In recent years, I’ve actively sought and celebrated originality. This is largely in part to my lengthly duration, spanning a decade and a half, of watching anime and reading manga. To an extent, I’m beginning to find many series repetitive. This isn’t to say that I dislike watching or reading them, per se, only that I’m more inclined to acknowledge and appreciate when a series has been approached differently. So, with this in mind, I move onto ‘Akagi’. This series manages to dispose almost all of the standard flaws of its genre, while maintaining the ‘essence’ that has made shonen anime so compelling. Akagi has all of the necessary ingredients: the intricate and carefully thought-out mind games, the intense interchanges, and the foreboding atmosphere. This is supported by the titular character, Akagi, who is a surprisingly refreshing lead; fearless, merciless, cold-blooded and yet, strangely likable.
The premise is about the game of Mahjong, something of which I have played (albeit rarely) when I was a kid. This did add to my viewing enjoyment, but I do not believe it’s necessary to find this series entertaining. I saw Hikaru no Go, another series based on a board game, in its entirely, without possessing an ounce of understanding of the game ‘Go‘ itself, but still throughly enjoyed it (admittedly, unlike ‘Akagi’, Hikaru no Go did have an overarching story-line). In the case of ‘Akagi’, the series predominately revolved around the game of Mahjong and didn’t stray far from it. Still, I didn’t so much enjoy this series because of my understanding of the game, but because I enjoyed the setting and circumstances Akagi placed himself in (frequently betting on his life, for starters). This was Mahjong on an entirely different level.
However, what struck me the most was the aesthetic. The styling and character design is, to put it bluntly, ‘grossly’ original, with its thick over-exaggerated line work. This enables the characters to pull off some highly amusing facial expressions and reactions. Undeniably, it would require the viewer to adjust at first and is something of an acquired taste, but it really helped to enforce the tone of the series. Furthermore, the stylization was executed by Madhouse, an animation studio that has consistently succeeded in pushing the envelope with each of its adaptations. The carefully crafted angling of each scene and the ability to maintain excitement is captured perfectly. This is also supported greatly by the soundtrack by Hideki Taniuchi (responsible for Death Note, a highly popular anime series, also produced by Madhouse) that whilst selective and somewhat minimal, added the required depth and excitement. This is especially noteworthy for a series that isn’t fast-paced (in the sense that the characters aren’t constantly moving from scene to scene), the music helped to substitute that.
Unfortunately, the series can seem formulaic, following a predictable pattern, akin to most shonen series, whereby Akagi has to overcome a stronger opponent each time. It’s also unfortunate that the series ends abruptly. The ending match didn’t have a proper verdict. Sure, it finished, but it was never properly explained. Maybe this was deliberate to provide ambiguity, but after the anticipation, I would have liked proper closure.
In conclusion, ‘Akagi’ is primarily about the psychological tension. Akagi isn’t so much playing Mahjong, he’s playing an intricate mind game with his opponent, none of which is properly exposed or revealed until the right moment. There were instances when I couldn’t see an escape for Akagi, but he majestically manages to outwit both his opponent and the viewer with his elaborate schemes. This is also supported by revealing the antagonist’s background story; their incentives, motivations, pride, discontent or even bitterness. The game is merely the vehicle to express those emotions. So, I’m going to give this series 4/5 (which for me, denotes a very solid and recommendable series, I seldom give 5/5 unless the series is an absolute masterpiece).