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
- 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.
Full-length images: 49.
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!