The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Saki Episode of Side A

Title: Saki Episode of Side A aka Saki Achiga-hen Episode of Side A
Genre: Drama
Company: Studio Gokumi
Format: 12 episodes
Date: 08 Apr 2012 – 24 June 2012

Synopsis: Shizuno Takakamo befriends transfer student Nodoka Haramura in elementary school, and the two end up joining a mahjong group together. Time passes, Nodoka transfers, and life goes on for Shizuno and the other girls. One day, Shizuno catches sight of Nodoka on a televised mahjong tournament, and Shizuno re-forms the mahjong club at Achiga High School where they begin making a run to the mahjong national tournament in hopes of reuniting with Nodoka.

The Highlights
Toki Onjouji: The only character who rises above the blandness.
Mahjong matches: Lacks the intensity of the first season.
Character chemistry: Non-existent.

The first season of Saki offered a ridiculous premise that succeeded based on the strengths of the character quirks and interactions, turning a formulaic setup into a charming and watchable anime. I know not what happened in the time interval between the end of the Saki anime and release of Saki Achiga-hen. Perhaps mangaka Ritz Kobayashi simply ran out of character quirks to bestow upon this new group of youngsters. Whatever it was, the screenwriters sure didn’t have a lot of room to work with: what I got was a glimmer of unmet potential in the best of times and long stretches of apathy in the worst of times.

Granted, coming up with a whole new cast of characters filled with special powers and personality quirks was not going to be an easy task.; even towards the end of Saki the well was running dry. Putting together a whole new cast when the number of characters was already bursting at the seams was a fool’s errand. Now, that wouldn’t be a problem if the Achiga girls read less like a laundry list of character traits and more like compelling, memorable personalities, but alas! You have Shizuno Takakamo, who was little more than the archetypical genki girl; Ako Atarashi, the boringly competent player; Kuro Matsumi, the crybaby; Yuu Matsumi, Kuro’s sister who predictably steps up to the big sister role; and Arata Sagimori, whose aloofness and adoration for Achiga’s coach is equally boring. (Note: I had to look up all but Kuro’s name, which goes to show how memorable they are.)

It’s a telling sign when the character I found myself most invested in was a somewhat minor character: Senriyama’s Toki Onjouji. Her stratagems and determination as she tried to create something out of nothing in the face of an increasingly worsening situation were worth cheering for. Despite only showing up in the second half, she makes the most of it; her contributions to the anime exceeded that of the Achiga girls’ combined by a long shot. She doesn’t deserve to be shackled to this group of chumps.

A lot of the blame should be placed on the show’s pacing. As the anime bounces from one mahjong match to the next, we rarely see Achiga’s team interacting in ways that would allow them to develop multi-faceted personalities. The characters effectively go through the motions of the shounen sports genre. They question their abilities and their raison d’etre, struggle against tough opponents, and find their confidence in each other, resulting in victories. It’s a tiring, worn-out formula, one that does the anime no favors when the main cast can’t inspire anything beyond a terse “meh” out of me, especially when the ridiculous scale of Saki’s entertaining mahjong matches are absent.

Saki was never going to be a show with a whole lot of depth, but the interactions between the characters, on and off the mahjong table and the ridiculous matches made the anime enjoyable. Achiga-hen stumbles badly despite the foundation it had to work off of. With such a flop on our hands, I can only hope that the third season takes its time to explore the character tension and drama in greater depth. I’d hate to see an enjoyably gimmicky anime fall as hard as Achiga-hen has.

Wait, third season? They’re going to need a third season if they want to erase this abysmal spinoff from the minds of the franchise’s fanbase.

The Rating: 4

Reviewed by: zzeroparticle

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