Let’s get this out of the way first – you do not need to have watched the original Saki to enjoy this show. That said, certain details will make more sense if you have. Fortunately, I marathoned nearly the entire original series in the past couple of weeks to get ready for this (also, because it’s awesome), so I should be able to fill in the gaps. Likewise, you do not need to understand mahjong to enjoy this, though it might increase your enjoyment if you do. Personally, I only have the most basic of ideas about how mahjong works, but it didn’t impede my enjoyment of the main series, nor my enjoyment of this episode. So, with that out of the way, let’s get on with some lolis-playing-mahjong, shall we? First, the episode preview, j-just this one time! *tsun tsun*
The story starts three years prior to the rest of the series, with the highly energetic (and slightly stupid) Takakamo Shizuno (Yuuki Aoi) meeting up with her fellow sixth-year elementary student and best friend Atarashi Ako (Touyama Nao) early one morning. While waiting for the bus, they meet up with the frilly, big-boobed transfer student Haramura Nodoka (Koshimizu Ami). They soon find out that Nodoka plays mahjong, so they take her to the children’s mahjong class they attend at Achiga Girls’ Academy. There Nodoka meets the college student in charge of the class, old Achiga ace Akado Harue (Shindo Naomi). Nodoka wins the first hanchan (match), so Shizu calls in the club’s #1 player, Matsumi Kuro (Hanazawa Kana). They play again and everyone has fun, and before long the girls have all become friends. However, it was not meant to last. Soon, Harue is scouted for a corporate mahjong team, and the class she is teaching is shut down. With Ako going to another middle school in preparation to attend Bansei High School, the local mahjong powerhouse, the friends drift apart…and then Nodoka moves away completely. Fast forward a few years, and Shizu is in her third year of middle school when she sits down to watch TV one day…and sees none other than her old friend Nodoka competing in the national middle school mahjong tournament. What’s more, she won! After a quick freak out, Shizu decides she’s going to reestablish the Achiga mahjong club so that they can go to nationals and play against Nodoka again. She goes to the club room, and finds that Kuro has been faithfully cleaning it for the two years since everyone left. With the fire in their hearts re-lit, the two of them wonder how they’re going to get three more members before the next inter-high tournament, when suddenly a wild Ako appears! Only two more to go…
Phew! How do other blogs summarize so much? Glad I only do that for the first episode of a show. Now, the first thing that struck me about this show is that it’s a spin-off. “No duh,” I can hear you all saying. Well, the reason I say this is that, if this were not a spin-off, the story construction would be pretty odd. Here we have a character introduced at the beginning of the episode who acts like a main character (Nodoka), only for her to suddenly be written out of the show by the end of episode one. What’s more, she is held up as the protagonist’s whole reason for shooting for the nationals. If you’ve seen the original Saki, this makes sense, because Nodoka is an old, beloved character. It’s all self-referential, where fans of the original series go “Ohhhh, neat! Yes, this makes sense. Nodoka is kind of a badass,” while new viewers might not know this. So here, let me clear things up – Nodoka is kind of a badass. Them chasing after her is completely understandable. I know I would, oh my.
The second thing that struck me is that we have another potential “monster” player in Kuro. For new viewers, bear in mind that the original series was a sports anime, with all the tropes that entails, chief among them the character’s tendency to do completely bullshit amazing stuff that simply does not happen in real life. Think of The Prince of Tennis, and the crazy things those kids could do with a tennis racket. Same thing, except with Saki it had more to do with luck, intuition, pop-psychology, and borderline mind reading. Monsters like Amae Koromo and the titular Saki were able to pull off big wins not with quiet, deliberate play – that’s always been Nodoka’s schtick – but with crazy luck and insane skill. That’s what it looks like Kuro has in her ability to attract all the dora. What does a “monster” in the cast mean for the story? I’ll get to that in a moment.
(By the way, none of the above was criticism. I love it when anime characters do crazy stuff, as long as it’s entertaining. If I wanted realism, I’d go to work or watch sports. When it comes to anime, I like things crazy, just so long as it’s crazy awesome.)
Then there’s the characters. Of the ones I’ve seen so far, Shizu and Kuro are the ones who stand out the most. Well, and Nodoka, but I’m going to set her aside since we probably won’t see much of her anymore. With Shizu, I really like her energetic, straight-forward personality. She may not be real smart, but she charges straight towards what she wants, which is always refreshing to see after all the emo and/or reluctant protagonists I’ve seen over my anime-viewing career. Also, Yuuki Aoi really sold the role with her silly, high-energy voice. It was like hearing Oshiroi of Ben-to all over again! As for Kuro, I’ll admit that I’m highly biased towards HanaKana roles, but her earnest attitude in cleaning the club room for two entire years also struck a chord with me. That and perverted HanaKana is always a good thing! Ako and Harue haven’t really established themselves too well so far, but I’m sure there’ll be more from them soon.
Gods, I don’t know when to shut up, do I? I’m going to try to wrap this thing up before I start making people’s eyes bleed. In watching this spin-off, a comparison with the original Saki is inevitable – hell, I just did it for most of this post. From this episode + the preview + everything I’ve heard, it’s looking like this show will have less focus on mahjong and more focus on slice-of-life moments between the main characters. But – and let me pause, so you are forced to spend more time on this sentence, thereby imparting the gravity of what I’m saying – I do not think mahjong will be completely absent. The entire goal of reestablishing the Achiga mahjong club is for Shizu and the others to beat Bansei (their version of Kazekoshi / Ryuumonbuchi), go to nationals, and play against Nodoka again, and to do that they’re going to need to play some mahjong! Plus, the presence of a potential “monster” in Kuro practically ensures that this will be explored more.
Let me summarize things this way: if the original Saki was a mahjong sports anime, then this is a slice-of-life mahjong anime. Slice-of-life moments still happened in Saki, and mahjong will still happen here, it’s just not going to be the primary focus. And here’s the thing – I liked both of those things in the original, so even with the ratio flipped, I expect to enjoy them here! If you haven’t watched the original, I still suggest you do, but not because it’s necessary to enjoy this one; it’s just a damn good series. Hopefully this one will keep the fire burning!
tl;dr: @StiltsOutLoud – #Saki spin-off starts w/ loli Nodoka, genki Yuuki Aoi & ecchi HanaKana. I feel like I was watching Nodoka play just yesterday. Wait a sec…
- Not many yuri undertones so far, other than various women oggling Nodoka’s chest. But honestly, who can blame them? I mean, look at that!!! Remember what I said earlier about crazy stuff? Now that is crazy awesome. Totally unrealistic, but no less awesome for it.
- The name of this show is also crazy. Saki: Achiga-hen episode of Side-A? I have no idea what that means, and I strongly suspect that no one else does either. The original creator included.
- I forgot to mention the animation. It’s pretty good over all, but what I really liked was the character animations / expressions. They were crisp and really lively, which really helped make the show more endearing. Sure, it’s your standard cute-girls-doing-cute-things, but…well, it was really cute! =X
- If anyone asks, tell them I watch this show for the mahjong. Wait, crap! That’s the wrong picture! Uhm, uhm…I watch it for the mahjong. Yes, the mahjong…
OP: 「MIRACLE RUSH」 by StylipS
Watch the OP!: Streaming ▼