The first players’ match of the Side-A semifinals is finally over! After a lot of hand-wringing and some stunts that would put the most hot-blooded of shounen protagonists to shame, the other players finally put a stop to the champion’s rampage. This was really a two character show, with a little extra something at the end.
First of all, Toki. As I mentioned last week, Toki is a textbook example of a writer making his us like a character, and then putting them through the ringer so that their pain is acutely felt by the audience. Apparently they didn’t feel this was done well enough last time, because they amped up both the emotional attachment and the pain. The pre-OP scenes with the younger versions of Toki, Ryuuka, and Sera reeked of death flags to me – flashbacks + desperate gamble by an already exhausted character? Oh noes! – which made the Triple Toki had activated at the end of the last episode (and which we hadn’t seen the results of yet) even more anxiety inducing.
Then there was the pain. Seriously, the exhaustion on Toki’s face this episode was worse than I’ve seen on characters in far more dangerous situations. Call it a luxury of animating a show with lots of panned shots while characters talk, but Studio Gokumi clearly put a lot of effort into making Toki look as heart-wrenchingly beaten as possible. Toki!! T__T
Yet it wasn’t totally Toki’s show this time. During her second Triple – that was too much Toki, shouldn’t have done that, it was way too much! – she realized that Kuro was finally going to break out and make a move. Thank the gods! I’ve been really harsh on Kuro ever since this match started, so it was nice to see her finally reclaim a measure of the respect I once had for her (though only a bit). I know it was hard for her, because they remind her of her mother and all that, but she finally did it – she discarded a dora. Huzzah!
Here’s the thing about Kuro. She said it herself – she’s the waiting type. I think that’s an aesthetic that the Japanese are probably quite fond of, but it’s one that is utterly frustrating to my active, go-getter Western upbringing. Seeing Kuro sit there and meekly whimper while she waited for a chance that was never going to come was just friggin’ annoying! That’s why I was so glad when she finally got over it. So the dora are special to her. So what? Her friends are special to her as well. If she’s not willing to (briefly!) give up a mere reminder of her mother for the living reality that is her friends and their dreams, then she’s shackled to the past, and those friends aren’t all that important to her after all. I’m glad she proved that wasn’t the case.
So Kuro finally did what I’ve been ranting about for weeks now – something different. Anything different! Finally. It was nice to see her regain some of the steel in her spine and dispel the champion’s hurricane. She may have been bitching out most of the game, but she got a cold 16K points back and made the God-Champion bleed, so not a bad round of work. But that’s when the part of the episode that most tugged at the heart-strings happened – Toki collapsed. With Ryuuka crying and all of her teammates running alongside her stretcher, how are we supposed to not cheer for Senriyama again? Ahhh!!
Finally, and as I expected last episode, the girls of Achiga did in fact meet up with Nodoka. Alas, it felt forced as hell. They couldn’t exchange phone numbers, catch up a bit before the match, or even just hug each other like the long-lost friends they are!? How cold! I won’t rant on this too much though, because it reeked of something anime original that was shoehorned in to give some flimsy semblance of a resolution to the whole Nodoka thing, which I’m sure it was. Not great, but it would have been worse without it, at least for those who don’t see the upcoming OVAs. Let’s leave it there for now, and head on into the (quasi) final impressions!
tl;dr: @StiltsOutLoud – The first players’ match is finally over! Thanks for finally showing up, Kuro. But at what cost? Toki! T__T #SakiAchiga
- A long-haired Toki is nice too. But raep face Toki? AHHHHH, do not want!!
- Oh man, those camera angles. Trembling thighs. Nopan Kuro. I will miss this show. Miss it sooo much.
- Looks like Akado inadvertently got a compliment from the rival who once broke her. How good for you. You’re still a crappy coach though, so go back to the pros.
- That lens flare. What is this, directed by J. J. Abrams?
From a storytelling perspective, Saki Achiga is frankly a mess. The first part of the series zoomed forward with ridiculous speed, completely abandoning any of the fun that could have been had in training arcs or the prefectural tournament in favor of racing to nationals. The main characters’ personalities were never really explored well, leaving them as shallow characters who possessed none of the flair, characteristic striving, or yuri subtext of the original Saki. Then they get to nationals, and their much more likable rivals in Senriyama start dominating the screen, while the rest of the time is given over to cameos from old characters from the original series. I could go on…so I will.
As far as individual characters go, most of the really good ones were in schools other than Achiga. Toki, Ryuuka, Sera, Kirame (subara!), and Teru were all much better characters than anybody Achiga put forth. I mean, I’m still quite fond of cannot-be-broken Shizu and pretty-good-without-hax-powers Ako, but Arata is uninteresting and Akado-sensei is a terrible coach. Of course there’s Kuro and Yuu-nee, both of whom I started off liking, but Kuro’s epic uselessness in most of the tournament thus far has even made me doubt Yuu-nee. That hurts to say, but it’s true!
But Saki Achiga’s gravest sin is that it cannot stand on its own. Why does it exist, again? No matter how much it wants to focus on Achiga or Senriyama, it’s clear that the girls of Kiyosumi are still the protagonists of this world, and the whole point of this side-story was to give us a preview of Teru’s (and Shiraitodai’s) power before Saki and the others go up against them. They couldn’t make Achiga more likeable than Kiyosumi because then people might start rooting for Achiga when they (presumably) go up against Kiyosumi later on. This story was hamstrung from the beginning! Though that makes it even stranger that they made Senriyama such a better, more likeable team. Not sure what the thought was there.
Yet, that’s not to say that this hasn’t been an enjoyable series to watch, at least at times. Setting aside some of the epic camera angles for the moment (though only for the moment! *drools*), the match between Teru, Toki, Kirame, and Kuro was one of the most tension-filled ones I’ve seen in the Saki universe so far. Teru truly is a Saki-caliber monster, save that she’s more calm, business-like, and less easily flustered than our beloved Rinshan-san. I heartily enjoyed seeing those four go at each other, even if it took me about five minutes to realize that I would prefer Toki or Kirame to come out ahead of the whimpering Kuro.
I enjoyed the original Saki for three reasons: 1) crazy overblown mahjong, 2) interesting characters striving to do their best, and 3) yuri subtext. The problem with Saki Achiga is that for most of its run, it lacked all three. They actually showed very little of the mahjong until Nationals. The characters weren’t fleshed out, and their goal – to see an old friend – could just as easily have been accomplished with a phone call and a train ride. As for the third point, the only ones bringing the yuri were Toki and Ryuuka. Which brings me to my point – why wasn’t this Saki Senriyama again? Well, other than the fact that Senriyama’s yuri couple is arguably better than Kiyosumi’s. (Though don’t fear, they don’t have Tacos molesting Kyoutarou or the glorious “bad waits” Hisa, so Kiyosumi is still my favorite). Clearly, we can’t have them getting to the finals then!
In conclusion, Saki Achiga is a flawed show, though it sometimes managed to entertain despite that. If you like this and haven’t seen the original, go do that now!! It’s better in all ways. For the rest of us, we’ll have to sit around and wait for the three Saki Achiga OVAs, so we can see who will go to the finals…and then wait around some more for Saki season 2 to be announced. So much waiting. What are we, a bunch of Kuros? Gaaah!!