So I wanted to talk about Matsumi Kuro (from Saki Achiga-hen), about how she’s the heart of Team Achiga, and about how her playstyle provides some insight into the difficulty of waiting for someone’s unlikely return.
THIS POST IS LONG
(Spoilers in this post!)
The Heart of Team Achiga
Matsumi Kuro is a second-year at Achiga Girls’ Academy and the vanguard of Team Achiga (meaning she goes first during team competitions). She also has a bit of an obsession with breasts seeings as how she couldn’t help but admire Nodoka’s ample bosom ever since their first encounter.
I am sure some readers are wondering why I believe that Kuro is the heart of Team Achiga. After all, Takakamo Shizuno gets the most screen time outside of mahjong matches and she even comes attached with the series name, just like Miyanaga Saki did in the original Saki series. Surely Shizuno, as the main character, is the glue that ties the team together, right?
The thing is, Shizuno is a bit too polite with almost everyone. She consistently addresses friends and opponents alike with the -san honorific, which gives off an impression of distance and respect. This is slightly ironic considering how Shizuno is prone to running around like a tomboy, who are typically depicted in fiction as being coarser or ruder than “girly girls” (then again, Shizuno does like pointing at others as well as saying or doing things without thinking…).
And yes, this means Shizuno addresses Kuro as Kuro-san even though though they’re childhood friends who go way back. The only exceptions spared from Shizuno’s polite form of address are Shizuno’s two other childhood friends, Atarashi Ako and Haramura Nodoka, who are both in the same grade as Shizuno. So perhaps Shizuno is respecting the one year age difference between her and Matsumi Kuro.
Be that as it may, Kuro seems to get along with everyone on the team and addresses them all with the endearing -chan honorific. And unlike Shizuno, she actually interacts with Arata and Yuu (since Arata is Kuro’s classmate /childhood acquaintance and Yuu is Kuro’s older sister). The only sort of interaction Shizuno actually does with Arata and Yuu (aside from giving Arata a high-five as they pass each other in the hallway that leads to the mahjong table) is cheer them on. So that’s why I think Kuro, who has amicable interactions with every single team member, is the heart of Achiga.
The fact that Kuro is the emotional center of Team Achiga (in my opinion) actually ends up being interesting if you consider her playstyle of hoarding dora. And here’s where I might have to give a brief rundown concerning the rules of Japanese mahjong so I don’t confuse some readers.
Basic Rules of Japanese Mahjong
The goal of mahjong is to complete a hand using 14 tiles that consists of four triplets and one pair. Each triplet is either a three of a kind (such as 555) or a sequence (such as 123 or 789). Here’s an example of a hand that is in tenpai (read: one tile away from being complete) and is now waiting for certain tiles to complete the hand.
As you can see, the hand has three triplets (123 numbers, 234 bamboo, and 567 circles) and one pair (the two 9 circles). The player is waiting for a 6 of bamboo or a 9 of bamboo since either tile would accompany the 78 bamboo tiles (and become either a 678 bamboo sequence or a 789 bamboo sequence) and complete the hand.
These two tiles can either be self-drawn (players take turns drawing tiles in mahjong. If the drawn tile does not complete the hand, the player who just drew a tile now has to discard a tile of their choosing) or discarded by another player. If that happens, then the player who was in tenpai can declare that her hand is now completed and collect her earnings for the round. I won’t go into minor and exceptional cases such as chankan or rinshan kaihou here. I also won’t talk about being furiten or how a hand requires a yaku to win. Just knowing the basics of the basics is enough to understand what I’m trying to say, I think.
Kuro’s Dora Magnet Skill
In mahjong, there are tiles called dora (short for dragon) which increase the value of a completed mahjong hand. Every round in mahjong involves flipping a tile which then indicates the dora until the round’s end. As a result, there’s always at least four dora in each game. Furthermore, the tournament rules for Saki include four akadora, which are specifically red-marked 5s of circles, bamboo, and numbers tiles (there’s two red 5s of circles).
Kuro’s special ability makes her the only player at the table able to draw dora tiles. As a result, her hands are always huge because she hoards dora tiles which really push the value of her hands up. However, this also makes her defense terrible.
That’s because Kuro’s ability, which draws all dora tiles to her, goes away for several rounds if she ever discards a dora tile. If this were to happen, all of the dora tiles will stop going to Kuro and the opponents will reap the benefits with their more expensive hands.
As a result, Kuro is forced to play awkwardly and cannot discard certain tiles. At times, she will throw away a nearly completed hand in order to avoid discarding a dora. She also cannot actively declare riichi since riichi locks your hand in and forces you to discard any tile you draw that isn’t your “out” (which could be devastating for Kuro since she might accidentally draw a dora tile after declaring riichi only to be forced to discard it due to riichi’s limitations). This makes Kuro’s play obvious and easy for her oppponents to read.
Kuro tries her best to utilize her double-edged ability for the sake of her team, but there’s another reason why she tries her best to hold onto dora tiles at all costs. Her late mother had suggested to Kuro that she should value her dora more and that she should not discard them so easily. As a result, Kuro took her words to heart and prioritized hoarding dora over completing a hand, which eventually caused the dora tiles to become singularly attracted to her (if you believe the occult nonsense that is commonly associated with mahjong series and shows).
Even though her starting hand usually contains only a few dora at best, Kuro patiently endures and continues to draw, confident that the dora tiles will come. In other words, she waits for the dora tiles to return to her, round after round. And, in my opinion, her wait for dora tiles signifies something more.
Waiting for Friends and Dora
Kuro admits that she has always been the waiting type. This can be seen when the Children’s Mahjong Club was shut down back when she was a student at Achiga Middle School. Kuro continued to regularly clean the club room every week, hoping that one day everyone will return to the club. It took them over two years, but eventually her friends returned and formed Team Achiga in order to enter the nationals. So according to my confirmation bias and my observations regarding her play style, I believe that the dora tiles represent Kuro’s friends.
And if that’s the case, I think Kuro perfectly demonstrates what it means to wait for someone who has left and may not return. After all, many people have left Kuro behind in her life. For instance, Akado Harue, the adult supervisor of the Children’s Mahjong Club, was the one who closed down the club after she was scouted to become a mahjong professional while Atarashi Ako chose to attend Ada Middle School instead of Achiga Middle School because Ada traditionally has a stronger mahjong club (and Achiga Middle School’s mahjong club was nonexistient at the time).
Haramura Nodoka was forced to moved away because of her family circumstances; Shizuno merely saw them all off and started spending a lot of time away from mahjong (choosing to run around in the mountains by herself instead). There’s also the matter of Kuro’s late mother who left everyone behind.
Some series tend to gloss over the difficulty of waiting for someone who has left you behind. You’re powerless, spending your days hoping that they return but unsure if they will. Meanwhile, the ones who left (to embark on a journey, to pursue a goal, etc) is doing something that preoccupies their minds. In some ways, waiting is harder than leaving. That just goes to show how strong Kuro’s faith in her friends were. How else could she wait for her friends, who had all left to move forward and showed no sign of return, just like how she would wait for dora tiles to come back to her every round?
The whole waiting situation really leaves you in an awkward position, too. You don’t know if you’re supposed to carry on as if they’re gone for good or if you’re supposed to hold onto a faint glimmer of hope, wishing that they return. Your actions are inhibited, in other words, much like how Kuro’s playstyle is restricting. Her own hands gets clogged down by all these dora and she’s forced to make difficult decisions every round.
However, this little pet theory of mine is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. In order to stop the Interhigh High School Mahjong Champion’s winstreak, Kuro discards a dora and declares riichi (which ends up turning into a direct hit on the champion) on the last round of the second vanguard match. The implications would have been rather disheartening if the dora tiles truly represented her friends.
Furthermore, Kuro had developed this playstyle while she was young and before her friends had all left the Children’s Mahjong Club behind. There is therefore no actual connection or link between her waiting for her friends and her playstyle. This is all just fancy theories that make no sense!
Well, that’s all I wanted to say, folks. Sorry that this was so dry and long. Next time I’ll just do a post about Saki memes or something instead…