Thursday, 9 October 2014

咲 Saki 阿知賀編 episode of Side-A / Saki Achiga-hen episode of Side-A

Saki was the latest very silly, brainless anime I enjoyed. I always like to have at least one of these on the go (the other one I currently have being Inazuma 11), which I can put on in any mood, no matter how tired, and enjoy myself. And Saki episodes are compulsive fluff – they’re stupid, the way the game at the centre of the story is played is largely irrelevant, and the fanservice is often tedious, but the fact is that it’s extremely enjoyable nonetheless.

There are some odd choices with this second season. Firstly, it’s a complete side-story. The first season’s main characters are seen only in glimpses and flashbacks. Instead, we follow some of Nodoka’s childhood friends as they see her on TV, revive their Mahjong club and make their way to the national competition to be reunited with their old friend. Of course, this involves placing highly their regional tournament, which as ever means confronting girls with mahjong super-powers.

The powers here are even more extreme than the last season’s ability to disappear from view or mess people up with ultra-beginner’s-luck. Here, we have girls whose bonds are so deep that if one wins a hand in a round having placed imaginary bondage restraints on herself, her partner is guaranteed to win that hand on the next round – after having a rather erotic reaction. We have a girl who can see into the future after a near-death experience, who can grant that ability to her best friend by rubbing her head on her thighs. Yes. And one of our main characters spent a long time deep in the mountains, which has bestowed her with the gift of claiming any territory she can perceive as a deep mountain as her own – including going up against formidable opponents, who are like mountains, and being deep into the tiles lined up in front of her. What even more absurd abilities await in the next season I am eager to know, and the way the absurdity is racked up and up reminds me in a good way of Yakitate!! Japan.

However, one of the problems here is that there are so many interesting, colourful characters. There’s Saki’s strangely indifferent sister, who is an indomitable monster held off only by another player’s bizarre ability to never lose all of her points, even if she is not very strong. There’s the adorable tomboy who gets embarrassed when she has to wear a skirt – always my preferred character type. There’s the sharpshooter who makes people feel she’s an archer as she shoots them down with targeted mahjong hands, and the angler who can always pick out what she needs. Beside all these, the core group of five, who have character quirks like feeling cold all the time and having been keen on bowling, just don’t stand out very much. I ended up much more invested in the teams trying to get in their way than the main characters themselves, and that’s a bit of a problem. They were just relatively uninteresting.

And of course, the whole endeavour seems a little pointless. Presumably, these are going to be sacrificial lambs in the end, losing to Saki’s sister so that they can have a big showdown at the end. I may be wrong, and the final may be between two teams we’re supposed to root for, but that just doesn’t seem likely. That probability in the back of my mind just makes it harder to feel very engaged with these side-story characters.

Still, for all it seemed like a strange diversion, the actual journey was extremely enjoyable and I shall certainly progress to the next season. And as for the change of studio, as Gonzo staffers split to form Studio Gokumi? Well, honestly it made no difference at all. 

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