Wednesday, 05 September 2012 20:01
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Seems that Saki wasn't the only girl taken in my Nodoka's large chest and mahjong skills - long before she was at Kiyosumi, her friend Shizuno was equally smitten. And now that Kiyosumi and Nodoka have made the nationals, Shizuno wants to go too...
Ako, Shizuno, and Nodoka were best friends in middle school, often going to Achiga Girls' School to play mahjong. But as time passed, they saw less and less of each other, with the friends eventually drifting apart - and in Nodoka's case, moving away. When Shizuno finds out that Nodoka won the middle school mahjong Singles tournament, though, she becomes determined to meet her friend again - at the inter-high mahjong tournament...
Ako, at least, is still on the scene - but with their school's mahjong club having folded for lack of interest several years earlier, that's the first hurdle Shizu has to pass if she's to see her dream become a reality. Fortunately, with the help of Akado Harue (a college student whose own mahjong skills aren't to be trifled with) and Shizu's sheer determination that helps her round up enough members to form a team, Achiga's road to the nationals seems clear...
Think of first half of this as a parallel tale to the first season of Saki - while the Kiyosumi girls play their way through that season and eventually reach the nationals, the first half of Side-A shows the Achiga girls working through their own prefectural championships to secure their place there - which is, of course, where Shizu hopes to meet up with Nodoka again. Hope she's not too put out by Nodoka's new waifu. The second half picks up then with both sides in the nationals, and concentrates on the early stages of Achiga's first match-up there.
The proverbial game of two halves, then, and you really notice it. Achiga's progress through the qualifying rounds is blisteringly quick - this is the period that the original series took 20-odd episodes to cover, but Side-A does it in three, blazing through the matches so quickly that you never get any feel for the personalities of the girls or for their "special abilities". After a brief training interlude, the national come along - and kick off with the opening round of one match, stretched out across for episodes and strangely focussed on Toki, a girl who isn't even part of the Achiga team that we're meant to be following. It seems a strange choice of focus.
Which in a way highlights the main problem with this season: whereas the first season had plenty of time to work with the Kiyosumi girls, to play with their personalities and give you a chance to get to "know" them, Side-A doesn't. It's not even that it doesn't have time to do it - which would be a problem, with only 12 episodes to work with - but there's such a constant parade of cameos by girls from the other teams, and so much focus on other sides when the matches are being played, that the Achiga girls feel like extras in their own show, robbed of their chance to be in the limelight. At least it's by characters who arguably seem to be more interesting than they are.
The pacing of the matches is also horribly off. Early ones are over far too quickly, you could literally blink and miss them, while the epic battle between Toki and Teru that takes up the final third of the series could have done with being shorter. The series feels abruptly cut off for time (and the upcoming three TV special episodes would seem to bear that out).
While I haven't a clue about mahjong, the sense of fun and over-the-top playing antics of the first season won me over. It had a strange line in fanservice, but not enough to drown out the good stuff. Side-A keeps the strange line in fanservice, but it's lost the sense of fun somewhere along the way, and the end result is a disappointment. I was expecting more from this, and it didn't deliver.