After several disappointing chapter of Saki Achiga manga, where the matches was anything but in-depth, we are finally given vice captain battle is rather interesting and that the writer didn’t skim through it, occupying 1/2 of chapter 15 and all of chapter 16 (barring the short insert with saki characters) and not ending by the end of chapter 16 (finger’s crossed, since I think they did that with the sergeant battle, where they ended chapter 13 with a cliffhanger only to quickly end the battle at chapter 14).
I will try to analyze each character in the vice captain battle using my noob mahjong skills…
Seiko Matano (Shiraitodai)
Let’s start off with the weakest one shall we? Honestly, Matano is not that weak, her attacks are quite good at times and she did have an advantage in the beginning of the round…right before everyone started showing off their powers and skills. As stated in Saki Wikia, after calling three times, she will tsumo within 5 turns. It is a nice power to have, but as shown in chapter 16, she and her ability has so much short comings that all other three players can just walk all over her. Firstly, her ability forces her to call for tiles from other people’s discards, this makes her more dependent on other and more importantly, prevents her from doing riichi and willing close handed. Also, while no one explicitly said that all of her call must be pons, all she have been calling in chapter 15 and 16 is pons, mostly because you can get the 3 tile from a pon or kan from any of the three opponent, while a chi must be from the opponent of your immediate left, further limiting her plays. A good, while not perfect, way to prevent her from winning is only tossing tiles that have appeared in the discard piles, especially ones that have 2 or more thrown out already, making her hard if not impossible to pon on your tiles. Also, the time between her getting 3 calls and her winning is also arbitrary, as it is between 5 turns. The vary length doesn’t mean much when the other players aren’t even close to winning (as seen in chapter 15), but can also work against her when her opponents are also in tenpai (page 38-41 of chapter 16). And in a game like the vice captain battle, it won’t be surprising that others are also in tenpai when Matano is in tenpai, especially when you have Shirouzu who tends to win with fast cheap hands. Hence, her ability is actually quite weak, and it is surprising that she uses that ability almost if not every time she tries to win.
To makes things worse, Matano has some bad abilities when she opts for defense, with her tossing “Suji and Honors” when she plays safe (page 51). This habit was obviously taken advantage of by the information dependent Funakubo, and hence her defense is anything but secure. With an offensive power that while strong, comes with too many limits and a defense full of cracks, Seiko Matano is the weakest of the four players in this battle despite being in the strongest team.
Mairu Shirouzu (Shindouji)
Mairu Shirouzu’s ability, if used, will force her to win number of fans that she have determined in that round, and if she did win from that ability, the captain of her team will win a round that is twice the amount of fans won with her ability. One really good thing about her power is that the only limit imposed on her is the number of fans that she imposes on her self at the beginning of her turn if she decides to use it, and that limit is not known to anyone, making her opponents to not even able to take advantage of her when she uses her powers. With the ability to either use the power or not, and with the only indicator of her using her power is her flipping her hand down and up in the very beginning, she almost as flexible as anyone is without her powers, and hence opponents like Funakubo can’t take advantage of her in any way possible (which Funakubo laments on).
Furthermore, even without her special ability (actually her special ability doesn’t even benefit her), she is a skilled player, revealed by Matano around page 34, and hence with her proven record of being one of the strongest with just her pure skills, not only is she miles ahead of Matano in abilities, her being stolid during the game also prevents Funakubo from winning from her. Hence, I won’t be surprised if she is the strongest player out of the 4 players in vice captain battle.
Arata Sagimori (Achiga)
HNNNNGGGG Arata is so cute, best character in the Achiga team etc etc. With that out of the way, Arata’s skills is still a bit unknown, but at least with her being skilled enough to not only second place till the very end of chapter 16 but to narrow the gap between Achiga and Shiraitodai (that was more of Matano’s fault though). Arata didn’t really start attacking until the the mid of the chapter, in which resulted in Funakubo in associating her waits to the different splits in bowling, Arata’s affinity for pinzi (because it looks like a bowling ball harharhar) and finally realizing that her plays are closely related to some old records (most likely plays by Harue Akado) [Funakubo most likely didn't do that connection, since she didn't base her tactics on of that fact, but instead on Arata's split waits and her affinity for pinzi.] If Funakubo’s guess was actually right, Arata wouldn’t actually be that strong of a player. While her waits based on splits aren’t that disadvantageous, as she is still doing multiple waits and would be harder to prevent her from winning from any one of them (and most of the times, this it is good tactic, since there is a higher chance for her to win than someone like me who rarely have tenpai waits on more than 2-3 tiles), her affinity for pinzi would make her a even easier target to win/defend from than Matano, as it easily cuts down the tiles to defend from to just 1/4 of all tiles. Good thing that doesn’t seem to be the case….
Near the end of chapter 16, when Arata called another riichi, Funakubo, applying her theory, decided that anything that is not a pinzi is safe because of Arata’s affinity for them, it turns out that wasn’t the case, as Arata won on a 9 man. And as commented by Funakubo afterwards, she logically should have done a 3-wait tenpai with pinzi wait resembling another split. So why did Arata pulled a Hisa-like play? Did she have the same thought that Hisa had when making those seemingly bad plays, or did she do that precisely because she knew Funakubo’s way of thinking (even though it was Matano that fell for it in the end), or she is just being emotional and made a bad play? Hence, while her hand forming power that causes her to go for pinzi split waits is most likely true, how she uses that power is quit interesting. However, as it stands, we do not know how flexible is she with her tactics (just not enough information), ie how good is she is counterattacking the scheming Funakubo, but heck, I won’t be surprised if Arata is as observative as Funakubo, as she was being quiet and observing the others for the majority of the match. As it stands though, Kuro is still the only weak one in Achiga out of all the battles that happened so far in Semi-finals
Hiroko Funakubo (Senriyama)
I guess I’m basically doing what Funakubo does every minute during and outside of her match. She basically analyzes any information she can grab hold of and use it to her advantage. Her playing style is also used to support this habit of hers; without having any apparent special ability, she makes herself as flexible as possible so that she can take advantage of other’s faults to the max. While this has helped her win quite generously even in this match, that tactics is not without faults. Just like how Matano is dependent of 3 tiles from others before winning, she is dependent on information from others to help her win. However, any pro like Shirouzu would likely make sure that Funakubo would not be able to find any pattern from her past plays by being as flexible as possible and new players like Arata would just not have enough data for her to formulate a strong theory without fearing of issues like sample error or noise causing the theory to be way off from the real pattern too much. Also, she might be too dependent on her theories at times, shown in her being fooled by Arata when she had her second win in the chapter. She can be a good and very adaptive player, but it might mean that she be less dependent on exploiting on the faults of other but actually creating a good hand by herself.
I’m obviously basing my ranking of the 4 players based on how much they won or lost in the match so far, but based on my analysis above, I think that Mairu Shirouzu is the best player, followed by Arata Sagimori, than Hiroko Funakubo and finally Seiko Matano.
In another note, Koromo was warning Saki about Shizuno in the beginning of this chapter. What. Why is Koromo and Saki, of all people, even have Shizuno on their radar, what kind of powers does she have, can her hot-bloodness manage to make her defeat even the most powerful beast? Kininarimasu