With their team assembled and a suitably talented advisor in place, the rejuvenated Achiga Girls Academy is ready to roll for their initial qualifying tournament.
As if that isn't an exciting prospect enough, Achiga's team arrive to find themselves drawn against deadly rivals and hot favourites to qualify, Bansei High School, in the very first round, giving rise to a sense of panic that soon turns to enthusiasm - with good reason as well, after an impressive start leads to them wiping the floor with their opponents to win their opening round with relative ease. What's more, they effectively breeze through the entire tournament, achieving their goal and setting themselves up for a trip to the National finals and possibly their fated meeting with Nodoka. So much for all of the tension built up around those qualifiers...
Having sealed their qualification, the Achiga girl's obvious next concern is preparing for the Nationals themselves, which they do by travelling and playing as many of the runners-up from the various qualification tournaments as they possibly can. At the top of their list is the defeated finalists against Nodoka's side Kiyosumi, where we meet some old faces in the form of Ryuumonbuchi High School's mahjong club - the only side with the ability to defeat Achiga's best in these practice matches. Still, with some time remaining to hone the group's teamwork, it's off to Tokyo we go, where we soon get a fleeting glimpse of Kiyosumi's real powerhouse - a certain Saki Miyanaga.
Although part of me is grateful to Episode of Side-A for getting on with things at a fair clip, I can't help but feel that this episode has missed the point of the series entirely. After spending its first two episodes building up the intense rivalry between Achiga and Bansei, and what victory means for both schools, why on earth did we breeze over the matches between the two teams in five minutes flat? Similarly, there was plenty of room to explore Achiga's abilities against Ryuumonbuch, but once again we're treated to basically no actual mahjong action at all. The only benefit of this is that we're now ready for the Nationals and the "serious business" it represents to begin in no time at all, but I can't help but look over my shoulder and wonder where all the promise of intense mahjong action has gone with the series thus far. Saki might have been a little too slow in taking twenty-five episodes to reach its National tournament, but I'm not sure that Episode of Side-A managing it in three is particularly preferable either.