It's been a long time - too long, July in fact - since we were served up a dose of mahjong action from this Saki side-story, but here we are at last to begin the climax to Achiga high school's time at the Nationals as they look to achieve their goal of meeting, and playing against, Nodoka Haramura at said competition.
If you've forgotten what had happened by the climax of episode twelve, then... me too! However, with a little time my memory pieced together Toki Onjouji's virtual life or death intervention to stop Teru Miyanaga's aptly terrifying rampage across the scoreboard, in turn bringing that round of the semi-final match-up to an end. As Kuro is put straight into special training to "revive" the Dragon-based ability upon which she relies, sister Yuu takes the hot (although not hot enough for her) seat to try her hand at taking on some of the brightest mahjong stars.
In particular, her focus is upon Shiratodai's Sumire Hirose, a veritable "archer" within the game who selects her target and takes her out with precision. However, knowing Sumire's trick and the signs that she's about to deploy it allows her not only to dodge such attacks but also then go on the offensive to win some hands, keeping Achiga in that all-important second place as their opponents fail to make any real impact. This brings us on to Ako's turn at the table, which looks to be overshadowed by the tomboyish Sera Eguchi - however, Ako is well aware that the most dangerous player at the table could just be the quiet, bespectacled Takami Shibuya of Shiratodai, who might just have something substantial up her sleeve for the final round of their match-up....
After almost a six month break, I could really have done with a recap or something to ease me back into Episode of Side-A and where everything stood within the series and its national tournament; without it, the early minutes of this first special episode were rather a hard slog until my brain caught up with everything that was going on. Once I did get back up to speed, I was soon returned to the Saki I love - ridiculously overblown "special powers" and secret moves somehow served up in enough of a believable fashion to make a tile-based game into edge of your seat all-or-nothing fare. It's an oddly heady mix whose power rarely wanes, even if Episode of Side-A's characters largely have nothing on the wider Saki cast - hopefully after this long wait it can deliver a fitting finale from it's last couple of episodes without running into any further hitches.