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« Saki: Achiga-hen episode of Side-A – 15

Saki: Achiga-hen episode of Side-A – 16 (END)

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「軌跡」 (Kiseki)
“The Path”

A stirring end to the Saki: Achiga-hen episode of Side-A story. Finally, we get to see what Shizu can do on the big stage.

Running Through the Mountains

Awai went on multiple tears, Ryuuka had great moments, and of course Shindouji’s Himeko came out with that counted yakuman, but this episode was all Shizu’s show. The change in her was so stark that it was almost off-putting – almost all traces of the genki girl who nearly screwed the pooch with a mistake back in episode 07 were gone as this brand new, serene Shizu took control of the match. I honestly think the change in her characterization was too abrupt – this is something that should have been hinted at beforehand better, which is what the Saki series has done with every other character I can think of. That said, there was an undeniable air of…unfeeling distance, I suppose, that meshed very well with the mountain concept. In that, though it was perhaps a bit abrupt, Shizu’s change characterization was done quite well.

The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

It’s hard for me to call Shizu a monster, like I have with Teru, Awai, Koromo, the titular Saki, and so many others. Not because Shizu isn’t at that level, but because this menace in her actions has more in common with the unfeeling, unhuman cruelty of nature than the thinking actions of a monster. And cruel her power is – not only did she damn near break Awai (and now has the Shiraitodai blonde gunning for her neck!), but she even threatened to sever the connection between the Shindouji pair. It just didn’t feel like it came from a horrific place like the actions of Koromo or Awai. No, she has more in common with Teru there – though her actions may be cruel as she strips away control from her opponent, there is no menace in it. You don’t hate the sky for its storm, or the mountain for its avalanche; you just get buried under it and suffocate.

This led to one of the best parts of the episode – when Shizu won with a trash hand to (later) make it vastly more difficult for Awai to win. I won’t get too specific because honestly the mahjong was a bit beyond my ability to understand this episode – and that’s really the first time that has happened, which is kind of sad – but she used a combination of dealer order preference (which is used to break ties) and the lead she had obtained to restrict Awai’s options in the final hand. She had to make a big strike to advance, and Shizu made it so that fewer big hands would do the trick. Loved it!

The Last Hand – Saki Mahjong At Its Finest

Most of the episode focused on mahjong minutiae, which I found dense and a little hard to get into. The last hand, though, was Saki mahjong at its finest. We knew that Achiga and Shiraitodai were going to advance (probably, probably!), but it remained to be seen which one of them would come out on top. Before this episode, I never honestly suspected that it would be Achiga going into the finals in first place, but they did an excellent job of dialing up the drama so that the last hand was pulse-poundingly exciting. Combined with Shizu’s move that made it more difficult for Awai to win, it suddenly became Shiraitodai that was fighting to come back!

I especially got chills (and likely, a preview of what’s to come in the next series) when Awai passed up a winning hand (a sanbaiman, I believe) that would have put her not in first like she wanted, but in second. That pride may be her downfall in the end, and it came damn close to doing so now.

Still, nothing was quite as satisfying as Shizu calmly telling Awai to check the kan. Many chills were had when Shizu calmly apologized and told Awai that her territory wasn’t hers anymore – it was Shizu’s now. I love seeing protagonists scrape and claw to come out on top, but it was damn nice to see Shizu not only take down a monster, but do it with so much confidence and style. Now I’m excited to see Achiga advance to the finals. Took them long enough to get me there.

  • Final score: Achiga 108,500, Shiraitodai 99,500, Senriyama 99,100, Shindouji 92,900. Achiga wins!

Looking Ahead – The Finals!

Tears were had, both from the winners and the losers. Especially poignant were the ones shed by Harue, and the confidence she had when she met her former opponent once again. But that’s all over, and it’s onto the finals! It looks like Shizu’s ability is going to be trouble for Rinshan-chan, whose rinshan tiles are deep in the wall. Now all that remains is to see how Kiyosumi gets to the finals, so we can see how all that goes down then! Next up will be Zenkoku-hen, let’s go!

Final series impressions (again) are below.

tl;dr: @StiltsOutLoud – The final match plays out, & Shizuno finally proves why she deserves to be on that stage. Run through the mountains, Shizu #SakiAchiga

Random thoughts:

  • Yes Izumi-chan, your sempai is talking about sekuharaing your other sempai. I feel like you should be used to this by now.
  • Subara knows Tacos? Subara confirmed for best Shindouji forever. Also, dammit I’m hungry now.
  • Insert standard pimping of my new blog (Stilts Out Loud) here.

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Final Impressions

I did some final impressions back when the weekly run ended, and most of what I said there still holds true. I’ll just update them a bit for the final four episodes we’ve gotten since.

Achiga’s characters came alive more during their semifinal matches, because the story finally stopped holding them back and let us see what they could do. Arata and Shizu especially benefitted from this, as they got to do almost nothing before this, but finally got to shine here. In contrast, while Senriyama’s character suffered nothing for the extra time, they got extra competition for my heart in the form of Shindouji’s combo and the fully revealed Achiga girls. That somewhat allayed an original criticism of mine, which was that I was more partial to Senriyama than I was to Achiga. Now that all the teams are likable (even the antagonist one in Shiraitodai), we’re at a place where the original Saki always sat – with most of the characters on all competing teams being interesting and likable.

For everything else, my previous final impressions pretty much stand. Had we been getting matches like the ones in the last few episodes all throughout, Stilts would have been a very happy blogger, but there were certain storytelling flaws in the early episodes that these cannot wash away, and it has the persistent problem of being a side story that is more or less pointless. Which is fine! …But only when it’s interesting. We finally got there with the Teru match, and it has kept going since then. Fortunately, I think Zenkoku-hen can’t help but keep that up, so look forward to the next season when it appears! We’ll finally get to see Saki talk to her onee-chan, and find out whether Saki’ flower can bloom on Shizu’s ridge.

Oh, who am I kidding, Saki’s name is the series title, of course she’s going to win. I look forward to seeing how she’ll do it!

May 27, 2013 at 8:22 pm
61 comments »
  • May 27, 2013 at 8:32 pmmianghuei

    That last comment! :) Obviously, our title character is gonna win. The journey there is gonna be long through. Will Zenkoku-Hen be another 2-cour show? I certainly hope so…..

    I wonder how much destruction our protagonists are gonna wreck on their opponents….. :)

    P.S. I love Takei Hisa and her tile slamming…. now that is one way to have fun with tiles….

    • May 27, 2013 at 8:36 pm†Croos†

      Note that there is also the “Individual” tournament.

  • May 27, 2013 at 8:35 pm†Croos†

    Now you know why I put Shizu in the top most part of the ranking, @Stilts.

    • May 27, 2013 at 8:40 pmStilts

      Wait, you do those rankings Croos? I thought they were done by someone respectable! Zetsubou deshita! D:

      • May 27, 2013 at 9:06 pm†Croos†

        I just edited them, silly. :D

    • May 27, 2013 at 9:09 pmZen

      Reminds me of a fighting game tier list for some reason…XP

  • May 27, 2013 at 8:51 pmargee

    I think Saki will overwhelm Shizu’s control after-all the literal meaning of Rishan Kaiho is a flower blooming on top of the mountain, it means Saki is on top. . .

    • May 27, 2013 at 9:08 pm†Croos†

      Just hope it doesn’t get lost in the deep mountains.

    • May 27, 2013 at 10:22 pmdangerism

      Shizu is uke and Saki is seme. Got it, thanks!

    • May 27, 2013 at 11:03 pmtendo

      Of course Saki will be on top of shizu however saki would much rather be on top of nodoka.

      • May 27, 2013 at 11:33 pmStilts

        We would all much rather that. Talk about mountains!

        XD

  • May 27, 2013 at 9:20 pmZhinvu

    - Even if her screentime was short, it was nice seeing big sister Yuu again.

    - So Shizuno’s power works somehow like Touma’s Imagine Breaker? It’s the closest comparison I can conclude since both revolve around negation of abilities.

    - I could use a little help with those 2 highlights of the match, please. Specifically, 1.) Shizu winning with a trash hand and 2.) Shizu preventing Awai from getting first place. I’m only guessing but:

    1.) Akado-sensei and her friend were talking about how Shizuno plays on instinct. I’m guessing she sensed the flow of the match and went for that tsumo to throw everyone’s pace off, speed up the match or prevent Awai from scoring big.
    2.) So Awai was going for bonus points to take first place from Shizuno. I’m just unsure what the tiles meant such that Awai didn’t get the needed points to win.

    • May 27, 2013 at 10:34 pmdangerism

      I’ll answer number 2:
      In case you didn’t know, whenever you declare a riichi, when you win you are able to open the tile under the dora indicator to see whether you can get more bonus tiles in your winning hand. This is called ura-dora.

      Awai’s power is actually a two-part thing. First one that is active from the get go is she gets a tenpai hand right at the start and can declare a double riichi. This is worth 2 fu, but doesn’t change much other than the possibility getting an ura-dora bonus because of the riichi.

      The second part is when she manages to declare a kan. When she does this, it is 100% sure the tile under the kan dora opened will mark the quads she formed as 4 bonus tiles. So easily, she can get a 6 fu hand that’s pretty much high-scoring.

      Shizu’s power basically removed Awai’s tile control from making sure the kan dora was in Awai’s favour. It also negated Koromo’s control from winning with the last tile. (Koromo’s pretty screwed for having such a one-time chance move though). Thus it’s why Koromo reminded Saki to be wary because Shizu will definitely break Saki’s tile control of winning from the dead wall tile.

      • May 27, 2013 at 10:37 pmdangerism

        Whoops mixed fan with fu with han here. But hope you get the explanation.

    • May 27, 2013 at 10:41 pmAn

      Your guess in (1) is correct, Shizu is doing that particular trash hand for all the benefits you mentioned.

      As for (2) since Awai makes a Kan with Chun/中/Red Dragon she will get first place if ura-dora has Hatsu/發/Green Dragon, and she firmly believes in her power to make it. But it turns out she failed; there is no Hatsu in it because Shizuno’s power in effect.

      • May 28, 2013 at 1:05 amAn

        Let’s get into scoring details. I’m kinda annoyed the manga didn’t include the final score, the anime include it though in a zoom-out for a brief second, so it’s easy to miss.
        This is the score before the final round :
        1.Achiga 111500
        2.Senriyama 102100
        3.Shindouji 098900 (Dealer/Oya)
        4.Shiraitodai 087500

        Awai has following yakus in her hand :
        Riichi, Tsumo, Ikkitsukan, Yakuhai Chun, and 2 Dora.
        For a total of 7 han this score for 12000 or 3000/6000.
        If ura-dora has Hatsu she will get 6 dora instead of 2, a total of 11 han and will score 24000 or 6000/12000

        Therefore the final score if Awai’s power works just as she believe is :
        1.Shiraitodai 111500
        2.Achiga 105500
        3.Senriyama 096100
        4.Shindouji 086900

        However, due to her power got negated this is the true final score :
        1.Achiga 108500
        2.Shiraitodai 099500
        3.Senriyama 099100
        4.Shindouji 092900

    • May 27, 2013 at 11:19 pmKevin Yamagata

      So Shizuno’s power works somehow like Touma’s Imagine Breaker? It’s the closest comparison I can conclude since both revolve around negation of abilities.

      Yeah, that’s quite close. From what I could perceive, Shizu’s power is related to the tiles on her wall. If one’s power is related to the wall (Saki’s Rinshan Kaihou, Koromo’s Haitei Raoyue), and the needed tile in wall happens to be in Shizu’s wall, her power is negated. That’s why there’s mention about dice rolling, since it determines from where the tiles are taken and which part becomes dead wall.

    • May 27, 2013 at 11:36 pmStilts

      Welcome to Stilts’ Saki posts, i.e. the ones in which the readers know more about what is going on than the blogger does! Nishishi~

    • May 27, 2013 at 11:58 pmKarutaku

      For no. 1, if Shizu had won from Himeko’s (I think it was Himeko) discard she would have only taken points from Shindouji. Instead, she got a tsumo which had a lower score but also took points from Shiraitodai. This meant the margin between Achiga and Shiratodai was big enough (and Shindouji had enough points to stay 1st in that scenario) that Awai couldn’t target Shizu directly in the last game as she explains in the episode. Achiga and Shiratodai would be tied 2nd with the same score but Shiraitodai would be knocked out due to dealer order.

      At least that’s how I interpreted that trash win. How Shizu instinctively knew this would happen a few rounds ahead is another matter :D

    • May 28, 2013 at 3:17 amWave Master

      For the detail on question 1, the crux of it is that in mahjong, if you win by declaring ron on an opponent’s discard, that opponent pays the full price of your hand, but if you win by declaring tsumo on a tile you drew yourself, then the price of your hand is split (unequally) among all three opponents.

      In the hand in question, Shizuno can either win on the 1 or 4 of bamboo, but her hand is worth slightly more if she gets the 4. When Himeko discarded the 4 of bamboo, if Shizuno had declared ron, the value of of her hand would be 1,300 points, and Himeko would pay all of that. Instead, Shizuno ignores it and amazingly draws the 1 of bamboo herself immediately after. This decreases the value of her hand to 1,100 points. However, because she drew the winning tile herself, the price of her hand is now split among all opponents. The current dealer (Ryukka) pays 500 points, and both Himeko and Awai pay 300 points.

      Shizuno’s insight here was realizing that Awai would be a bigger threat than Himeko, even though Himeko still had the yakuman key coming. Making Himeko pay Shizuno 1,300 points only increases Shizuno’s lead over Awai by 1,300 points. However, making Awai pay the 300 point portion of a 1,100 point hand increases Shizuno’s lead over Awai by 1,400 points, because Shizuno’s score goes up by 1,100 and Awai’s score goes down by 300. This barely noticeable 100 point advantage over Awai pays dividends for Shizuno in the final hand. Going into the last hand, after Himeko’s yakuman, these are the scores:

      Shizuno: 111,500 (Leader)
      Ryukka: 102,100 (-9,400)
      Himeko: 98,900 (-12,600)
      Awai: 87,500 (-24,000)

      In mahjong, for hands scoring more than 8,000 points, they are grouped into one of a few scoring categories. There are mangan hands that score 8,000, hanemans that score 12,000, baimans that score 16,000, and yakuman that score 32,000. What this means for Awai is that if she isn’t able to reach the baiman category or higher, which is difficult, then the best she can get is a 12,000 point haneman. There are no scores between 12,000 and 16,000.

      But Awai is exactly 24,000 points behind Shizuno. Even if she were to hit Shizuno directly with a 12,000 point hand, which would increase Awai’s score by 12,000 and decrease Shizuno’s by 12,000, Awai would not be ahead of Shizuno. Instead they would be exactly tied. The rules of mahjong are that in the event of an exact tie, whichever player got to have their dealer turn earlier is favored. Shizuno was the first dealer, so she would be favored in the tie, and would place second overall while Awai would place third. That means that Shizuno can afford to deal into a haneman hand and still place at least second.

      If Shizuno had taken the 4 of bamboo from Himeko two hands earlier, then Awai would have only been behind Shizuno by 23,900 points instead of 24,000, and Shizuno would have been at risk to place third if she accidentally dealt into a haneman from Awai. Instead, the only way for Shizuno to be knocked into third is if someone makes a baiman or better, or if Shizuno deals into a decent hand from Himeko (but Himeko isn’t strong enough to outdo Awai without a key).

      It’s worth noting that to have even guessed this outcome was possible, Shizuno would have had to correctly guess that Himeko would self-draw a yakuman (the binding could have been smaller, Himeko could have won by ron instead of self-draw, Himeko could have failed entirely due to Shizuno’s ability), and also correctly guess that Awai would foolishly declare riichi that hand (which decreased Awai’s score by 1,000 points since Himeko won that hand and collected Awai’s riichi stick). Even then, Shizuno would have also needed to do all the math necessary to realize that a 100 point difference could be crucial two hands later, and do that math in her head while also playing mahjong. Insane.

      • May 28, 2013 at 3:30 amWave Master

        Oops, when listing the scoring categories, I skipped over sanbaiman, which is worth 24,000 points. They’re pretty rare though.

    • May 28, 2013 at 3:09 pmZhinvu

      Thanks for all the replies guys. It really helped.

  • May 27, 2013 at 9:57 pmDa5id

    Now the big question is:

    Will Saki be able to reclaim the Saimoe throne this year as well?

    • May 28, 2013 at 1:08 amRyC

      Honestly speaking, that particular Saimoe reeked of computer voting and other nefarious thingys (-.-;) Much as I would have loved to see Saki dominate -moe rankings, I don’t think that characters that barely appeared that season would garner so many votes…

      • May 28, 2013 at 1:20 amDa5id

        Well, it’s not like this hadn’t been foreshadowed. 2009 and 2010 showed them pretty much crashing the whole show except for their eventual defeats by Taiga and Azusa. And then after that, those two factions quickly ran out of power after their wins, so with that in mind, it’s not looking too good for the Saki team this year.

  • May 27, 2013 at 10:15 pmdangerism

    Subara was in the same middle school as Nodoka, Tacos and Maho. I don’t remember it well, but I think there was a glimpse of her in the first series? … demmit, I want to see Maho play in the anime, but it’s somewhat impossible now.

    I enjoyed this episode despite having read it earlier. Though I do agree with a lot of comments that the music this time was no where as great for a final match. The scene Koromo asking whether Saki’s flower would manage to bloom was also rather rushed, making a lot of viewers failing to make the connection.

    Shizu makes a good antagonist. Unlike Saki who mostly became buddy-buddy with her opponents at the end, Shizu instead just “screw you guys, I’m going home”. So cold! XD

    • May 28, 2013 at 6:25 ammianghuei

      If you mean the part where it showed them entering the middle school tournament, then no. Subara is one year older than them and when they entered the tournament she is already in high school.

    • May 28, 2013 at 12:23 pmAnnyms

      Yeah I’m trying to remember why I knew Subara went to Nodoka and Tacos’s middle school as well, and why it was confusing for the Achiga viewers. I’m guessing it was talked about in the main manga (post season 1 anime), and so the director just went along with the Achiga manga and assumed people already knew this information from reading both series.

      • May 28, 2013 at 1:34 pmStilts

        The anime handled that well enough – they didn’t assume we knew, they just hinted at it (fairly clearly) late in the final episode. No problem with that.

  • May 27, 2013 at 11:15 pmKevin Yamagata

    As a manga reader, I already know what will happens, so my anger for Side-A last episode has been decreased a lot. Oh well, can’t wait for Saki’s blooming flowers.

  • May 27, 2013 at 11:20 pmunderMebius

    I can’t wait for Zenkoku-hen! Ryuuka’s heat vision thing was anime-only, I think because the anime staff couldn’t accept the bullshit that Ryuuka’s only shtick is relying on Toki. It succeeded since heat vision Ryuuka looks so damn cool.

    Yuuki and Nodoka knows Kirame because Kirame was their middle-school senpai. It was actually her that Yuuki and Nodoka wanted to visit, and not the Achiga-girls. (Nodoka didn’t actually know that the Achiga girls were her friends!)

    I can’t wait for Zenkoku-hen! (I just repeated myself!) The tears, and they showed Satoha, too! Satoha is the 3rd runner up for the Individuals, just right before the monsters Teru and Kei. What’s more is that Satoha did that just by pure skill and no magic bullshit! She’s also voiced by Yoko Hikasa, which makes her two times more sexier!

    Anyways, I’m looking forward to Zenkoku-hen. I can’t wait to see the all-out monster battle against Saki, Kasumi, Toyone and poor Kyouko.

    • May 27, 2013 at 11:40 pmStilts

      Ryuuka’s magic vision was pretty abrupt, but I kind of took it like she was just going into the zone. Because otherwise it screamed total asspul, and yeeeeeah that’s lame. Ryuuka is best when she’s a badass normal w/ rubbed off Toki ghost powers!

      • May 28, 2013 at 2:00 amdangerism

        It’s a weird phenomenon in the sense that it isn’t there in the manga. Probably cooked up by the producers because they’re worried Ryuka being no longer relevant because she used up all her lap pillow power. Abrupt as hell, totally.

    • May 28, 2013 at 1:17 amAn

      Agree on the matter of sudden Ryuuka’s heat vision. It kinda contradicting itself when she’s able to use such power when supposedly every power in the round is negated thanks to Shizu’s power at its peak. Gotta admit that’s a very cool looking eye though.

      • May 28, 2013 at 6:18 amMagewolf

        I think Shizu’s power just affects tile control so everything else would be fair game.

  • May 28, 2013 at 1:57 amCrazyguy

    I tried to like Achiga-hen, I really did. But as a fan of the main series, I can’t help but say that Achiga-hen is a disappointment as a whole. I can forgive the wonky pacing at the start since after all, this is Saki Achiga-hen: Episode of Side A and thus, the focus will be on the teams on the Side-A of the tournament but even then, the focus there was a little bit lacking. First things first, I’d like to point out that unlike the flagship series which is Seinen, Achiga-hen is a Shonen and thus, the overall feel and development of things is quite different. You can see this difference in the more light-hearted feel of Achiga-hen and it being more Action-y (props to Igarashi Aguri there as she previously worked on Bamboo Blade). However, this doesn’t excuse Achiga-hen for it’s fatal flaws. A comment on par with the length of an average blog post is to follow so tl;dr’s beware.

    Shizuno, Lord of the Mountains
    If there is a character I’d like to grate on the most in this series, it’d be our protagonist. Lets do a review of her character and role throughout the whole of Achiga-hen shall we? Shizuno was introduced as a happy go lucky girl who wasn’t really the type to think things and would rather just jump headfirst into the fray. Amongst her childhood peers, Nodoka, Ako and Kuro, she was actually the worst in terms of mahjong skill. Cue the timeskip and Shizuno actually stopped playing the game in those three years. Whilst Ako, Kuro, Yuu and Arata (Achiga’s eventual core team) kept a healthy amount of games and practice under their belt. In fact, once the Achiga team was revived and started competing, the presumed “ace” of the team was either Kuro or Ako.

    Fastforward to the Side-A Quarterfinals Captain’s match, we encounter Shizu in an extremely precarious situation. Developments in her match eventually led to the almost inevitable fact that Achiga will be eliminated from the tournament. But thanks to a gutsy gamble that involved her changing waits multiple times and gunning for a certain opponent, she was able to narrowly escape defeat. And this was the moment that defined Shizu’s playstyle and character. As evidenced by inability to lose heart even against Koromo back in their training match with Ryuumonbuchi, Shizu’s defining trait was her sheer determination. She was no genius or monster that had freaky powers, but her sheer tenacity and refusal to give up even at the very end allowed her to come up with amazing miracles.

    As a parallel protagonist to Saki, she offered a nice contradiction to the titular character. Saki was an innate genius, born with luck and talent, she was able to orchestrate victories thanks to her natural abilities. Shizu on the other hand was your average everyday player, she had no defining skill or ability but thanks to steadfast determination, grit and a bit of luck, she too was able to pull off crazy gambits that gave her amazing victories. At least, that was the case until the last match.

    The last match introduced Shizu as an enlightened being with amazing occult powers over mountains that can also summon a Dharma Wheel. How did she do that? Well, apparently, she ran around the mountains alot in those three years. Wait. What?

    Applying suspension of disbelief to that statement and accepting it, one has to wonder, if Shizu had those powers from the start of the timeskip, why didn’t she use it in all her previous matches? No, don’t give me that “She was using it as a hidden trump!” excuse. Back in the Quarterfinals, she was almost seriously screwed there, that was a clear time as any to use her Mountain Lord powers. Her suddenly developing powers out of nowhere in the captain semifinals really felt out of place. In fact, a throwaway line by Ako near the end seems to also suggest that Shizu’s spontaneous powerup was a revelation new to even her team mates in Achiga. Ako said:

    Wow, Shizu! The way you are now, you may be even able to beat Kuro’s Dora Control!

    This indicates that Shizu’s supernatural strength was unknown to even her friends beforehand. And even after accepting all this at face value, Shizu’s power is still absurd. Why. Well, for one thing, it even contradicts what it was stated to do. What do I mean by that? Shizu’s Mountain Domain was stated to begin once the players are deep in the mountain (i.e. Once quite a few draws have been made) this allowed Shizu to have some sort of magical control over the draws quite a ways in within the wall. This explains why she stopped Awai’s wins at corners and almost severed Himeko’s Key powers. However at the last few rounds, one glaring thing happened. Not only was Awai unable to do a Daburi, but her 5-6 shanten domain completely disappeared thanks to Shizu. It’s a contradiction because Shizu’s ability was stated to only activate once players began trekking into the mountains (i.e. Began Drawing tiles) Awai’s Daburi and Shanten domain took effect at the very start of the round, something that Shizu shouldn’t have control over and yet for some reason, Shizu magically dispelled it. The only reason to explain this is that Shizu has another ability aside from “Lord of the Deep Mountains”. And this is why a lot of people say that Shizu just pulled multiple do I dare say it, “asspulls.”

    Superpowers Galore
    Amongst the people I discussed this series with before, this was the most often subject that they talked negatively about. Don’t get me wrong, at its very core, Saki is a mahjong series that relies on gimmicky superpowers, however there are clear boundaries and limits these super powers.

    The thing that sets Saki apart from other Mahjong Manga is the fact that it’s games have quirky gimmick, the player’s abilities and powers. These can range from having ease at getting certain Yaku or having advantages at various circumstances. The point is, despite being gimmicky superpowers, they were always extremely circumstantial and not omnipotent. For example, Saki had a tendency to get and rely on Kan’s alot, but every Mahjong player knows that Kans are a double-sided sword. There are plenty of situations in the series where Saki almost got screwed due to her reliance on Kans. There are plenty other examples of specific and extremely circumstantial mahjong powers in the main manga too, but I’d be spoiling details of Side-B of the tournament so I’d stop here. But the point is, Mahjong powers in the main manga were a definite thing, but they were by no means insanely absurd or omnipotent. But what did Achiga-hen give us?

    A power to see three turns in the future, a power to see the optimal development of a round, a power to get guaranteed wins worth mangan or higher and a power that seemingly gives you control over 80% of opponent’s draws. These abilities can essentially be summarized as “Instant Wins” for almost every round they are used. And don’t even get me started on the sergeant match. What Yuu did there was just crazy.

    Aside from the cute girls, a lot of people actually watch Saki, for you know, the mahjong. And when Mahjong game design essentially boils down to, who blasts the crazier power first, you know something is wrong. Sure, adding gimmicky powers adds a whole new enjoyable twist, but there is a clear line between entertaining and just plain stupid. And this is more a personal sentiment or anything, but what was up with Ryuuka’s eyes? Last time I checked, Mahjong didn’t exactly require Predator Vision that scans, hear rate, breathing and body temperature. Sure it looks cool and all, but its like the directors just went like “Screw it, its ending already so lets make this as batshit crazy as possible!”

    Characters
    Bear with me, this ramble is shorter than the ones above. In terms of Character development and emotional investment to the characters, this series felt lacking as a whole. Kobayashi Ritz herself said that she was reserving the development and exploration of the Shiraitodai characters in the main manga, so their lack of development here is understandable. But what does that say about Achiga, Senriyama and Shindouji?

    For Achiga, Shizu, Kuro and Ako’s primary motivation was meeting Nodoka again. Yuu literally just hanged along to watch over Kuro and Arata was dragged along. Kuro and Shizu was shown to have some sort of abandonment issues but it wasn’t really tackled any further. Ako literally just existed as Shizu’s friend and Yuu as Kuro’s sister. The dynamic between Arata and Harue’s trauma was well done though, however the rest of Achiga just fell flat. Back when Achiga started, there was a actually running joke where people couldn’t tell the Achiga girls apart due to a distinct lack of defining characteristic for each girl.

    I have no qualms about the development of Senriyama though, hilariously enough, a lot of people say that the series should be called Saki Senriyama-hen: Episode of Side A instead. Shindouji on the other hand, only had Kirame who was given depth. The others two were literally filler characters and Himeko/Mairu only had one page of a flashback collage without dialogue. And to add insult to injury, for the aftermath of said losing teams, we were only treated to short scenes of them being emotional wrecks. No proper closure to them whatsoever. In the main manga, not only did the characters have sufficient flashbacks or scenes in their waiting rooms where we learn about them, but Ritz also gave proper closure to them by dedicating a few chapters to the aftermath of the matches and allowing the characters of each team to close up loose ends with each other.

    I’m going to stop rambling now
    All of this just makes me think that Achiga-hen was a victim of its own botched pacing. The main manga isn’t going to end anytime soon, so they need not rush this parallel story. If they had more time, then maybe they could’ve designed mahjong matches that aren’t balls out stupid and actually fleshed out the characters more.

    Anyways, with this we can finally put Achiga-hen to rest. Spring 2014 can’t come soon enough. I’m more than ready to see Satoha, the goddamned Japanese-Yakuza-Mahjong-Batman in action! It helps that shes is voiced by Yoko Hikasa too.

    • May 28, 2013 at 4:45 amZaku_Fan

      Shizuno’s power is such that it increases the further you go into the mountains. Her power should be named “Mistress of the mountain depths”.

      As referenced in the earlier part where she was going to “change gear” by playing as many games as possible while the competition was going on (i believe there was a part about changing to the 100th gear), which points her power as being a slow cooker style. This is probably the reason her influence on Awai’s own power came out so late. As for the effect, its quite logical. When you control what tiles are in the wall, there are only so many combinations that can appear in the starting tiles.

      It also points out that at full power, her control overrides Awai’s. However, her power isn’t going to be useful against rapid finishers like Tacos

      • May 28, 2013 at 6:57 amKarutaku

        Her power is also dependent on the roll of the dice that decides where the openings in the wall are.

        I suddenly get an image of Shizu running around in the mountains while the song “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music” plays in the background :)

    • May 28, 2013 at 1:42 pmStilts

      @ Crazyguy

      I agree that the screwed up Shizu’s characterization by switching her from being the scrappy determinator to becoming some serene monster (okay, I said I wouldn’t call her that since her nature bent made her seem so unfeeling, but she’s definitely one now). Here’s the problem though – in a final match that features a natural genius and scrappy fighter that has nothing but her determination, who do you think is going to win?

      Well, the natural genius of course. But what if it’s a story we’re talking about?

      They accidentally set Shizu up to beat Saki in the finals, so they had to nix that shit and make her an actual threat to make the finals match interesting. And I guess they felt they couldn’t show this power earlier on or the lead-up matches wouldn’t be interesting, though if so they were just wrong.

      Definitely a victim of its own pacing, and of having to kowtow to the main series to the point it never got to fly on its own.

      Good comment, thanks!

      • May 28, 2013 at 9:40 pmCrazyguy

        Well, a lot of people forget this, but Mahjong is still very much a form of gambling and thus chance and luck are still critical effects. Seasoned and Skilled Players losing to Less Skilled Players thanks to crazy moves or just plain stupid luck isn’t that uncommon.

        If I were to make an analogy, to those familiar to Noboyuki Fukumoto’s works, Saki would be Akagi and Shizu would be Kaiji. As we know, Akagi is a natural born winner and genius that uses his talent to win. While, Kaiji is your average everyman with no defining talents whatsoever but when shit hits the fan, at the most critical moment, he is able to come up with insane plans and with a little bit guts and luck, still manages to win.

        What irks me is that people are using Shizu’s powerup as an excuse to say that “Shizu will bring even ground to the Finals Captain’s match which will be a superpower slugfest”. So how do you prevent a superpower slugfest? Why insert an even more insane superpower in! Sure, that makes sense. There are plenty of “Normal” players who are more than capable of making even supernatural monsters go on a run for their money, people like Yumi and a helluvalot of people in Side-B of the tournament. Making Shizu go on a completely different vector from how she was portrayed the whole story was completely uncalled for.

        Her power is also dependent on the roll of the dice that decides where the openings in the wall are.

        Well, not quite. It IS dependent on the dice roll if Shizu aims to stop Awai winning at the corners since the dice roll dictates where the corners will be and how the dead wall will be broken off, but the very essence of Shizu’s power (at least, how it’s explained anyway) is that Shizu’s power activates whenever people trek deeper into the mountains. (i.e. Quite a few draws in the wall) so unless Shizu specifically aims to prevent Awai from winning in the corners, dice roll doesn’t mean a thing to Shizu.

      • May 29, 2013 at 1:42 amStilts

        Ahaha, of course it’s gambling, but we’re not talking about actually playing mahjong, we’re talking about storytelling, which has a whole different (and sometimes stranger) set of rules : )

    • May 30, 2013 at 9:19 pmKJ

      THIS. is exactly my thoughts and feelings as well. All the points here. I suck at expressing in words but this is what I tried to get through too in a comment elsewhere.

  • May 28, 2013 at 4:54 ampedo the bear

    cutest team win

  • May 28, 2013 at 5:06 amviss

    Well, since I’m not much of a mahjong techy like crazyguy who posted above me, I would like to comment on the Ritz’s narration of the manga which is questionable IMO. I will summarize them into two main points.

    1. Ritz tries to downhyped Achiga and Shizu in the early part of the manga.

    Achiga as a whole turns out to be quite a formidable team as seen in the semi, the problem is Ritz and the Anime staffs tried to portray Achiga as weaker than most of the teams and players introduced. I don’t understand why the she did it, but I think she has gone overboard with it, which is counterproductive when they are supposed to be set up as the team that will eventually beat Shiraitodai. As such, a huge number of fans were underestimating Achiga and Shizu strength. It’s not like fans do not want to root for Achiga, it’s just that Ritz never gives us the opportunity until the semifinals which is a bit too late when taking into consideration that they are the protagonists. Because of this, some people feel that Achiga is unworthy of their victory against Shiraitodai.

    To give a few examples why I think Shizu and by extention Achiga was badly downhyped by the author, during the quarterfinals, after Senriyama exploited Kuro’s weakness, she can’t discard dora, Achiga struggles to keep their second place. In the captain match, Shizu almost mess up causing the team to barely hang on to second place. And there is the training camp which is an entirely different thing compared to what we seen in Kiyosumi’s train episode. In the main Saki story, training camp episode is where we get to learn more about each main character’s powers and how they improve for instance, Nodoka training with Etopan, Saki playing online and so on. However, when we saw Achiga practice, we never seen them win. What we saw in ep. 3 was Koromo completely trash Shizu but not after that. In ep. 8, Shizu even dealt into Ikeda Kana’s hand. These events kept piling up, reinforcing the idea in our heads that there is a huge gap between Achiga and other teams. This isn’t a good way for building up the story about the team that’s supposed to be worthy opponent for taking the down the reigning champion team, Shiraitodai.

    As for Shizu’s hex, I wouldn’t call it exactly an asspull as it doesn’t come out of nowhere like Ryuuka’s Toki-chan hex per se; Shizu possesses this power all along. It’s just that Ritz tries too hard to keep it hidden from the readers/viewers. I think she wants to make it a surprise but it backfired for some fans. The lack of sufficient hints and foreshadowing sent false massage that Shizu is a non-hex player. The leap from a non-hex abet badass player to a national monsters slaying class hex player aka “Ruler of the Deep Mountains (Walls)” in the final episode was too jarring that some people find it hard to swallow. Hack, the only thing limiting that power of hers is the amount of time it takes to kick in which is usually near the end of the game.

    2. Ritz tries to overhyped Shiraitodai and Awai.

    A lot of people are hyping Shiraitodai even before Achiga was published and for a good reason: Teru is part of that team and she happens to be the series’ big bad/final boss/two year’s reining champ. As such, some fans choose to lump Shiraitodai together with Teru as the “Big Bad Team”, but that assumption as in fact proven wrong in the last episode. It turns out that Shiraitodai is NOT the final boss of the team tournament, but Achiga, and some are not happy about this development..

    Of course, I understand that hype is mostly fan doing, but Ritz is also to blame here for adding the fuel to the already hyped Shiraitodai. In contrast to her treatment of Achiga, we were from time to time given comments and notions by other characters that Shiraitodai and Awai in particular are the strongest of the strongest. For example, right at the end of ep. 8 when each side A semifinalists teams were introduced, Pro Kokaji mentioned that Shiraitodai is perhaps the strongest team and even said they are stronger than her team back in High School, then in ep 13, Funa Q told Izumi that Awai one of the first year monster along with Saki, and finally in ep 15 right before the start of the captain match, Kouko even introduced Awai as Teru’s successor, TERU’s SUCCESSOR for crying out loud. All this building up only to have them beaten by Achiga. As I mentioned earlier, despite being the MCs of this sidestory, Achiga was frequently downhyped to being mediocre at best, rarely given any chance for their true capabilities and powers to shine until the semifinals. It occur to me that Ritz spent too much panel hyping Shiraitodai with Awai in particular and too little on Achiga especially Shizu. Quite a double standard IMO.

    Final verdict

    Despite the complaint on this final episode, Achiga is quite an enjoyable series since I’m not into mahjong as much as Crazyguy and other does, but I do see where the complaints are coming from, and I feel sorry for them. Narration wise, I think more can be done to help making the ending more palatable. I think it’s a bad decision on the Ritz’s part to portrayed Achiga, the protagonist team, as an even much much more of an underdog than Kiyosumi, and not giving enough hints or foreshadowing of Shizu’s hex early in the manga which really hurts how the final episode was played out. In the end, the problem with Achiga-hen lies not in this final episode, but how the story was built up in the early episodes.

    • May 28, 2013 at 1:51 pmStilts

      This. They definitely went through the whole thing making Achiga seem to weak and saving the Shizu surprise for the very end, which was a mistake. Did they save Saki’s skills for the very end? No, they were in large part revealed by like ep3 of the original series. If they wanted her to be the master of the deep mountains, they should have been hinting at that all along! That’s why it feels like an asspull.

      I will take exception about one thing, though – Achiga aren’t the final bosses. In the regionals, no matter how formidable Tsuruga and Kazekoshi got at times, it was always about Kiyosumi & Ryuumonbuchi in the end. Koromo was the end boss of that stage, no one else.

      In the same way, while Achiga is bound to be a challenge – as will the fourth team at the table – the story is still about Kiyosumi beating Shiraitodai. Saki reconciling with her onee-chan is the final goal, and Teru sure as hell doesn’t play for Achiga.

      In that way, Achiga going into the finals having bested Shiraitodai actually makes Shiraitodai look less fearsome, thereby lessening the tension of the Kiyosumi vs Shiraitodai match-up. Laaaaame!

      • May 28, 2013 at 4:41 pmviss

        About the final boss, the way I see it, Achiga is set up by Ritz to be the actual final boss for the team tournament while Teru and not Shiraitodai is the the final boss for the individual tournament.

        I mean, can you picture Saki communicating with her oneechan through Yuuki? Yeah, in the final captain match, Saki could perhaps prove herself worthy to her oneechan by defeating Awai, but the problem is someone already done that before her. So do you really feel all that exciting to see Shiraitodai defeated again after you have seen it once? Btw, Teru doesn’t seem moved by the fact her team advance second place.

        That’s why I drop Shiraitodai from the team tournament final boss status and replaceing it with Achiga. Shizu is determine to defeat Saki, while Saki also aware of what Shizu can do and her connection with Nodoka. It’s going to be one hell of match when they played against each other. Sure Awai will be there as well, but I doubt she will be gunning for Saki as much as Shizu. It’s not like Awai vs. Saki is the main focus here, but rather it’s Saki vs. Shizu which is why I think Achiga made a better final boss for the team tournament than Shiraitodai.

      • May 28, 2013 at 7:37 pmStilts

        Your reasoning makes sense. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but I’m not going to be too surprised if you end up being right!

      • May 28, 2013 at 9:20 pmCrazyguy

        I don’t think you should write Shiraitodai out just yet as the final boss. If you’re worrying about Saki vs. Teru, then you’re right, we have the individuals for that. But with Ritz’s pacing, god help us if we see it in the next 3 years. But you’re honestly downplaying the significance of Awai vs. Saki here. There is a certain dynamic to Saki and Teru’s story where Awai ends up being a crucial piece. I’d be spoiling the biggest and darkest reveal in the series here, so I’d refrain from elaborating more. But the bottom line is once you get knowledge of that revelation and connect the dots, you realize that Awai holds a greater role than most would expect. The fact that Ritz herself explicitly stated in her blog that she reserved character development and exploration for Teru, Awai and the rest of Shiraitodai to later in the main manga points to the fact that they have far greater roles to come.

        And lets face it, do you really think Achiga is final boss material? I mean, barring Shizu’s freaky magic, the rest of Achiga is less than stellar, both in magic and in regular skill. At this rate, before they even reach Shizu, Achiga might as well go bust.

        About that point you said where Teru didn’t really give two shits about them being second place? Its more of confidence in her team mates rather than apathy towards them really. Barring Saki, Teru is actually shown to be quite a sweet Big Sister character to her peers. A bit on the stoic side, but we still see the Big Sister Saki idolized. She isn’t really the type to mind or chew out people who screw up.

        If we look at the core team of Shiraitodai too, we realize that none of them were truly at full power or efficiency during the Side-A semis. Not to mention an offside line by Sumire seems to suggest that they were holding trumps for the finals. But lets do a brief review of Shiraitodai’s performance shall we?

        Teru: The lack of Doras in her hands put a dent in her offensive powers, but now she completely knows the mechanics of Kuro’s abilities. So she may be able to get around it now. Furthermore, Awai said that Teru wasn’t able to use her “Whu-whu-weee”. Whatever the hell that is, it seems to be Teru’s signature move. It may be related to her namesake of lanterns so people speculate it to be the “Nine Lanterns” Yakuman.

        Sumire: If not for Yuu’s X-ray vision (Yes, I still refuse to let this go), Sumire would’ve been top scorer for the sergeant round. It kind of helps now that she is now aware of her tell and she plans to exploit this against Yuu.

        Takami: It’s practically guaranteed that she will get Orasu Dealer Seat at the finals. Once you let that sink in, it is fucking terrifying.

        Seiko: Ah yes, Seiko. Lets face it, do you folks really think Teru will recruit a player who just rocks out Pon Palace into her team? No, that would just be stupid. Thankfully for Seiko, official material states that “Her specialty may be calling tiles, but what could her true power be?!”. So Seiko is most definitely hiding a trick that she wasn’t able to show in the semis

        Awai: Lets face it, the primary reason why Awai got sacked in her match was because she kept throwing the freaking stick even when she is clearly aware it is dangerous. I’m pretty sure that shes not that stupid to make the same mistakes twice. Furthermore, there may be developments in the Saki x Awai x Teru conundrum I mentioned above so it may also affect the match as well.

        The resolve to make up for their complacency in the Semis and the fact that they’re really serious now is more than enough to maintain Shiraitodai as the final bosses. The only way they can be dethroned from that seat is if Akado magically gives the rest of Achiga powers too or if Rinkai ends up being more terrifing than Shiraitodai.

        Also totally unrelated, but I can’t help but notice that when Awai drew that last tile to complete her Tsumo at the last round, the animation there is essentially a dark and evil version that mirrors Saki when she drew the last few tiles to complete her Pao Rule Kazoe Yakuman against Koromo.

  • May 28, 2013 at 9:08 amAnt

    I think most people missed it, but in the quarterfinals after Arata played Achiga was third (91800), but when Shizu dealt into that haneman they were in second place (93200). Yes, she was careless and made a mistake, but before that she played good enough to get more points and switched places with Kentani.

    • May 28, 2013 at 9:18 amAnt

      Sry, the second number should be 93700^^”

  • May 28, 2013 at 12:55 pmAnnyms

    I’ve been waiting to see how the anime-only viewers reacted to the end of Achiga-hen. Back in March there was a huge uproar on forums discussion chapter 20 of Achiga-hen, and I am not surprised to see that the anime-only viewers are disappointed for the same reasons. The only thing I am surprised about is not seeing the word “ass-pull” being thrown out like candy.

    In a weird way though, I liked the way the episode handled the end of the match better than the manga, but I also thought the episode as a whole was pretty weak in terms of keeping me excited like a Saki episode should. Maybe it’s because I had already been exposed to the result before the final airing.

    Anyways, yes. Shizu’s power comes out of nowhere. They only explained it in the last episode (last 2 chapters for the manga), and her characterization changes drastically with it. That is one of the big gripes everyone had when the manga ended, and I am glad you guys see it that way as well. Ritz just didn’t do a good job of foreshadowing this ability by not showing Shizu play throughout the series. I don’t know if she thought surprise value was better or not, but it makes it seem like Shizu got some shounen power-up at the last second to the audience.

    This in combination with how everyone else on Shiraitodai got nerfed compared to Teru just makes it maddening to know that Shiraitodai is basically a one-woman team. The issue here is that Teru was just made too strong, and her opponents were too weak. How else would we get an exciting captain match that could go either way, unless they make the rest of Shiraitodai play poorly under the guise of “we’re researching the teams that will be our opponents in the finals”. This just makes everyone else on Shiraitodai look like pushovers if the underdog Achiga team (minus Kuro) basically counters what they do at each position.

    Anyways, enough ranting. Achiga was an enjoyable series. It’s a shame that Ritz couldn’t take a similar approach to the main series and not rely on having a billion cheap powers (instant win abilities are dumb, especially when 3 people at the table have them) and actually rely on strategy to win. The amount of hex powers in this series is overwhelming. It also doesn’t help that Achiga was just not shown playing until the semis, so we didn’t really know how they played. Yet we were shown that they were weaker than pretty much the rest of Nagano, and they still beat Shiraitodai. I just can’t wait until Zenkoku-hen because the main series does a way better job of presenting the characters and the matches without relying on auto-win abilities trumping one another. The first round of the semis on the B-side that is currently going along at its snail’s pace is more intriguing and exciting than the Achiga matches. It’s a shame because Achiga-hen had a lot of potential to be as exciting as the main series.

    • May 28, 2013 at 1:55 pmStilts

      Surprises should happen to the protagonists, and only come from them after they’re already on the ropes from an opponent’s surprise. Put another way, the protagonists should not go into contests looking weak, they should be strong – it’s just that their opponents should seem even stronger, or be built up as more formidable. That way we can route for our underdogs to win, even as we know it won’t be easy.

    • May 28, 2013 at 5:29 pmviss

      Yes I agreed. I would also like to share my though about the author. Please note that I don’t want people to take this for granted as I was just guessing what’s going on in the author’s mind.

      I think Ritz was informed not long after she started writing Achiga that it’s going to be made into a 12 episode anime. She went along with the plan, but she realized she had some problems that need to be handled:

      1. Achiga manga pacing is far behind the main manga.
      2. Achiga manga has to catch up with the anime.

      There are numerous time constraints she needs to work with, resulting to Achiga series not being so well planned out as the main series. The pacing is rushed in the earlier chapters since Ritz wants to go right to the semifinal match.

      The hex is also another issue for more mahjong savey fans. It’s like the author goes, “Aah geez, I don’t have enough time for planning out technical details, so I will just have to resort to Instant-Winning Hexes and hope not many will complain about it.” Like that you know. The difference is obvious if you read the main manga which not only incoperating hex, but also very intecrate strategic play into the mix.

      Of course things might work out better if Achiga anime wasn’t launched so fast, giving more time for the author to think things through and plan things the out more carefully.

      However, this doesn’t justify Ritz for intentionally downhyping Achiga in the early episode. That decision wasn’t supposed to be influenced by time constraints. It’s not a good way to build up the story at all IMO.

    • May 28, 2013 at 6:42 pmMarina2

      Shizuno’s power will be the thing to prevent the captain round of the final round in main series from being the completly ability vs ability battle.

      [It also doesn’t help that Achiga was just not shown playing until the semis, so we didn’t really know how they played. Yet we were shown that they were weaker than pretty much the rest of Nagano, and they still beat Shiraitodai.]

      >>> Indicating that Nagano players are actually on the same level as Shiratodai?

  • May 28, 2013 at 6:15 pmedo

    is this show as good as chihayafuru?

    In which order should I watch it?,how many seasons are there?

    • May 30, 2013 at 9:33 pmKJ

      It’s… different than Chihayafuru although both are playing uhm a game. Saki is season one, Achiga is a spin-off that focuses on other characters, and a season two is coming out who knows when.

  • May 29, 2013 at 1:34 amSetsuna Henry

    I want Zenkoku…

  • May 29, 2013 at 2:39 amelior1

    @stilts actully there was forshadow for shizu power back at the quartier finals when they seen on the tv the end of shizu match and her final move

    • May 29, 2013 at 5:32 pmviss

      By foreshadowing, do you mean about how Shizu has control over the mountains? If it’s about how she play instinctively then maybe, but fire in her eyes? Come’on, there are tons of non-hex characters with that which includes Izumi in ep. 13. Sorry, but I still don’t get it, can you be more specific about that scene?

  • May 29, 2013 at 7:29 amSetsuna Henry

    Shizu wear any pants?

  • June 18, 2013 at 1:49 amJoe

    when will episode 17 show…?