Akagi

Alt titles: The Legend of Mahjong: Akagi

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valondar's avatar By valondar on Feb 25, 2009

Story

In the dank, crime-ridden underbelly of postwar Japan there are all manner of sleazy hoods, desperate losers and brutal powerbrokers. Rising triumphant among them all is a man who becomes the birth of a legend, an amoral being who abuses his profound understanding of the human mind by manipulating his foes to their own destruction.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of mahjong.

With mind games every bit as gripping as Death Note and an excessively sordid depiction of the yakuza, Akagi is sure to appeal to more than just gambling fans. However, a familiarity with mahjong is expected and most of the time is spent at the gaming table. While it's certainly possible to enjoy the anime without understanding the game at all - I did - learning about mahjong beforehand would doubtless greatly enrich the viewing experience.

The series is divided into three arcs, with our titular hero playing for ever greater stakes as they progress. For all the gangland psychological pomp and circumstance the formula is unremarkable sports tournament fare. I found the first two of these arcs to be stellar, with the second arc in particular leaving me breathless from episode to episode and concluding on a fantastic high note.

So what went wrong?

Well, Akagi suffers from one of the oldest flaws in the book: the ending falls apart. Far too many fine anime are closed in such a thoroughly unsatisfying manner, and if this was the least of the problems I might be more forgiving.

While the third arc begins superbly, the execution falters midway and then becomes downright unbearable in the final stretch. Akagi is always liberally melodramatic, but at a key moment this simply becomes so utterly ridiculous that it kills the tension altogether. The remainder is nothing more than padding, wasting time that, in light of the absurdly rushed ending, they clearly did not have available to waste. Were I to ignore the final arc I could give a strong 8 right here, but the conclusion was so badly handled I had to mark this down.


Animation

The character designs are clearly a like-or-loathe affair - for me it was love at first sight. They're unrepentantly ugly and suit the unforgiving environment hand in glove. Admittedly the designs don't lend themselves well to animation, and though movement is too minimal to be great Madhouse does a fine job overall. Interestingly they avoid depicting how women would look by almost never showing them; it's also worth noting one of the few honest and innocent characters has an appearance closer to a standard anime look.

Further, Madhouse excels in making something as visually mundane as a board game exciting, with effectively integrated CGI allowing for multiple pans around the mahjong tiles - not to mention the use of sensational but amusing analogies. Is playing mahjong a little like being crucified at Calvary? It is if you're the genius who descended into darkness!


Sound

I have nothing but love for the opening song 'Nantokanare', a bitter, melancholy number I've hummed more often than my decency permits me to confess. The singer's voice is a little strained but that only adds to the weary beauty of it all. I was less keen on the two ending songs, although I found the latter, 'Silent This Side', to grow on me with time - cool in a bombastically grunge sort of way. The score works but is forgettable.

The voice acting is generally pretty strong, especially Masato Hagiwara as the chillingly polite Akagi. His quiet, confident laugh is particularly effective. It's easy to see why he was subsequently cast for the title role in Kaiji and then a rather similar lead in One Outs.


Characters

Just as the plot is the tournament formula drenched with seedy grit, the hero is the genius-type sports character given a dash of darkness. Akagi's gifted with an ability to read people and strategise even before he sits down to his first game of mahjong; and his godly skill at the game is matched only by his demonic cruelty as a player. One never learns what made him such a monstrous wonder, but his mysterious origin merely adds to his legend.

Akagi's philosophy of gambling makes for some of the most interesting discussions in the anime. For him gambling can be won only through both a deep understanding of your opponent's mind and the willingness to sacrifice everything in the game of chance. Playing fair is beside the point; if someone cheats to make it impossible for you to win, find a way to win anyway. For example, one of the most starkly memorable incidents comes from him recounting how he won a rigged game of chicken.

Are his strategies as amazing as the series constantly claims they are? I'd have to know mahjong to tell you, but I assume that the writing uses the same convenient slight-of-hand with its conceits that other anime about geniuses employ. Even I can note that much of it seems to be dependent on his ability to read the mind of his opponents, although how he manages to do so is usually very carefully constructed. At any rate the results make for thoroughly entertaining viewing, which is what matters.

Unfortunately, what makes Akagi so fun as an idea makes him an uninteresting protagonist. He seldom if ever shows any doubt in his abilities and more than once the question isn't if he'll win, but how. He never gives any internal monologues; explanations of his thought processes are either guessed by his enemies and onlookers or explained by the man himself ex post facto. As such he's a little distant even for an antihero.

The rest of the cast varies from arc to arc but generally work very well, from the desperate gambler Akagi aids at the beginning of the series to a luckless co-worker who's being scammed by his peers. There's a nice variety in the opponents, but I'm afraid the final antagonist is a real let down. Like the third arc he begins savagely well but then he veers into high camp, becoming too silly to be ever taken seriously again.

6.7/10 story
7.5/10 animation
8/10 sound
7/10 characters
7/10 overall
Necrokamios's avatar By Necrokamios on Jun 22, 2011

Akagi is an incredibly good anime to watch. I watch a lot of board/card game anime and this is just a masterpiece. Its story is not so great as no conclusion is met in the anime. This is another anime which I would be pained to give any lower than I have.

Story is about mahjong (well, duh). Where can animes about mahjong go? There are two routes, either the protagonist starts from a beginner and learns though trials and events on the road to being a master player OR he is a genius to begin with and he gains interest of the other characters (and the viewers) with his gameplay. This anime opts for route 2, and I would recommend that you study a little bit of mahjong before watching. The protagonist is a teenage genius who first plays mahjong with yakuza types in a mahjong den for someone else whose debt is on the line. I won't say anymore than that.

Animation, is yes a bit crappy. This is similar to the anime 'Kaiji' as the crude drawing style creates a better mood of the protagonist and his surroundings.

Sound is not much, soundtracks are easily ignoreable and OP and ED are completely rubbish.

Character's development needs more work. The protagonist is interesting but, this would start to make people feel a bit annoyed with the lack of development. The character's personalities and traits are very well done, some stereotypical characters here and there to create setting and the protagonist is brought to life.

Overall, like I said i really want to give this anime a high rating but, just some things fail it. Most of this revolves around viewers not having any experience with mahjong. Even so I'll just say it was good enough to make me crazy about the game.

8/10 story
7/10 animation
5/10 sound
8/10 characters
7.9/10 overall
Bigaback's avatar By Bigaback on Feb 7, 2014

One of the manliest shows around. I have yet to see a show that goes 26 episodes without a single word from a female of any kind.

As for the quaity of the show, like Death note it starts really solid and has the feel or originality however, a plot that is heavy on gambling isnt made for 26 episodes. Had it stopped after 13, it would have been one of the best seinen shows around. Dont get me wrong, the second half isnt as bad as say the second halfs of Death Note or SAO, however it takes away from the show as a whole.

I would recommend the first half to every seinen fan who enjoys dark atmospheres or mature themes. The second half is stuck on single game that is somewhat predictable so if you really enjoyed the first half, I advice to stop there so the show doesnt lose its quality

7/10 story
?/10 animation
?/10 sound
8/10 characters
7.5/10 overall
TheBrickGuy's avatar By TheBrickGuy on Jan 16, 2012

Story (8/10)

Akagi is about Mahjong, and is a prequel to the manga Ten. The story centers around one of the main characters from Ten; Akagi. In this anime, we discover how Akagi rose through the Japanese underworld and became a Mahjong champion. While the story only covers around 4 events, it does it with every bit of suspense you would expect from Fukumoto. The ending is a bit abrupt, but doesn't leave the viewer confused. 

Characters (4/10)

Every character but the protagonist is extremely undeveloped in all of Fukumoto's works, and Akagi is no exception. Besides Akagi, none of the other characters even show signs of a backstory of development. But because of Akagi (who is an amazing character in my opinion) and the policeman, I  give this a low score.

Animation (9/10)

While the style may appear ugly and weird to some at first, it really defines the mood of the anime. No, I don't mean the 4 foot noses, I'm talking about the gritty and dark style that can only be found in something by Fukumoto. When the suspense builds, it is amplified through the animation.

Sound (10/10)

The voice actors do an amazing job bringing each character to life. I especially commend the voice actor for Akagi. For those of you who don't know, he is also the voice of Kaiji, which some consider to be Akagi's complete opposite. The music was done by none other than Hideki Taniuchi. His music is awesome, and I'm disappointed that some of the tracks aren't included in the official soundtrack.

Enjoyment (8/10)

I loved Akagi, and it remains one of my favorite gambling anime of all time. If you aren't bothered by slow-paced anime and the animation style, you have to check this out. Fans of Kaiji will also enjoy this.

8/10 story
9/10 animation
10/10 sound
4/10 characters
9/10 overall