Under Your Radar: Saki: Episode of Side A

In the 21st century, the number of mahjong players around the world is in the hundreds of millions, and the professional players have an avid following. Even at the high school level, a large-scale national tournament is held every year. That’s where the high school players compete in order to make it into the league of professionals. This is the path of the girls who were aiming for the top.


(I strongly recommend watching the main series’ first opening again so you can get some of the subtle and unsubtle nods they make in this one.)


MIRACLE RUSH by StylipS

Shining brighter than everyone else, believe in your instincts
Take control of the miracle rush
And be part of the greatest miracle of all

You already know that this isn’t a joke (you know?)
I’m not prepared for the circumstances (good luck)
This final decision will haunt me forever

The end result isn’t about winning or losing (I know)
Thank you for encouraging me (thank you)
In the end, I must be prepared to decide on my own

You make intriguing suggestions
Sometimes all of our theories are just useless…
Maybe we should try going with the flow?

Fate is revolving as I appear in a place where the game’s starting
It will begin whether I’ve mentally prepared or not
Shining brighter than everyone else, believe in your instincts
Take control of the miracle rush
And be part of the greatest miracle of all

Radar Logo 2

Saki Achiga Promotional Poster Hello everyone. Today’s Under Your Radar will be covering Saki: Episode of Side A, known in Japan as Saki Achiga-hen: episode of Side-A (the “-hen” loosely means “chapter” or “side-story”). This is, of course, a spin-off of Saki, the mahjong series I previously reviewed. Saki: Episode of Side A ran in Square Enix’s Monthly Shōnen Gangan magazine and was written by Ritz Kobayashi, the same writer behind the main series, but the art was handled by Aguri Igarashi of Bamboo Blade fame.

It spanned 20 chapters in all (a misleading count for sure, since several of those were over 80 pages long). It then received an anime adaptation that spanned 16 episodes (which ran on Crunchyroll), and will get a PSP game later this year. The series is named after the protagonist of the main series, Saki Miyanaga (whose given name means “bloom”, a reference to her ability), the school attended by the protagonists of this spin-off, Achiga Girls’ Academy, and side A of the national tournament bracket – the story follows a team on that side while the main series is on side B.

Saki Achiga Elementary Mahjong Class

The story of this spin-off starts with Nodoka, deutragonist of the main series, in elementary school. She befriends Shizuno, Ako and Kuro and then moves away. Years later, Shizuno sees Nodoka winning the middle school individual championship on TV and calls her old friend Ako. They then decide to reform the long-defunct mahjong club of Achiga Girls’ Academy and enter the nationals so they can play with Nodoka once more.

The series immediately runs into some false starts. They fist make you think they’ll be spending at least a little while finding the remaining two members to make the required 5-girl team for their club, but they find them immediately. Then the make you think they’ll spend a while on the prefectural tournament which was the focus of the first Saki anime, teasing a rival team whose defeat only takes up two and a half minutes of episode 3. No, after the introduction, the protagonists are left unchallenged until the national quarter-finals.

Saki Achiga Kuro Sad

And that quarter-final showed one thing loud and clear that they had to spend the semi-finals mending. The protagonists suck. Or, rather, they’re completely out of their league as of that point. Their ace up to that point, Kuro, would then become a liability for the remainder of the series, since all of her opponents had analyzed her very obvious play-style as of that point. Her inability to win without relying on her ability essentially handed her stronger opponents a 90,000-point lead for both the quarter-finals and semi-finals, which forced more of a focus on all of the other team members, who were forced to pick up the slack.

And pick it up they did. Far too well, I’d say. By the end of the semi-finals, everyone except for Kuro made the main series’ final bosses, Shiraitodai, look like utter fools, with everyone except the reigning champion (who was up against Kuro, of course) actually losing a significant sum of points while the protagonists gained accordingly, culminating in Shizuno receiving the most broken power in the entire series solely for the final episode/chapter and actually defeating Shiraitodai.

Saki Achiga Shizu Overpowered

Prior to that point, it had seemed as if, if Shizuno were to ever receive a power, it’d have to do with her instinct or her unwillingness to give up, but no, it had to do with a pun involving mountains and can be summed up as “depending on the die roll, you lose”. One opponent, who seemed to win purely through skill, also got a heat vision power randomly in the final episode for the anime only, and it felt like it cheapened some wins she got from skill in the manga. I couldn’t help but yell “WHAT!?” at the screen when I saw it.

Saki Achiga Ryuuka Anime Power

That doesn’t mean the entire spin-off is bad, however. It still has many of the better traits of the main series, including its focus on storytelling through flashbacks for characterization and motivation, although some of the most interesting characters, the two girls with the paired power in the semifinal, don’t even get a flashback in the manga. The anime attacks to patch up this issue with less than a minute of wordless frames that act as flashbacks, but I really wanted to know what was up with those two, and we’re never told aside from what their power is.

Saki Achiga Shindouji Combo

And speaking of powers, the semi-final match is just plain stuffed with them. The second opening, which doesn’t even get into all of them, still shows quite a few, to the point that mahjong tiles only appear for about a second. It’s easier to count how many players didn’t have one, as there were 13 characters with powers in the match between all four teams, some with more than one, and you can argue that some of the remaining 7 may actually have powers that were simply not made a spectacle of.

Verdict

Even after considering everything I’ve already said, overall, one has to wonder what the point of this spin-off even is. I’m trying to justify it, but I just can’t – it just looks like a preview for two of the teams that will sit at the final table in the main series. At the absolute least, the series promises three first-year national-class monsters will be sitting there, after one counts the main series’ protagonist.

As such, this is a spin-off I can only really recommend to fans of the main series who want more while waiting for the main series to update. While the series does not outright require the main series to understand by any means, it does contain spoilers for it and I’d honestly say that the quality of this spin-off is lower than the main series. Though not to the point that this spin-off is an instant skip to people who follow the main series… just not required watching at all, since the main series already explained who all the relevant characters are in the manga, so the anime will do the same when it reaches that point next year.

Unjust

HDNV

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