I didn’t make the same mistake as with Kaiji; instead, I tried to marathon Akagi as fast as possible, and that really is the way to watch these series. When you look at the episodes individually, there is indeed very little that happens. In the big picture however, they’re morbid mind games in a tension that you can cut with a knife.
Akagi is definitely one of those series in which you need to know what to expect. You ain’t gonna run into complex characters here: Akagi’s character is completely flawless, the people he plays against just do what they need to do, they have their personalities established, but don’t really expect much more. What this show excels in however, is the way it analyzes what goes on inside the mind of these characters as they play Mahjong. It goes without saying that out of all of the mahjong anime I have seen, this has by far the most detailed and fleshed out matches out there.
Half of this review is going to be a comparison with Kaiji, because the two series are so similar, yet have some essential differences. First of all, when you look at the overall plot and premise, Akagi just tells the story of a god-moded guy who wins mahjong matches at unbelievable odds and that doesn’t even have a proper ending, while Kaiji shows human trash trying to struggle against silly gambling games set up by a bunch of bored mafioso.
However, Akagi is at favour when you look at how both series actually try to spend their time. They’re both incredibly slow, but Kaiji tries to fill its time by stalling: its games are all pretty simple, but it keeps delaying the inevitable, through which it creates its tension. Akagi however is about Mahjong: it creates its tension by constantly analyzing both the state of each of the players, in their minds and their hands. It shows all kinds of different strategies, worst case scenarios. In fact, I have seen very few board game anime that goes inside the minds of the different players this much, in which you can actually see nearly all of the different tactics and possibilities that they consider while playing the match. Sure, a huge part of Akagi is the crazy nature of luck, but unlike with series as Saki this doesn’t degenerate the characters’ abilities to shounen-like deus ex machina powers, but instead it becomes a core element of the game play.
Then there’s the acting. Kaiji created a lot of its tension by making an as large spectacle as possible, with a lot of screaming and overacting and stuff. Akagi doesn’t have that. Instead, this is cold and calculating: its atmosphere is the kind that creeps up behind you and doesn’t let go, even after an arc ends. It’s less spectacular of course, but also much more believable. Whether you prefer Akagi over Kaiji or the other way probably depends on what you find more important: the sneaky Akagi or the over the top Kaiji. Personally, I liked Akagi better.
In the end, Akagi has a similar problem as One Outs, in the way that its protagonist is so goddamn perfect, however there are some subtle differences between Akagi and Tokuchi. Tokuchi was a character who “pwns n00bs”, as a figure of speech: he loves toying with the weak. Akagi however is a complete lunatic who searches out the strongest opponents and the most impossible odds. It’s that what makes him unique and a much more interesting guy than your usual god-moded protagonist. My biggest advice though is: don’t plan to watch this series casually. This just is one of those series that should be marathoned.
|Storytelling:||9/10 – Truly excellent atmosphere, grips you and never lets go. Excellent dialogue. Just ends in the middle of a big arc however.|
|Characters:||7/10 – Everything is kept as simple as possible with the characters and Akagi is god-moded, but their inner psyches really get thoroughly analyzed.|
|Production-Values:||8/10 – Simple but solid animation from madhouse, not to mention its unique character designs.|
|Setting:||9/10 – Both mahjong and the mindset of people during gambling are excellently explored.|