Saki Achiga-hen -Episode of Side A- is the second anime installment of the Saki franchise. However, this show is not the second season of the original Saki anime as it is a spin-off that happens to take place alongside the original and actually goes beyond what was shown in the first series. What did I think about this controversial spin-off?
In short, I love Achiga-hen. I’ve seen every episode at least three times (and some specific episodes were viewed closer to a dozen times). I wouldn’t hesitate to say it’s one of my favorite shows. However, I do recognize that this series contains flaws which may prove off-putting to viewers. I’ll try my best to elaborate on the show’s strengths and weaknesses.
Achiga-hen focuses on Haramura Nodoka’s previous friends. Before moving to the Nagano prefecture (where Kiyosumi is located), Nodoka actually lived in the Nara prefecture for two years or so, which is where she befriended Takakamo Shizuno, Atarashi Ako, and Matsumi Kuro. The girls would spend their free time playing mahjong at a school club that was being run by Akado Harue, a former mahjong star who became traumatized by her poor performance during the InterHigh Mahjong Team Tournament several years ago.
Once Ako, Shizu, and Nodoka enter middle school, however, everything changes. Akado Harue is scouted, becomes a mahjong pro, and shuts down the club. Meanwhile, Ako decides to start attending Ada Middle School instead of Achiga Girls’ Academy because Ada Middle has the best local mahjong players (remember, mahjong is serious business in Saki). And then Nodoka transfers to Nagano because of her parent’s work during the second semester. All this leads to Shizuno becoming sort of lost and lonely.
Two years later, Shizu (who amusingly still looks like an elementary school student), is in her final year of middle school. Out of boredom, she turns on the TV only to witness Haramura Nodoka being crowned as the national middle school mahjong champion. Realizing that mahjong is what links her to Nodoka, Shizu decides to start up Achiga Girls’ Academy’s Mahjong Club once again in order to enter the InterHigh Mahjong Team Tournament and play with Nodoka, just like in old times.
From what I’ve said, viewers are led to believe Shizu is the main character. And compared to Miyanaga Saki, Shizu is the more enjoyable character, in my opinion. Miyanaga Saki, who is either happy and prone to giving Nodoka hugs or depressed with a tendency to sit in place like she’s a shell-shocked veteran, gets me feeling down, as well. Again, this is just how I, someone who also has massive mood swings, personally regard the bookworm. Shizu, however, is a bubbly ball of energy who pushes her team forward. With how grim the Saki universe has become, I think Shizu’s good cheer is sorely needed.
Because, believe it or not, the stakes have only increased from the original series. Now we have a sickly character putting her life on the line in order to use her future sight abilities! As you could expect from my mentioning of a character with the ability to see into the future (out of all the things she could do with this amazing power, by the way, she picks mahjong. This game is SERIOUS BUSINESS), the vast array of mahjong powers has actually increased in this installment. So if you were excited about supernatural happenings in the original show, you won’t be disappointed.
That being said, I have to admit that the plot in Achiga-hen doesn’t make too much sense. In the original Saki series, Miyanaga Saki thinks her feelings can reach her sister through mahjong, which causes Saki to join the Kiyosumi Mahjong Club. It’s a bit of a stretch thinking that a broken family can be repaired through mahjong, but at least Miyanaga Saki acknowledges that it’s rather unlikely.
However, the Achiga girls’ goal of playing with Nodoka again is impossible. The InterHigh locks the player order, so Nodoka, assuming Kiyosumi qualifies for the finals, has to play with Sagimori Arata, one of the two players from Achiga Girls’ Academy who doesn’t have a personal connection with Nodoka. Furthermore, none of the Achgia girls entered the individual tournament, either, so Shizu, Ako, and Kuro are not going to be playing Nodoka any time soon.
At this point, Achiga-hen almost feels like an excuse to just introduce even more characters. One of my friends, who admittedly isn’t as much of a fan of Saki as I am, found the new flux of names and faces to memorize to be discouraging. To me, however, I only see this as more material for potential ships. That’s right, the amount of yuri remains strong! Hand-holding, switching uniforms, lap pillows, and more!
In the same vein, the fanservice is less prominent compared to the original series, but there are little scenes here and there. One of the characters is running around without pants, after all, so it was to be expected.
One complaint that I struggle to deflect, however, is the hostile show takeover. Yes, I know I implied that Shizu is the main character earlier. Yet another character starts to hog the screentime as the series progresses with her backstory flashbacks and inner monologues. I’m talking about Onjouji Toki, folks – the girl who’s enjoying a lap pillow up there. It got to the point that even Shizu’s VA and Ako’s VA complained about the amount of focus Toki received. One of the show’s EDs is named after her, even.
Granted, as I stated in my review for Saki, the franchise isn’t just about Kiyosumi or Achiga; the rival schools get their chance to shine, too. And to be fair, Toki received roughly the same amount of focus (in terms of episodes) as Koromo did in the original series. But with Achiga-hen being only 1 cour (the last 4 episodes were actually specials released months afterwards) as opposed to Saki being 2 cour, the focus just seems that much larger. Well, Toki proved to be so popular that she received her own manga spin-off, so there’s that.
My last nitpick of the series is that too many things are given too little foreshadowing. Akado Harue wasn’t shown actually coaching her wards until Achiga-hen was almost finished. From what we see, she’s actually really good at it, too, but her coaching efforts unfortunately happen off-screen for most of the series. Similarly, one of the characters receives a huge power-up in the last two episodes of Achiga-hen with minimal foreshadowing. It could have easily been hinted at if a certain girl, who played with the character in question earlier in the show, said something about her special ability being nullified. As it is, the power-up comes rather abruptly.
That’s all for the criticisms. As for the positives for the show, I have to say that the show looks really pretty and cute. Achiga-hen aired 3 years after the original series and neo-Gonzo has only gotten better. Gonzo was the studio behind Saki, by the way, but somehow they became bankrupt (I think it was due to pachinko or something). Gokumi is basically the new Gonzo studio, if I recall correctly. The scenes involving mahjong powers in particular are well animated.
Pacing could be considered a problem as the show starts off rather slowly and doesn’t pick up until they reach the nationals. Even then, certain matches receive a lot more screentime while others are kind of glossed over. However, the anime adaption was rather faithful to the original source material, so I guess some matches were doomed to remain a mere footnote.
The OPs and EDs for this series is great. I find myself listening to them when I want to get psyched or cheered up. Also, I’m usually not one to really go out of my way to listen to instrumental OST, but I think Achiga-hen nailed this, too. Great soundtrack all around.
Opinions were split over Achiga-hen, the second anime installment of the Saki franchise which happened to be a spin-off instead of a second season of the original show. Personally, I found the show enjoyable despite the main characters having a goal that isn’t well thought-out, a character who seemingly takes over the show as the new main character, and the amount of telling-instead-of-showing that occurs. The large amount of new characters may also prove overwhelming, but this also means more potential ships as the amount of yuri shiptease is still high. If you grew attached to the original series’ characters, by the way, almost all of them make an appearance. With a great soundtrack, nice animation, and emotional scenes (I still cry watching how brave Toki and Kuro are and how devoted Arata is to her role model), I think viewers should give Achiga-hen a shot. Again, knowing mahjong isn’t required, but I think you’ll enjoy the series a whole lot more if you do.