Anime Review: Saki Episode of Side-A

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If you liked Saki, the anime about a bunch of cute high school girls playing in a mahjong tournament, guess what? There’s more where that came from! Original Saki author Ritz Kobayashi inspired yet another series relating (but not entirely about) our favorite mahjong team from an underdog school in Nagano. The same fervor from Saki continues, as a large group of different girls all compete for a chance at their ultimate goal: to be National Champions of the mahjong high school team tournaments!

The premise of this spin-off series is about, yet, another underdog team from the Nara prefecture. The Achiga Girls’ Academy hasn’t competed in a mahjong tournament for roughly ten years, when the school had lost the National tournament in the semi-final round. In order to return to this competitive stage, former student Harue Akado returns to coach a promising fresh team of girls: the superstitious Matsumi sisters Kuro and Yuu, a level-headed Ako Atarashi, the sharp-minded Arata Sagimori, and the energetic Shizuno Takakamo! Each girl has their own playing style, as one can imagine from reading or watching the original Saki, and aim to become the National champions in their first year: a feat that their coach could not even surpass!

It turns out that Ako and Shizuno are also old friends of Nodoka Haramura, the other ace of Saki’s team. Despite not competing at an individual level, the team’s goal is to give a single shot at competing with our favorite protagonists from the original series. So in other words, as usual for this storyline, we get to cheer for the rivals as well as the heroes.

Most of the story of this anime takes place where Saki left off, where the girls of Achiga Academy compete in the A-block of Nationals. Due to some unfortunate match-ups, the Achiga and Kiyosumi teams are placed in separate blocks. In other words, Achiga must become one of the top two champions of Side-A (get it?) just to guarantee the possible chance of playing Kiyosumi, and therefore Nodoka, who are competing in Side-B. There is, of course, a chance that Kiyosumi high may lose before getting to the finals, but let’s face it, they don’t know that they’re in a TV show that practically guarantees they’re going to make it. (Saki: Zenkoku-hen, the Nationals chapter, is projected to air in Japan for the Spring 2014 season).

One thing that I did like about Saki: Achiga-hen over the the original series is the true determination that comes out of all five of these girls as they work together. Forget that there are shameless cameos from the original or the fact that all the other nationals’ teams are veterans, or that Saki Miyanaga makes an appearance just to creep the team out (though all the fans know she was simply wandering the halls, getting lost again). For me, the entertaining value lies in what makes underdog teams like them strong, and that is their resilience together and their ability to turn things around in their favor when no one else seems to notice.

My favorite scene from this series actually comes out of the OVAs that were made to complete the Side-A chapter after the regular 12-episode season. In a particular OVA, the Achiga captain Arata Sagimori competes against the three other veteran teams in a match of wits. One of the rivaling teams’ player for this match, Hiroko Funakubo, is an analyst. She appears to have the entire match figured out because she has studied all of her opponents’ in past games. What she doesn’t understand, though, is Arata’s playing style, which she eventually does piece together. She realizes that Arata’s combos are usually of the Circle suits, which are reminiscent of the Sagimori’s bowling business, as the circles and their numbers represent pins. At this point, we believe that Arata’s hand is totally predictable and Funakubo would use that to her advantage.

But Arata Sagimori has another thing coming for the veterans.

Before realizing it, Funakubo was too late in completely analyzing her opponent. Arata does not simply play mahjong the same way she bowls. In fact, she looks up to the former student (now coach) Harue Akado, more than anyone else. That’s right. Arata’s playing style is reminiscent of her mentor’s. In this semi-finals match, Arata Sagimori plays more than just for her team to win. She plays in order to redeem her fallen coach, to make it passed a round that even her coach could not get through. This was the pivotal moment, for me anyway, that showed the Achiga girls’ determination.

Once again, great show, and it certainly makes me want to learn to play competitive mahjong, despite the fact that there is a lot of fanservice presented in the anime. Can’t wait until Saki: Zenkoku-hen, airing some time in the future!

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My Summer 2013 Anime Simulcasts: Summaries

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Okay, so I totally skipped over doing an update of these for Spring 2013. Part of that reason is simple: I was in a huge slump between winter and summer doing various projects and had less time to watch anime. Having said that, I finally caught up with the things I did try to watch for Summer (finally) in all its simulcast glory.

The anime titles listed here are specifically things that I’m watching, nothing more, nothing less. All shows can be found on Crunchyroll. For the sake of order, I’m also putting them in alphabetical order by their Crunchyroll English titles. Days and times listed are for the Crunchyroll simulcast schedule in PST.

attack-on-titanAttack on Titan (Saturday 4:00pm)

In its second season, the humans have successfully defended the district of Trost within the Rose Wall, thanks to Eren’s ability to become one of the titans. As many of the top-ranked trainees in Eren’s group decide to join the survey corps, a mysterious female titan appears to be more intelligent than most others. Who is this intelligent titan, and can the survey corps stop her in time?

uchoten-kazokuThe Eccentric Family (Sunday 8:00am)

This fantasy/slice-of-life anime takes place in Kyoto, a place where humans, tanuki, and tengu live in relative harmony. Four sons of the late tanuki leader do their best to maintain peace within their society along with their mother, a drunk tengu, and a former human friend who now hangs with an elite group of people that feed on the raccoon-dog creatures. Yet despite the tragedy of the loss of their father several years ago, the tanuki brothers still find a way to laugh and cry together. It must be in their blood of fools!

mushibugyoMushibugyou (Monday 3:00am)

It seems that even in the feudal age, giant monsters have always attacked Japan (just kidding). A group of special samurai from Edo known as the Insect Magistrate’s Office is tasked with destroying these giant threats and keep the peace throughout the nation, In its second season, the Insect Magistrate herself has lost her powers and must journey west into insect territory to restore it. And yet, as she travels there along with protagonist Jinbei Tsukishima, a new threat has emerged. The legendary samurai of old have returned from the dead as the Insect men, taking the bodies of giant insects also! Can the Insect Magistrate’s Office defeat them in time before Japan’s next giant monster attack?

naruto-shippudenNaruto Shippuden (Thursday 4:00am)

As the Great Ninja War continues to rage on, the real Madara Uchiha is reanimated, hence forcing the five kage to emerge on the battlefield together. Meanwhile, Naruto and Bee face the fake Madara formerly known as Tobi (and if you’ve read the manga thus far, you know who he actually is) who controls the corpses of deceased Jinchuriki. During this battle, Naruto learns the name of his tailed beast, Kurama, and promises to become his friend. After 16 years of confinement within the protagonist, Kurama finally makes an appearance as a defender for the allied shinobi forces.

recorder-and-randsellRecorder and Randsell: Mi (Thursday 9:00am)

In case you were wondering why the third season of this anime short looks visually different from the first two, it’s because the producers decided to go with a style that dedicates itself to the original manga. Atsushi and Atsumi are back as the oddest couple of siblings–a grown elementary school boy and a lolita high school girl–in more bizarre adventures over relationships, friends, and the police department! New characters have also surfaced, including a classmate of Atsumi’s who is as short as her, a high school boy with a lolita complex, and a student teacher that has a crush on Atsushi! For what it’s worth, Atsushi has yet to have been arrested for looking suspicious, hanging around his elementary school friends.

servantxserviceServant X Service (Thursday 1:00pm)

If you thought that being a white collared worker in the welfare department was boring, get a load of these workers! Everything from the awkward work relationships to the weirdest boss ever to the most colorful of all clients has turned a typically boring situation into a really hilarious conglomerate of chaos! This series is most definitely my comedy pick for Summer 2013!

spacebrothers-2Space Brothers (Saturday 6:30am)

Mutta Namba and his JAXA friends are now full-fledged astronauts, waiting for missions as usual, when the brothers’ mentor, Aunt Sharon has terrible news. She has been diagnosed with ALS, a disorder that gradually makes muscles dysfunctional. With more conviction than ever before, Mutta pushes forward to get to the moon for the mission to build the moon telescope: a project spearheaded by Sharon. As the promise to stand on the moon together becomes more realistic for Mutta, Hibito takes a step back as he enters rehabilitation from post traumatic stress disorder. Will the two brothers be able to fulfill their promise?

sunday-without-godSunday Without God (Tuesday 12:00pm)

The world has entered a new era where God has abandoned humanity. People can no longer have children and the dead remain active and alive-like. Grave keepers like protagonist Ai are the only ones who can allow the dead to finally be at rest, but many of the undead refuse such an offer. After a brief meeting with her father, a visit to a utopia for the deceased, and meeting with children who obtained mysterious powers in this post apocalypse, Ai continues to travel in search of her purpose in life, as well as reason behind death. The journey has now taken her to learn of the origins of so-called “grave keepers.” Sunday Without God may be a tragedy, but with every episode, I have found joy or hope in the episodes to come. Truly a heart-warming tale that deserves my favorite pick among the simulcast dramas for this season.

god-only-knowsThe World God Only Knows: Goddesses (Monday 11:00am)

The third season to the anime about a visual novel-obsessed gamer that conquers real girls in order to fulfill a modern hell-bound contract to find loose souls. This time, however, it seems that the divine have appeared and are now the targets of ancient hell’s ravagers, known as Vintage. It appears that goddesses have embodied themselves within human girls that Katsuragi has already conquered, and their memories from the conquest has also been fully restored as a consequence. In order to revive the fallen goddesses’ powers, Keima must find and reconquer the girls that loved him before. Can he successfully help the goddesses before Vintage restores ancient hell?

yamishibaiYamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories (Sunday 10:45am)

This series of animated shorts poses the style of paper puppet shows, a form of entertainment where storytellers travel with a portable theater to make kids laugh, cry, or in this case, wet their pants! The brief stories that are told by this anime are quite modern, featuring ghosts on trains, elevators, or even a photocopier! This series is chilling as it is mysterious. If you are one to be scared easily, I do not recommend watching this by yourself and/or in the dark. Of course, if you enjoy getting scared, have at it!