end up understanding nothing and only getting lots of headache. Hah. How can I even hurt my brains when I don’t even have them. Haha! Better watch more mindless ecchi comedy series. I think those provide better food to my brain.

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